Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy is well aware how much he owes his current position to former President Donald Trump. “I do want to especially thank President Trump,” McCarthy told reporters in January, after finally gaining enough votes to win the speaker’s gavel. “I don’t think anyone should doubt his influence. He was with me from the beginning.”
That indebtedness — or at least perceived indebtedness — helps explain McCarthy’s cowardly response on Saturday to the looming threat of indictment that Trump faces in New York City. A few hours after Trump claimed he would be arrested on Tuesday, McCarthy called Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s investigation into Trump’s alleged hush money payments to Stormy Daniels “an outrageous abuse of power by a radical DA who lets violent criminals walk as he pursues political vengeance against President Trump.”
His tweet is clearly a political threat in the guise of apolitical concern-trolling.
McCarthy's wading into an ongoing criminal investigation is bad enough. But the California Republican added a bit of extra spice to try to keep up the façade that he’s just doing his job as speaker. “I’m directing relevant committees to immediately investigate if federal funds are being used to subvert our democracy by interfering in elections with politically motivated prosecutions,” McCarthy wrote. Arguably not his best work as far as fig leaves go.
His tweet is clearly a political threat in the guise of apolitical concern-trolling. Luckily for Bragg, it also happens to be a pretty empty threat. Because McCarthy is misconstruing — willfully or ignorantly — how those “federal funds” he’s referred to are actually spent. “State and federal funding make up a small portion” of district attorney funding and consist “mostly of various grants that support crime victims’ programs, efforts to prevent intoxicated driving, gender-based violence work, opioid programming and justice assistance grants to name a few,” according to the New York City Council’s finance division.
Maddow: Trump looking to 'raise the civic cost' of potential indictmentMarch 18, 202307:40
McCarthy has plenty of staff who could have told him that, but that’s not the point. The point is that McCarthy clearly thought that he had to come out in support of Trump at this stage. And he’s not above using his role as leader of the House as a weapon in his arsenal. That apparently includes instructing the Oversight and Judiciary committees, which are already wasting their time on other stunt investigations, to waste even more taxpayer money investigating a conspiracy theory that a quick Google search could debunk.
More troubling, though, is that McCarthy chose to make this stand mere hours after Trump posted on TruthSocial that he “will be arrested on Tuesday of next week. Protest, take our nation back!” It’s not clear how exactly Trump arrived at that conclusion as his team doesn’t have any specific knowledge of the timing of any potential indictment, according to The New York Times.
By the time he fired off his own tweet, McCarthy had presumably seen Trump calling his supporters into the streets, echoing the incitement of violence against Congress two years ago. The speaker lived through that experience, and witnessed firsthand the effect of Trump’s words. And yet he opted to pretend otherwise in the weeks and months after the Jan. 6 attack as he flew to Mar-a-Lago in supplication. In handing over unvetted security footage from the attack to a far-right propagandist last month, McCarthy is once again complicit in trying to whitewash the assault. If a new round of political violence occurs, McCarthy should absolutely shoulder some of the blame.
With Saturday’s tweet, though, McCarthy seems to be moving on from being an accessory after the fact and toward aiding and abetting. And he does so as the House Republicans head to Orlando, Fla., for their annual policy retreat, where he will likely receive little to no pushback for deciding to back Trump over the rule of law. Already the party is coalescing around the narrative that Bragg is conducting another "witch hunt," as Trump would put it.
Even former Vice President Mike Pence, lauded as a hero for his refusal to bend to Trump’s soft coup attempt, said in a radio interview Saturday that Bragg’s investigation “reeks of the kind of political prosecution that we endured back in the days of the Russia hoax and the whole impeachment over a phone call.”
Republicans are well aware of what’s expected of them by now. McCarthy, as ever, is following rather than leading.