Calmes: Can the kowtowing to Trump get any worse?

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., pauses during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024. House Republicans are off to a raucous start in their first week back in Washington after an extended holiday break. Some are openly criticizing new House Speaker Mike Johnson. Others helped sink a routine procedural vote to express their displeasure with topline spending levels that Johnson negotiated with Democrats for the current fiscal year.(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Speaker of the House Mike Johnson is shamelessly doing Trump's — not the country's — business. (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

It was so predictable. Speaker “MAGA Mike” Johnson belatedly did the right thing in April by allowing the House to approve aid to Ukraine over most Republicans’ opposition. Even former Speaker Nancy Pelosi called him “courageous.” Yet ever since, he’s been truckling to his fellow House right-wingers, and to Donald Trump, to make up for his perceived heresy.

Two of Johnson’s recent actions show just how low he’ll go to kowtow to the disgraced former president and his MAGA disciples in the House, and how hypocritical they all are.

On Friday, Johnson announced that the House would go to federal court to press charges against Atty. Gen. Merrick Garland for contempt of Congress. Two days earlier, the House had voted along party lines to seek the Justice Department’s prosecution of its boss. The department declined and within hours Johnson said the House would proceed on its own.

At issue is Garland’s refusal to give Republicans an audio recording they subpoenaed of President Biden’s interview last fall in the investigation of his past handling of classified documents, which didn't result in criminal charges. Garland did provide other materials the House sought, including a transcript of the interview, but Biden asserted executive privilege over the audio.

For all the Republicans’ highfalutin posturing about respect for Congress, you know their real reason for demanding the recording: They figure the audio must include parts they can exploit to embarrass Biden. They’ve coveted it ever since the Republican special counsel who interviewed the president unnecessarily alluded in his report to Biden’s advanced age, poor memory and “diminished faculties.”

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Johnson, on message, condemned the refusal to prosecute Garland as “another example of the two-tiered system of justice brought to us by the Biden Administration.”

Only a shameless Trump toady would keep spouting that “two tiers” nonsense after the Justice Department’s successful prosecution of Biden’s son, with a second federal trial ahead in September. And House Republicans layered on another preposterous lie: Hunter Biden’s conviction was a feint to distract us from the real crimes of the father, the ones that House Republicans haven’t been able to identify despite more than a year of investigations.

The actual double standard is Republicans’: They want Garland prosecuted for only partially complying with a congressional subpoena, yet their ranks include members who utterly scorned subpoenas from the House Jan. 6 committee to testify about their efforts to help Trump overturn the 2020 election. They even turned their defiance into fundraising pitches: “I’VE BEEN SUBPOENAED” was the Trumpian headline atop one email.

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That boast came from Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, now chair of the Judiciary Committee that recommended Garland be held in contempt. Prominent among the others who flouted subpoenas was Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, who begged Trump post-election to name an acting attorney general who would declare the election fraudulent. Perry's phone, seized by FBI agents, was rich with incriminating calls and messages (“11 days to 1/6 . . . We gotta get going!” he texted the White House at one point). And no less than the highest-ranking official within the building that was attacked, then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield (“My Kevin” to Trump), also ignored his subpoena to tell what he knew.

The Jan. 6 committee, in its report, justified its extraordinary subpoenas of House members by describing “the centrality of their efforts” to help Trump illegally stay in power. For example, in December 2020, Trump named Jordan and Perry when he urged resistant Justice Department officials to “just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen.”

The contempt for Congress is all theirs, not Garland’s.

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Perry also figures in Johnson’s other recent Trump-toadying gambit. At the former president’s urging, the speaker quietly named Perry and Rep. Ronny Jackson of Texas to the House Intelligence Committee, one of Congress’ most sensitive and least partisan panels, privy to classified information that most other lawmakers don’t see. It’s a posting that neither Perry nor Jackson deserve, which is why their appointments reportedly incensed the committee chair, Michael R. Turner of Ohio, among other more moderate House Republicans. Turner told CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday that the speaker promised to intervene in the event of “improper” behavior by the two.

Why the concern? As former Rep. Adam Kinzinger, Liz Cheney’s fellow Republican profile in courage on the Jan. 6 committee, put it in a recent podcast, Perry had been the House member the committee most wanted to force to testify, because he was considered “basically the driving force behind Jan. 6” among those in Congress.

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As for Jackson, he so flattered Trump when he was the White House doctor that Trump picked him to be Veterans Affairs secretary, a nomination that imploded amid allegations that Jackson drank, abused staff and improperly dispensed drugs (nickname: “Candy Man”). Demoted to captain after a Pentagon investigation, he still called himself a rear admiral on his congressional website until the Washington Post revealed his deceit in March.

A former counsel to the Intelligence Committee — a Republican — said that Perry and Jackson “couldn’t get a security clearance if they’d come through any other door.” But Johnson has put them in position to know the nation’s deepest secrets just to please Trump, who is charged himself with taking and sharing classified documents.

That makes sense only if your motivation isn’t the country’s interests but instead those of the once and perhaps future president. Which pretty much describes the House speaker.


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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.