It seemed like the kind of controversy congressional Republicans would want to avoid. As we've discussed, the Trump-era Justice Department secretly seized communications records from at least two Democratic members of Congress, some of their staffers, and even some of their family members. We learned soon after that then-White House Counsel Don McGahn was also targeted after clashing with his Oval Office boss.
As Trump-era scandals go, this is a tough one to defend, so it stood to reason that GOP lawmakers who still carry the former president's water would simply change the subject rather than engage on the merits.
And yet, there was House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (N.Y.) -- who serves on the House Intelligence Committee alongside members who were targeted with secret subpoenas -- defending what transpired.
"Having served on the House Intelligence Committee, we've seen illegal leaks from our colleagues on the House Intelligence Committee, and there have been numerous referrals to the Department of Justice," Stefanik said at a news conference Tuesday. "So I think it's important that the Department of Justice determine if there were any illegal leaks, leaks by members of Congress, or their staff members."
Right off the bat, there is literally no evidence that Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee are responsible for "illegal leaks." For a committee member and House GOP leader to publicly and casually argue otherwise is ridiculous.
But just as important is the fact that Trump's Justice Department didn't have any evidence of Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell leaking anything when investigators secretly seized their communications records. Indeed, we already know that the probe did not pan out: Justice Department officials did not find any evidence of leaks from the committee.
In other words, every element of Stefanik's defense is mistaken.
In situations like these, it's sometimes useful to imagine inverse circumstances. Picture a scenario in which President Biden is annoyed by Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee who are asking questions about a brewing scandal. In this hypothetical, the Democratic president demands that the Justice Department serve as a political weapon for the White House, and soon after, federal investigators secretly seize congressional Republicans' communications records -- not based on evidence of wrongdoing, but based on a political agenda.
Would Elise Stefanik and the House GOP shrug their collective shoulders, decry leaks, and effectively declare, "Nothing to see here"? Or would they see this as a modern Watergate?