Opinion Republican apologists’ defenses of Trump lies go unchallenged. Still.


HR King
May 29, 2001
Of all people, the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Michael McCaul (Tex.), should know something about the danger posed by an ex-president pinching highly classified secrets, refusing to give them back and holding them in an unsecured space. And yet, like so many weak-kneed Republicans, all McCaul can do is spin for Donald Trump.

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Appearing on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, he had this exchange with host Martha Raddatz:
Raddatz: So let’s talk about the investigation. Last night, Donald Trump called the investigation into classified material stored at his house shameful, a travesty of justice, saying the FBI and the Department of Justice have become, as he said, “vicious monsters.” Your reaction to that?
McCaul: Well, look, I think there’s a legal side of this, as a former federal prosecutor, and there’s the perception in the optics. I think the perception is what a lot of Republicans I know see on the heels of the Russian investigation, the Steele dossier. There’s a certain ‘distrust but verify’ attitude when it comes to the Department of Justice and the FBI. …
Raddatz: Do you see any reason that he should have taken those documents, those classified, highly classified documents to Mar-a-Lago?
McCaul: Well, look, I — you know, I have lived in the classified world most of my professional career, I personally wouldn’t do that. But I’m not the president of the United States. But he has a different set of rules that apply to him. The president can declassify a document on a moment’s notice. …
Raddatz: [Former attorney general William P. Barr] ... basically said ... if [Trump] stood over documents and said, ‘These are all declassified,’ it was — it’s an absurd idea. You think that’s what happened?
McCaul: There is a process for declassification. But again, the president’s in a very different position then most of us in the national security space.
This is absurd — and inexcusable for someone in McCaul’s position. The notion that Trump is exempt from legislation such as the Espionage Act, obstruction statutes and other laws that protect our nation’s system is at the root of the GOP’s challenge to American democracy. It posits that the king can do no wrong, and, therefore, any prosecution of him, even after he leaves the presidency, is a witch hunt. That, in turn, has radicalized millions of Americans who have come to believe that Trump is an innocent victim.

“Congressman McCaul knows better,” former co-counsel for the House impeachment managers Norman Eisen tells me. “There is absolutely no factual basis to believe Trump’s or his cronies’ suggestion that all these documents went through the declassification process.” He asks: “Is the congressman really prepared to entertain absurd notions like Trump having a standing automatic declassification order whenever he took a document upstairs to the residence? Come on.”

McCaul misled viewers and undermined democratic values in several ways. For starters, nothing justifies Republicans’ violent, incendiary language. McCaul nevertheless was not pushed on Trump’s effort to demonize the FBI. (As Jan. 6 committee member Rep. Jamie B. Raskin of Maryland put it, “Two of the hallmarks of a fascist political party are, one, they don’t accept the results of elections that don’t go their way, and, two, they embrace political violence.”)
Ironically, Trump’s tirade at a rally on Saturday calling President Biden an “enemy of the state,” inciting his supporters against law enforcement and reiterating the “big lie” proves Biden’s point: The MAGA movement is led by a delusional, dangerous demagogue who employs the language and encourages the conduct of fascists. Too bad McCaul wasn’t asked about that.

At least Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) has been denouncing her party’s flirtation with violence. “Trump is attacking law enforcement and yet again using language he knows will provoke violence,” she tweeted about the rally speech. “Only one group of Americans has a chance to diminish this danger — Republicans. If my fellow Republicans fail to step up to stop this, they will share the blame for all that follows.”
A second way McCaul misled is that Trump has not claimed in legal pleadings that he declassified anything — no doubt because multiple former aides say it didn’t happen. In any case, it would be legally irrelevant.
Because — third — McCaul is undoubtedly familiar with the Espionage Act, which protects national security secrets regardless of whether they are stamped classified. He was not challenged on this point either.

“These responses by the usually well-informed ranking member of the House Foreign [Affairs] Committee, who should surely have known better, are completely off-the-wall and dangerously misleading,” constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe tells me. “Mr. Trump was not the president when the crimes charged in relation to the government documents he stashed in a highly vulnerable condition at his oceanside resort occurred. Even if he had been president, the mystical power to declassify with a wave of the hand without even complying with the relevant executive branch regulations clearly does not exist.”
McCaul is acting, as so many Republicans have when our democracy is at risk, as a flack for the former president, who was caught red-handed with sensitive materials. As Tribe puts it, McCaul “does a great disservice when he ventures into this territory so sloppily and with such bad information, and the usually very astute Martha Raddatz should’ve called him on it in no uncertain terms.”
District Judge Aileen Cannon’s absurd decision on Monday to appoint a special master to review the seized documents (that do not belong to him) and consider, among other things, whether a nonsensical executive privilege claim could shield them reminds us that the effort to boost Trump is not limited to the legislative branch. The last-minute Trump appointee’s opinion seems to acknowledge that the executive privilege claim is weak, but she nevertheless ignores the overwhelming priority that ought to be given to a criminal investigation, as well as the ease with which evidence admissibility could be sorted out down the road. Moreover, the decision to let the intelligence community’s document review commence but to halt the Justice Department’s investigation is totally illogical and unprecedented. (There are good reasons for the Justice Department to appeal.)
In any event, without a strong, independent media willing to call out habitual liars (and treat unequal parties unequally), the public is misled and radicalized. At a time when supposedly “normal” Republicans brazenly defend serious breaches of national security, mainstream media must do better than afford the MAGA propaganda machine a megaphone.