IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Missing an opportunity to lead, Ryan enables the GOP's worst instincts

Paul Ryan is in a unique position to rein in Donald Trump's and Devin Nunes' attacks on our system of justice -- but the Speaker doesn't want to.
Image: U.S. President Trump listens to  Speaker Ryan as he gathers with Republican House members after healthcare bill vote at the White House in Washington
U.S. President Donald Trump (C) listens to House Speaker Paul Ryan (L) as he gathers with Congressional Republicans in the Rose Garden of the White House...

At a Capitol Hill press event yesterday, a reporter asked House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) if he has any concerns about Donald Trump's efforts to politicize the Justice Department. The congressman's answer left little doubt that Ryan is siding with the president.

"What matters to us, as the Article I branch of government conducting oversight of the executive branch, is that we do get these document requests honored."Look, FISA abuse is a serious issue. We the people -- the Congress -- have given the executive branch a lot of power in this very important law. And it's really important that we conduct the proper oversight of the executive branch to make sure that that power is not or has not or will not be abused. That's ultimately the big picture, what's going on here."

Perhaps, although it's pretty easy to make the case that's not really "what's going on here."

If House Republicans were serious about "conducting oversight of the executive branch," they wouldn't be ignoring dozens of serious scandals surrounding the Trump White House. As Jon Chait explained yesterday, "[O]versight of the Executive branch is not an activity that interests Ryan. His goal is closer to the opposite. Ryan and [House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin] Nunes are conducting oversight over the Department of Justice precisely because, while part of the Executive branch, it is independent of it. The independence is precisely the thing that troubles Ryan and Nunes, and which they aim to quash, thereby increasing the power of the president."

I recognize the fact that in many political circles, the House Speaker is seen as a wonky pragmatist, ready to rein in some of his party's worst instincts, but recent events should put Ryan in a very different light.

The Republican leader has had plenty of opportunities to interrupt Nunes' campaign to help the White House, but Ryan has done the opposite, giving the California Republican a green light to continue with his antics and effectively becoming Trump's silent partner.

A few months ago, for example, after Nunes was accused of leaking a senator's texts to conservative media, the bipartisan leadership of the Senate Intelligence Committee arranged a meeting with the House Speaker to raise concerns about Nunes' efforts. There's no evidence that Ryan did anything in response and the House Intelligence chairman continued unabated.

Around the same time, as his party furiously -- and somewhat inexplicably -- tried to defend Carter Page, Ryan again sided with his party, telling reporters, "There are legitimate questions about whether an American's civil liberties were violated." In reality, those questions really aren't legitimate at all (though Ryan echoed the same point again yesterday).

A month earlier, as many turned to Ryan to help get the ridiculous "Nunes memo" uproar under control, the Speaker again balked and ignored direct appeals from the FBI and the Department of Justice. Pointing to evidence that didn't really exist, the Wisconsin Republican added, "There may have been malfeasance at the FBI by certain individuals."

Ryan went on to say that he hoped the since-discredited memo would help "cleanse" the FBI.

And now, as Trump "demands" that the Justice Department do his bidding, and the White House arranges for a partisan intelligence briefing for Nunes, providing him with sensitive information about an ongoing investigation, there's the Speaker of the House, once again enabling an alarming political scheme.

The Atlantic's Ron Brownstein noted in January that Ryan is in a unique position to "uphold standards of governance" in D.C., but he's abjectly "capitulated" to Trump. "It's likely he's radically changed his place in history," Brownstein added.

With each passing day, the damage to Ryan's reputation is growing and appears irreversible.