During a news conference on Thursday, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) was asked to respond to concerns that Republicans are weaponizing the Department of Justice. Within five seconds, he changed the topic to tax cuts.
“Schumer as well as Nancy Pelosi have called on you to remove Chairman Nunes from his position on the intel committee,” a reporter said to Ryan. “What’s your response to that?”
Nunes, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, has repeatedly taken unusual steps to weaponize sensitive intelligence information against President Trump’s political opponents. He’s currently leading the effort to publicly release a memo prepared by House Republican staff that details alleged anti-Trump bias during the early stages of the FBI’s investigation into Trump — months before Trump’s election, and during a period when the FBI’s public statements about the Hillary Clinton investigation helped Trump’s flagging prospects of becoming president.
There’s evidence that Nunes is doing the White House’s bidding. Less than a year ago, Nunes clumsily conspired with the White House in an attempt to validate Trump’s claims about Obama surveilling him. But no evidence of wrongdoing was ever presented, and the episode ended with Nunes temporarily stepping down from involvement in the Russia probe. (Nunes has refused to answer questions about if he’s working with the White House on the memo effort.)
Ryan isn’t worried about any of that. During the news conference, he quickly dismissed Democratic concerns as “playing politics,” before pivoting to a topic that’s always near and dear to him.
“I think they’re just playing politics and I think they’re looking for a political distraction is what I get out of that,” Ryan said. “Look, the tax cuts are working, tax reform is working, we’ve got ISIS on the run, things are going well, economic confidence is at a 17 year high. I think they would love nothing more than to play politics and to change the subject.”
Democrats may or may not be playing politics, but that doesn’t explain the strong objections to the memo’s released voiced by the FBI, currently run by Trump appointee Christopher Wray.
On Wednesday, the FBI released a statement expressing “grave concerns” about the memo’s possible release.
“As expressed during our initial review, we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy,” it said.
Ryan has at no point intervened to try and stop Nunes’ effort to release the memo. The White House has the final say, and Trump will reportedly let the release go forward.
During the news conference on Thursday, Ryan suggested that concern for the civil liberties of Trump campaign officials is behind his support for the memo’s release. But the House Speaker seems blind to Trump’s ulterior motives.
Trump reportedly supports releasing the memo because he believes it’ll allow him to put pressure on Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein — the top DOJ official overseeing Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. One of Ryan’s House Republican colleagues indicates on Thursday that he’d support the president even if he fired Rosenstein.