The question now turns to the rest of the American political system. Senate Majority Leader McConnell warned Obama against taking action against Russia during the election. Whatever is said of Obama’s decisions, one of Obama’s motives for inaction was the knowledge that congressional Republicans would take Trump’s and Russia’s side if he tried to act. Congressional investigations into Russian meddling have been stalled (in the Senate) and outright sabotaged (in the House). Even as Trump in Hamburg absolved Putin of consequences for election interference, House Speaker Paul Ryan, at the behest of Trump, is stalling in the House the measures the Senate approved 97-2 to prevent Trump from lifting existing sanctions on Russia. It’s fine for Republicans like Senator Marco Rubio to tweet sarcastic comments about Trump’s plans for cyber cooperation with Russia. Congress can do more than tweet—if it chooses.
It’s no longer Donald Trump in the spotlight. It’s the Republican leaders in Congress. Whether or not Trump colluded with Russia, the challenge to them is: Will they make themselves complicit after the fact? Or will they at last do what the president will not: defend American democracy and hold accountable those who have attacked it? Even to phrase the question is to confront the depressing answer. Congressional Republicans may not condone Trump’s misbehavior. But they are not willing to punish it—or to put at risk their enjoyment of its fruits.