Republicans in Congress fail in their watchdog role

The past two weeks have not been great for America’s chief executive or those who worship at the altar of Donald J. Trump.

First came the indictment of U.S. Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., on insider trader charges. He was, many will remember, the first congressman to openly endorse Trump for president.

Then Republican Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., the second U.S. House member to embrace Trump’s campaign two years ago, found himself snarled under his own federal indictment on corruption charges, to which he pleaded not guilty Thursday.

But the double whammy coup de grace came battering down almost simultaneously Tuesday afternoon. Then, former Trump campaign chairman and confidant Paul Manafort was convicted of a variety of bank and tax fraud charges in Alexandria, Va.

In New York City at the same hour, Michael Cohen, the president’s long time lawyer and well-known personal fixer, implicated Trump directly in criminal activity when reaching a plea deal with federal prosecutors. It marked the first time any Trump associate has gone into open court and implicated the president in a crime.

That campaign-finance violation centered on a series of hush-money payments in the hundreds of thousands of dollars to Stormy Daniels and other women alleged to have had affairs with the candidate to buy their silence during the final weeks of the 2016 campaign. The underhanded payments clearly were intended to swing the close election Trump’s way.

In the aftermath of Tuesday’s bombshells, nary a hint of justifiable outrage could be heard from congressional Republicans who control the legislative branch of government.

Most said nothing, and those who did sounded wimpish at best.

Pleading ignorance

Take Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who pleaded ignorance: “We are aware of Mr. Cohen’s guilty plea to these serious charges. We will need more information than is currently available at this point.”

Others attempted to deflect attention away from the president’s potential culpability. For example, take the reaction to the Cohen and Manafort convictions from U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., the presumptive GOP whip next year: “Most of us need to work with the president where we can to move our agenda ... it’s definitely a fairly big sideshow.”

Others, however, unabashedly took a page from the New York City billionaire’s playbook of prevarications. U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said, “I don’t think it [Cohen’s conviction] implicates him [Trump] at all.”

And Trump’s trusted ally Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah had the gall to tell reporters “the president shouldn’t be held responsible for the actions of the people that he’s trusted.”

One of the few Republicans who got it right was former White House senior adviser Steve Bannon. He told The Guardian, “Tonight brings November into complete focus. It will be an up or down vote on the impeachment of the president.”

And though Democratic Party leaders in Congress do not plan to initiate any articles of impeachment anytime soon – likely for fear of their potential impact on the critical midterm elections – they and moderate Republicans must work to lift the heads of the majority see-no-evil Trump Republicans out of the sand.

To be sure, Cohen’s implication of Trump as a major player in the hush-money campaign finance breach should serve as the starting point of a full-scale congressional probe into all of the campaign funding practices of the president during the long and divisive 2016 campaign.

Then, Congress should act quickly to pass pending legislation to protect and preserve Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 election, considering that the president has mulled firing Mueller and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to quash any additional damaging impact to his already severely tarnished credibility as a trustworthy and ethical leader.

In short, it’s time for Congress to get off its duff and take seriously one of its most important roles as an overseeing watchdog on the executive level of government. At a time when outrage and action are demanded, continued silence and excuse-making are unacceptable to a nation searching for a remedy for the growing cancer on this presidency.

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