Many Republicans and Trump supporters are furious right now with Representative Justin Amash. The Michigan congressman is the only Republican in either house of Congress to call for President Trump’s impeachment in the wake of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report. The announcement simultaneously made him the most sought-after Republican for interviews, and gave cover for CNN and fellow-travelers to describe the impeachment drive as “bipartisan.”
Matters are only made worse by Amash’s solid voting history on fiscal and civil liberties questions, even when his party has temporized or (in the case of the budget) abandoned reason for expediency. Amash’s adherence to principle on some of these issues serves both to embarrass the party and to make it more difficult to write him off as just another disloyal RINO. (He was a solid NeverTrumper in 2016, however.)
That isn’t to say I don’t have my differences with him, both on policy and politics. He has generally been hostile to Israel, above and beyond what libertarian neo-isolationism would call for. And his exuberant inclusion of Colorado’s Jared Polis in the House Freedom Caucus on the strength of a couple of nice Fourth Amendment votes was ill-advised, to say the least. (Polis is now governor of Colorado.)
But if Amash’s Arab background is the source of his anti-Israel animus, it only discredits his critics who trot it out as a catch-all to dismiss him over Trump and impeachment.
No, the problem with Amash is much simpler. Like many ostentatiously principled elected officials, Amash either fails to recognize or refuses to admit there are many competing principles at work. His choice of what principles matter most have profound political implications.
Let’s assume Amash legitimately believes Trump obstructed justice during the Mueller investigation. Lord knows, Mueller made it clear enough that he thinks so. So it’s not a stretch to assume Amash is acting in good faith. We can agree that obstruction of justice is a serious abuse of executive power, even if we disagree that Trump actually did it.
But there are other potential abuses that Amash chooses to ignore—FISA abuse, spying abuse, manipulating the process through leaks, trying to entrap citizens, politicizing law enforcement and intelligence agencies—abuses that a self-described libertarian should also vociferously oppose. Amash chooses to put those on the back burner to support impeaching the president.
While I can’t speak for how Amash would respond to this, I have seen others respond to the effect that Republicans will have plenty of time and opportunity to air those claims during impeachment hearings.
Such a response is naïve enough to be sincere.
None of those claims has been investigated with anything close to the thoroughness of Mueller’s probe, making it far more difficult for Republicans to raise them effectively. The Justice Department’s inspector general has been looking into certain aspects of those claims, but his scope is limited and he hasn’t the power to compel non-employees to cooperate. John H. Durham, the U.S. attorney in Connecticut assigned to review the origins of the Mueller probe, has a broader portfolio, but not an unlimited one. Certainly, Durham doesn’t have an unlimited budget as Mueller did.
In the meantime, Attorney General William Barr is complaining that he’s got more questions than answers after talking to the Intelligence Community. One would expect a certain amount of institutional loyalty even from Trump appointees, but one would hope that institutional loyalty took the form of concern for institutional integrity. Nevertheless, the various three-letter intel agencies can hide a lot behind classification, making it hard for Barr to know where to pick up the threads and what to declassify.
Finally, there’s a concept of “fruit of a poison tree.” Normally, that’s near and dear to the hearts of civil libertarians. If the whole Mueller probe was a setup, it seriously damages the claim that Trump did anything wrong because he was acting in opposition to a bad-faith investigation. But if Republicans bring up that objection but then can’t make that case, it strengthens the argument for impeachment.
Investigatory neglect also means, with the exception of a few outlets like American Greatness and The Federalist, these facts have been largely neglected or waved off by the press. The public hasn’t been hammered with these details for nearly three years. If anything, these details have been hammered like Hillary Clinton’s old iPhone. Members of the press who weren’t actively complicit in spreading misinformation probably believe it more or less uncritically at this point. Those members of the press who were complicit aren’t going to spend any time uncovering their own malfeasance.
When Nadler brings down the hammer on anyone who dares breathe word outside the very narrow topic of obstruction, for the most part, people won’t know there is another side, and the press won’t be interested in telling them.
Amash ignores all of this by being selectively principled. By doing so, Amash does House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler’s work for him.
And that’s why Republicans, Trump, and his supporters are right to be upset with Amash.
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