House Speaker Paul Ryan cautioned against jumping to conclusions about President Donald Trump's alleged meddling in an FBI investigation of his administration and dismissed the need for more outside oversight of the Department of Justice probe into Trump campaign ties to Russia, as calls for a special prosecutor grow louder on Capitol Hill."We need the facts. It is obvious there are some people out there that want to harm the president," Ryan told reporters at a news conference.
This morning started to feel a little different. Donald Trump has been able to maintain steadfast support from Republicans through a series of brutal controversies, but the revelations from a memo written by former FBI Director James Comey changed things for many Republicans.Suddenly, GOP lawmakers who are ordinarily eager to appear on television started turning down invitations. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) made the case that we're seeing a new Watergate. Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) believes impeachment may be necessary. Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) now wants an independent commission, and he's not alone. Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said, "While I'm no Comey fan, I won't defend anyone who obstructs justice."Even Wall Street, which had largely shrugged off Trump's recent scandals, fell sharply this morning as the prospect of political instability in the White House grew more real.Some things, however, haven't changed at all.
In reality, that's not "obvious" at all. No one made Donald Trump fire the FBI director, for example, and no one forced him to admit that the president did so because of his dissatisfaction with an ongoing investigation into his political team.The Republican Speaker of the House added that he has full confidence in Trump, and when pressed on the White House turmoil, Ryan told reporters, "I don't worry about things that are outside of my control."That's quickly become one of the Speaker's favorite talking points, though as we discussed the other day, it's wholly inadequate. Paul Ryan -- second in the line of presidential succession -- is in an enormously powerful position. Whether the Wisconsin congressman cares to use his power, it's within his "control" to defend the rule of law, support an independent investigation of Trump's alleged misdeeds, conduct vigorous oversight in the face of serious White House abuses, and possibly even help lead impeachment proceedings.Instead of leading, however, Ryan prefers passivity. There's a job to be done holding this president accountable, the House Speaker has decided to leave that job to anyone but him.What should probably occur to Ryan right about now is that as Trump's presidency faces a premature end, there will be a dividing line: those who stepped up, stuck to principle, defended the law and American norms, and put country over party will be on one side; those who put their heads in the sand will be on the other.In the long term, history's judgment will be unkind. In the short term, the judgment from midterm voters may sting even more.