Yes, the Democratic presidential contenders who questioned Attorney General William Barr on the Mueller report this week were in top prosecutorial form. Most pointed was California Sen. Kamala Harris, whose question about whether anyone in the White House had suggested Barr open any new investigations we don’t know about left him sputtering that he was “trying to grapple” with the meaning of the word “suggest.” Was that a yes?
But another aspirant of limitless ambition on the Senate Judiciary Committee was hard at work at that hearing, too. And as usual with freshman Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, the work in question involved playing to the balcony, at Fox News Nation.
When Hawley’s lips are moving, chances are he’s fueling the same kind of partisan contempt that he regularly accuses liberals of indulging. “The liberal elites who call themselves our leaders refer to us as flyover country,” Hawley said in his Senate campaign kick-off speech. “They deride not just our location but our whole way of living.” He’s been sounding that theme ever since.
So when his turn came at the Barr hearing, he did not have any real questions for the attorney general, but said what he found “most shocking” about the day’s testimony was the reading of an Aug. 26, 2016, text message from Peter Strzok. Hawley called Strzok “a top counterintelligence investigator who we now know helped launch this counter-spy investigation of the president of the United States.”
We know no such thing. On the contrary, the investigation into the many contacts between Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and Russians seems to have started after a tip from Australian officials worried about the implications of a Trump aide who’d told an Australian diplomat over drinks that he’d heard Russia had some stolen emails that were going to be very damaging to Hillary Clinton. After WikiLeaks began releasing what seemed like those same emails, the FBI heard from Australian leaders about their concerns. Which is how you’d expect a democratic ally to respond.
Anyway, the shocking text that Hawley focused on was exciting proof of at least one man’s disdain for Trump supporters. “Peter Strzok says, ‘Just went to a southern Virginia Walmart. I could SMELL the Trump support.’ Smell is capitalized,” Hawley crowed. “‘Just went to a southern Virginia Walmart. I could SMELL the Trump support.’ In my view, do you want to know what’s really going on here? You want to know why the counterintelligence investigation really happened? Do you want to know why we are all sitting here today? That’s why. Right there.
“An unelected bureaucrat, an unelected official in this government who clearly has open disdain, if not outright hatred for Trump voters, like the people of my state for instance. ‘I could SMELL the Trump support?’ They tried to overturn the results of a democratic election. That’s what’s really gone on here. That’s the story. That’s why we are here today.
“I cannot believe that a top official of this government with the kind of power that these people had, would try to exercise their own prejudices — and that’s what this is; it’s open, blatant prejudice — would try to use that in order to overturn a democratic election. And to my mind, that’s the real crisis here. And it is a crisis. Because if there’s not accountability, if this can go on in the United States of America, well then my goodness gracious we don’t have a democracy anymore.”
My goodness gracious, Sir Laurence Olivier, yes, we do. Strzok was disgraced and fired from the Mueller investigation and from the FBI, too, for the political opinions he texted his FBI lawyer girlfriend about. Is that not accountability? So is the Wall Street Journal review of Strzok’s communications that found that “texts critical of Mr. Trump represent a fraction of the roughly 7,000 messages, which stretch across 384 pages and show no evidence of a conspiracy against Mr. Trump.”
Hawley also suggested darkly that FBI officials had discussed using the 25th Amendment to oust the president “for political reasons.” Doesn’t that effort, he asked Barr, give the public reason “to question what the FBI is doing and to fear that there may be abuses of power?”
Whoa, there: Fired former FBI Director Andrew McCabe said exactly one person, outgoing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, had briefly raised invoking the 25th Amendment, but out of genuine concern rather than for political reasons.
Rosenstein has denied doing even that, and saluted the president on his way out the door recently. Yet Hawley is determined to make one man’s panicked, nation-saving passing thought into something sinister, and if it really had been motivated by “just political differences of opinion,” an act of treason.
In Hawley’s first year back in Washington — the city where he previously clerked for Chief Justice John Roberts, worked for the international law firm now known as Hogan Lovells and for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty — he complained, “It’s all politics all the time.”
But it doesn’t have to be. His fellow Republican from Missouri, Sen. Roy Blunt, occasionally takes an independent stand even as a member of GOP leadership. Blunt, for example, stood up for the separation of powers by voting against the president’s declaration of a national emergency in order to override the congressional denial of funds for a border wall. He’s loyal to the president, but also to the Constitution that Hawley so frequently references.
After several months on the job, Hawley has yet to show that he wants to represent all Missourians. Maybe that’s because some of the fellow Republicans he’s accused of telling him to “sit down and shut up” are right to assume that he’s already running for even higher office.