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Chuck Grassley
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, on Capitol Hill on Feb. 12, 2020.Alex Brandon / AP

As Trump's Justice Department scandal intensifies, GOP shrugs

Republicans and their allies have had months to come up with a compelling defense for Trump and his Justice Department abuses. They're clearly failed.


Donald Trump's presidency was marred by a series of extraordinary scandals, including two that led to impeachment charges. Given the sheer volume of the controversies, some may be tempted to roll their eyes in response to ongoing revelations about the Republican's misconduct.

But when it comes to Trump's efforts to turn the Justice Department into an anti-election weapon, it would be a mistake to see this as just another scandal.

As Rachel detailed on last night's show, the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday released a lengthy new report documenting his post-election efforts to get federal law enforcement to help him hold power despite his election defeat. Thanks in part to testimony from former Trump-appointed Justice Department officials, the public now has a far better understanding of just how far the then-president and his allies were prepared to go.

The Republican backed off, not to preserve the rule of law, but because top officials and White House lawyers told him they would resign en masse if Trump tried to advance his plot, which included the possibility of replacing his acting attorney general with an anti-election ally.

By any fair measure, the Senate Judiciary Committee is helping document one of the most serious scandals in American history. Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said on the show last night that as far as he's concerned, there was "an attempted coup d'etat within the Department of Justice," hatched by a sitting president and his conspiratorial pals.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, added, "Donald Trump would have shredded the Constitution to stay in power."

Given the overwhelming evidence and the seriousness of the crisis, might this generate at least some interest from congressional Republicans? Evidently not. The New York Times reported yesterday:

Republicans have sought for months to downplay reports of Mr. Trump's pressure campaign, arguing that he simply cast a wide net for legal advice and correctly concluded that it would be a mistake to replace [then-acting Attorney General Jeffrey] Rosen.... Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, echoed those sentiments on Thursday with the release of a report by committee Republicans, which called Mr. Trump's actions "consistent with his responsibilities as president to faithfully execute the law and oversee the Executive Branch."

The GOP's findings added that because Trump rejected the investigation into the Russia scandal, it was "reasonable that President Trump maintained substantial skepticism concerning the DOJ's and FBI's neutrality and their ability to adequately investigate election fraud allegations in a thorough and unbiased manner."

No, seriously, that's what Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee concluded, in writing.

Grassley's office proceeded to praise Trump because he backed away from the cliff and "listened to his senior advisors and followed their advice and recommendations"

But as we've discussed, Trump wasn't just kicking around legal concepts in the Oval Office, as if he were a college sophomore in a dorm room after an engaging Philosophy 101 lecture. A sitting American president actively explored a scheme to undermine our democracy and sought assistance from leading law enforcement officials. It's the sort of thing senators should have a problem with.

Yes, Trump ultimately decided not to oust the Justice Department officials who were reluctant to go along with every part of his plot. But he backed off, not because the plan was stark raving mad — though it certainly was — but because the resignations of the Justice Department's senior leadership team likely would've made the Republican's troubles worse, not better.

The idea that Trump exercised admirable and judicious restraint isn't just absurd, it's at odds with everything we've learned about the controversy.

Republicans and their allies have had months to come up with a compelling defense for Trump and his Justice Department abuses. The fact that they apparently can't think of anything persuasive is compelling evidence this scandal is indefensible.