Karen Tumulty nearly channels Casey Stengel in her Washington Post column today after watching the John Dean-a-palooza earlier in the week. Tumulty rebukes the House Judiciary Committee for more than just calling the former Watergate figure to regurgitate the same tripe he’s been serving for forty years. If people want to see yammering activists gripe about Trump, why not just tune in to MSNBC?
The Judiciary Committee’s hearing, ostensibly into lessons learned from the report of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, featured as its star witness John Dean, who first gained fame nearly a half-century ago as President Richard M. Nixon’s whistleblowing White House counsel. Dean warned: “History is repeating itself, and with a vengeance.”
That he would say this was not exactly new information. Dean has made that point with some regularity in his current gig as a paid commentator on CNN. And as he himself acknowledged, he was not a “fact witness ” with any particular inside knowledge to offer about President Trump’s doings.
Nor was anyone else who testified Monday. Two of the other witnesses, former prosecutors Joyce White Vance and Barbara McQuade, reprised some of the points they have been making in their roles as MSNBC contributors. There to make an equally unsurprising argument for the other side was legal scholar John Malcolm of the conservative Heritage Foundation.
At least no one got their hands dirty this time, Tumulty notes. Not in a literal sense, anyway:
Perhaps the best thing that could be said about the hearing was that no one repeated a stunt quite like the one that Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) pulled last month in that same room, when he ate from a bucket of chicken to mock the fact that Attorney General William P. Barr had not shown up to testify as the committee had asked.
Really, is this the best they can do?
Tumulty then proceeds gives chair Jerrold Nadler a history lesson on how his predecessor Sam Ervin ran the actual Watergate probe. Needless to say, Nadler suffers from the comparison. Tumulty does offer an allowance for the circus nature of the hearing by noting that the administration has refused to cooperate with Nadler, saying that Democrats “are right to be frustrated by the president’s stonewalling.”
That, however, has its own context. House and Senate Democrats shoved off their responsibilities to have Congress investigate this, instead insisting on a special counsel and then demanding special protections for the special counsel to ensure the probe completed. Robert Mueller produced a robust report detailing his findings, which Attorney General William Barr released almost entirely to the public. As the report shows, the White House cooperated extensively in that investigation, waiving executive privilege and making everyone available to investigators, although Trump himself would only answer written questions in one round and refused to discuss obstruction at all.
Having endured almost two years of that probe, the administration might rightly feel as though Democrats want a do-over. They have the report and the conclusions that Democrats in Congress demanded, only now that it doesn’t provide an easy hook for the end they sought — impeachment — they want to do all of the interviews over again to rewrite the outcome. The angry and hyperbolic atmosphere in the House certainly adds to that impression, and that debacle on Monday only confirmed it. Why would any administration cooperate under those circumstances?
In other words, one could surmise that the second half of Tumulty’s argument suffers from a chicken-egg issue. Nadler and his fellow House Democrats have never approached this issue seriously; they have done nothing but use hyperbole for partisan attacks ever since Election Night in 2016. Voters know it too, which is why six in ten think Congress should stop talking about impeachment.
It’s a clown show, and that’s apparently the best this crop of Democrats can do. Don’t blame the White House for refusing to join the circus.