In a reality-based world, this would at least be embarrassing for the president. His allies could still argue, of course, that the error was innocent or minor enough not to warrant impeachment. But the precepts of the Trump-era GOP state that admitting that the president might have erred, even in good faith, is forbidden. Hence Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin dismissed the GAO report—literally a report on whether the law was followed—as “legalistic.”
Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama took an even more laughable tack. “Timing looked a little suspect to everybody I think,” he told CNN. “I’ve never known GAO to get involved in partisan politics and stuff like that. It’s probably not good for the GAO.”
Notably, Shelby’s concern isn’t that the report might be inaccurate. It’s that it might be politically inconvenient. Setting aside the semi-veiled threat—nice nonpartisan office you’ve got there; shame if some partisans took offense and wrecked it—Shelby’s comment is absurd. As GAO General Counsel Thomas Armstrong wrote in the decision, the office is simply discharging its statutory duty: A senator, the Democrat Chris Van Hollen, asked for an investigation, and GAO did what it’s required to do.
The concern over the timing is a red herring, too. There’s no more opportune time for GAO to issue a report on whether the administration broke the law on the Ukraine aid than at the very moment the Senate is opening an impeachment trial of the president over the Ukraine scandal. But one man’s opportune is another’s—specifically Trump’s—inconvenient, and the messenger gets caught in the middle.
Is it any wonder that other officials would just as soon opt out? Every year, the nation’s top intelligence officials brief the House and Senate on their “worldwide threat assessment”—part of the proceeding in public, and other parts behind closed doors due to sensitivities. Last year’s public edition was a fiasco. The intelligence chiefs came, and they spoke candidly about North Korea and the Islamic State, with the unfortunate coincidence that the truth was at odds with what Trump had been claiming publicly. The president tweeted, “Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school!” and claimed that officials told him they’d been misquoted. Again: The hearing was public and video is available.
The intelligence officials don’t have much choice. They can’t come to Congress and lie. But telling the truth puts them in conflict with their boss. So this time around, they’re simply trying to persuade Congress not to hold a public hearing, Politico reports. The message is that they can tell the truth, but not where it might create friction with the truth-free president. And that means ordinary Americans won’t get to hear for themselves about the greatest threats they face.
The Washington Post recently reported on an investigation by the Justice Department into Hillary Clinton. After Trump became president, having insisted that Clinton hadn’t been properly investigated, DOJ appointed a U.S. attorney to do a review. But the Post reported that the prosecutor hadn’t found anything. In fact, the review was effectively complete before Special Counsel Robert Mueller produced his report in May. But there’s been no official closure. It isn’t hard to guess at why: Who wants to be the one to tell Trump that the investigation didn’t find anything?