At the height of the Watergate scandal, Richard Nixon was running low on friends. When the U.S. House voted to begin impeachment hearings, for example, the vote was 410 to 4. One of the four was an Indiana Republican named Earl Landgrebe.
Months later, as the disgraced president prepared to leave the White House, Landgrebe delivered a line that helped define his political career. “Don’t confuse me with the facts,” the congressman said the day before Nixon’s resignation. “I’ve got a closed mind. I will not vote for impeachment. I’m going to stick with my president even if he and I have to be taken out of this building and shot.”
I can’t say with certainty whether contemporary Republicans made a conscious decision to follow Landgrebe’s example, but his infamous quote keeps coming to mind for a reason.
In recent weeks, for example, Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) has, more than once, echoed Kremlin propaganda and suggested Ukraine may have interfered in the 2016 U.S. elections. When a controversy ensued over his willingness to peddle false disinformation designed to advance Russian interests, the Louisiana Republican declared, “I believe what I believe.”
Kennedy didn’t literally say, “Don’t confuse me with the facts,” but it seemed like the subtext.
It’s against this backdrop that Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz was on Capitol Hill yesterday, participating in a Senate hearing exploring his report on the investigation into the Russia scandal. Reading Dana Milbank’s report on the hearing, it seems several Republicans didn’t want to be confused with the facts, either.
“They were on a mission not to protect Trump but to … protect all of us smelly people from Donald Trump,” [Sen. Lindsey Graham] alleged. “That’s what this is about.” Never mind that the inspectors found no such evidence in more than 1 million documents and more than 100 interviews over 19 months. “Whether you believe it or not, I believe it!” Graham announced.
[Sen. Ted Cruz], too, wasn’t about to let the findings get in his way. “You did not find evidence of political bias. That is a judgment that you have and I disagree with that,” Cruz told the inspector general.
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) topped them all, arguing that the failure to find political bias proved there was political bias. “Is not the lack of evidence that you’re talking about itself evidence of bias?” he asked Horowitz.
Milbank added, “Even confronted with 434 pages of unbiased, exhaustively researched findings, they covered their ears and cried ‘LA-LA-LA-LA-LA.’”
There’s been a lot of this going around lately. As we discussed the other day, on Sunday morning, for example, two of Donald Trump’s most loyal congressional lieutenants, Reps. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), rejected the idea that the president pressed a foreign country to investigate his political rival – something we already know Trump did.
About 24 hours later, at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on impeachment, Republican counsel Steve Castor disputed the idea that former Vice President Joe Biden was a leading Democratic presidential candidate over the summer, shortly before Castor also rejected the idea that Trump encouraged the president of Ukraine to look into Biden.
Soon after, Republicans, en masse, described Horowitz’s findings in an alarming up-is-down way, as if the party had received gaslighting instructions they were a little too eager to follow.
In August 1974, after Nixon had stepped down, the House voted to accept the Judiciary Committee’s report on the Watergate scandal, include it in the official record, and thank the panel’s members for their “conscientious and capable inquiry.” The vote was 412 to 3, with Earl “Don’t confuse me with the facts” Landgrebe voting in the minority.
Nearly a half-century later, it seems there’s an entire political party of Earl Landgrebes.