When the history books are written about the Donald Trump era, several books and many chapters of other books will be devoted to how the Republicans twisted themselves into pretzels in order to defend Trump. Some of the worst contortions of all have come in the wake of Trump’s impeachment. One such contortion happened when Ken Starr, the independent counsel for the Whitewater investigation, joined Trump’s defense team ahead of his impeachment trial before the Senate.
Starr’s appointment sounds particularly discordant in light of the role of executive privilege in both the impeachments of Trump and Bill Clinton. Remember, Starr claimed that Clinton potentially engaged in impeachable conduct by asserting executive privilege in order to block testimony and evidence.
Now Starr is defending a president who asserted executive privilege in order to block testimony before Congress in a manner far broader than Clinton did. And Trump did so even when that testimony could have potentially been exculpatory. How contorted is that? Among those wanting to know the answer to that question is Paul Rosenzweig, one of the men who worked on the Whitewater investigation alongside Starr.
Rosenzweig served as a senior counsel during the Whitewater investigation before carving out a long career as a national security expert. He served as a deputy assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security in the George W. Bush administration, and has since served as a national security consultant. Like many Republican national security professionals, Rosenzweig has been disgusted at Trump’s conduct in office.
That disgust came to a head in 2018, when he voted Democratic in a national election for the first time ever. He told CNN’s Matt Berman that the final straw came when then-House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes crassly declared that the House had to run interference for Trump. Watch here.
Rosenzweig was disgusted when he learned Nunes told attendees at a fundraiser for fellow Republican Cathy McMorris Rogers that Republican control of the House was the only way to protect Trump from being investigated. To Rosenzweig’s mind, the fact that the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee was willing to make such a statement deprived both him and the GOP of “moral authority.”
So it should come as no surprise that Rosenzweig was not at all pleased to find out that his former boss was serving as a legal counsel to Trump. He recorded a video for Republicans for the Rule of Law, a group of Republicans dedicated to fighting Trump’s assault on checks and balances. Watch here.
Rosenzweig found it “puzzling” that Starr could be helping Trump fend off removal from office in the Senate after recommending that Clinton be impeached. He believes that if Starr could call for Clinton to be impeached, he should have called for Trump’s impeachment as well. This tracks closely with the sentiment of a number of other never-Trumpers who called for Clinton’s impeachment and subsequently called for Trump’s impeachment, such as Bret Stephens of The New York Times.
Whatever you may think of Clinton’s impeachment, you have to give Rosenzweig, Stephens, and other Republicans credit for consistency. Contrast that with a number of Republicans who vehemently demanded Clinton’s impeachment and removal, and are just as vehement about running interference for Trump. Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham immediately come to mind.
In an obvious swipe at them, Rosenzweig called it “ludicrous and ahistorical” to have an impeachment trial based solely on what the House heard, rather than call additional witnesses. In another jab at them, Rosenzweig said it was “disheartening” to see Republicans be so willing to discard the importance of character and the rule of law in return for Trump’s support.
Rosenzweig was being remarkably kind. Remember, as independent counsel for the Whitewater investigation, Starr recommended impeaching a president for conduct that, however unsavory, had nothing to do with his functions as president. And now he’s part of the legal team for a president who, based on what has been publicly reported, has engaged in some of the most egregious abuses of power by a president since Watergate. I haven’t seen a logical contortion like this since my days in high school debate.
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