With President Donald Trump’s onetime confidant and so-called “fixer” seemingly flipping sides to help investigators uncover the full scope of communication between Russian oligarchs, agents, and hackers and Trump’s campaign, the president’s fellow Republicans are left twisting in the political winds trying to defend him.
Those closest to Trump are attacking Michael Cohen’s credibility and denying his claims that Trump had direct, personal knowledge that his son and staff were sitting down with Russians who promised dirt on Hillary Clinton. But at least one prominent Republican is ready to skip past that drama and give a preview of the party’s endgame should it turn out Trump’s been lying about any number of different details of the “Russiagate” allegations.
Even if the president turns out to be a bald-faced liar, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) said Saturday on Fox News, that’s fine because nobody will care.
“Well, if he’s proven to have not told the whole truth about the fact that campaigns look for dirt and that if someone offers it you listen to them, nobody is going to be surprised. There are some things in politics that you just take for granted,” Issa said, after host Neil Cavuto suggested voters will care about the story “if he’s proven to be a liar.”
Issa elaborated on his dismissal of the political harm that might normally derive from the revelation that a leader is lying by suggesting everyone already knows that this is how business gets done.
“Well, you know, businessmen listen to almost everyone that might be helpful. And by the way, they make pragmatic decisions about how to make bad stories go away,” Issa said. He’s apparently making oblique reference to the tape-recorded conversation between Trump and Cohen, in which they discuss how to buy the rights to Karen McDougal’s story about her affair with Trump. “In business, a problem is something money won’t solve. If you’ve got somebody making an allegation, true or false, suing you for something true or false, you often make a pragmatic decision: make it go away and get back to the important things.”
Issa knows better than most. He built his own fortune — the largest among House of Representatives members — through a hostile takeover of a car-alarm company. At one point, he reportedly walked into the office of an executive he was trying to push out to show off a new handgun, reminding the man he had expertise in explosives and weaponry from his time in the military. At another, his plant burned down just a few weeks after he’d boosted the value of his fire insurance. Arson investigators deemed the fire suspicious and reported that it seemed a flammable substance had been scattered in the only part of the building that wasn’t covered by fire suppressant systems.
So what’s a little lying to the public about knowing that the Russians were trying to hand over Clinton dirt in the middle of an election, or about whether he knew about hush money payments made by his fixer on his behalf? It’s not like Donald Trump burned a building down, after all.
Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, isn’t yet being so dismissive. A day after Issa’s chat with Cavuto, Giuliani continued to dispute Cohen’s claims about his former employer in multiple television interviews. He previewed his own defense: that the tapes about payment for McDougal’s story might have been doctored.
But Issa’s statements suggest another potential defense Republicans can roll out should the investigations into Trump’s campaign end up revealing direct wrongdoing by the president. While some pundits and observers may still expect there to be a red line for Republicans, Issa’s comments suggest there might not be. Republicans who’d rather keep their party in power may simply stand by their man, no matter what comes to light.
Issa’s own legislative career provides a clear example of how partisanship has trumped reality, the public interest, and truthfulness among modern Republican officials. While he now stands ready to sweep aside questions about the president’s integrity, he waged political war on the Obama administration by using the House oversight powers to gin up fake scandal after fake scandal, and even to run interference for the Wall Street bigwigs who’d crashed the economy just before the 2008 election.
But then Issa found himself in a tight reelection contest for the first time in 2016. Then, too, his flexibility came in handy: He put Obama’s face on his campaign fliers and portrayed himself as a close ally of the president he had spent six years sabotaging.
If all that seems risible, those worried about the GOP’s potential to replicate those moral contortions on Trump’s Russiagate woes should take care to remember how that story ended. Issa won that election. The tricks worked.