You can’t hear the reporter’s question where the clip picks up but apparently it was “Over the weekend, the president claimed total vindication. Was he vindicated in any way?” That’s a trap, as there’s been a sharp break between Trump himself and many Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee over the Memo’s import. Trump, with backing from Devin Nunes, claims that the Memo shows that Russiagate is a witch hunt, rotten with partisanship from the start. Trey Gowdy — and Will Hurd and Chris Stewart and Brad Wenstrup — argue the opposite, that the Page investigation is just a rotten branch in a sturdy many-limbed tree. “He put the memo in one tranche and put the Russia investigation in another tranche, and I think one doesn’t cancel out the other,” said Tim Scott of Gowdy’s appearance on “Face the Nation” last weekend. Exactly right. So which team is Ryan on with respect to the Memo’s significance, Team Trump or Team Gowdy?
Silly rabbit. Ryan doesn’t do “teams.” How could he? He has a midterm to win (or not to lose too badly) and any false move he makes on the Memo could blow up on him. If he throws in with Gowdy, Trump and his fans will fly into a rage. Who knows what that would mean for turnout in November. If he throws in with Trump he’s staking his own credibility on the Memo and on the maximalist spin about what it means for Russiagate, which isn’t a great position to hold at the moment. The politic thing to do is to try to play both sides — avoid the maximalist take that it proves Mueller’s probe is a “witch hunt” but defend Nunes’s right to issue the Memo as a normal function of congressional oversight. Which is exactly what Ryan does here.
But … what is he doing behind the scenes? Is he Team Gowdy after all? From Politico:
>@SpeakerRyan has urged republicans to separate the memo from the mueller probe. Let’s see if Nunes — a longtime Ryan ally — carries that message. A relationship forged as young lawmakers on Ways and Means. https://t.co/QbJNFFHiTY
— Jake Sherman (@JakeSherman) February 6, 2018
I can believe that Gowdy might go rogue in contradicting Trump’s narrative since, after all, he’s retiring and has nothing to lose. He’s also a pal of Ryan’s and therefore might enjoy a longer leash messaging-wise than most other House GOPers. But how do you explain Hurd and Wenstrup and Stewart all backing Gowdy up in arguing that the Memo doesn’t undermine Russiagate writ large? Would they all wander that far off the reservation if Ryan wanted the caucus lined up behind Trump on this? The only conclusion, I think, is that Ryan’s quietly encouraging Gowdy et al. to hedge the GOP’s bets by defending the Memo *and* Mueller’s probe. He’s essentially Team Gowdy. But given his leadership position and visibility, he can’t be upfront about it.
I wish he was Team Trump, though. Not because I think the Memo was a blockbuster but because it’s cynical of Ryan to hand Trump a political bludgeon which he himself seemingly doesn’t believe should carry much weight. Gowdy and Ryan have made the best possible case for the Memo, that Congress has every right to oversee federal agencies (correct) and that FISA abuses are serious business (correct), but it’s pathetic to harrumph that the document does nothing to undermine Mueller when Trump coveted it for precisely that reason. Having declined to fire Mueller on his lawyers’ advice, POTUS is building a heat shield around himself and his intimates. The Memo is that shield, something he can point to as proof that the entire probe is illegitimate if and when Mueller ends up indicting any Trumps or Kushners. Ryan and Gowdy know that and enabled it but they refuse to own it by signing on to Trump’s conclusion. We’ll see what they say if and when those indictments come down and suddenly they’re under nuclear heat from their own base to back Trump up and deride the charges as a “witch hunt.” Given Ryan’s concerns about staying on the right side of Republican voters before the midterms, how could he oppose Trump on that?