WASHINGTON ― Amidnew talkof a potential impeachment for PresidentDonald Trump, House SpeakerPaul Ryan(R-Wis.) managed on Wednesday to both defend the president and call for a review of a memo that could prove damaging to him.
Ryan said lawmakers had a responsibility to review the facts ― “to be sober, to be dispassionate” ― and not rush to judgment on a report sayingTrump pressured former FBI Director James Comey to abandon an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
“There’s been a lot of reporting lately,” Ryan said, seemingly referring to the Comey news and reports thatTrump revealed highly classified informationto Russian officials visiting the Oval Office. “I think that deserves close examination.”
Ryan said he told GOP members during a closed-door meeting on Wednesday morning that they “need the facts.” But as much as the speaker would like to paint himself as the sober-minded truth-seeker, there were already indications that he was working to undermine the reports and perhaps slow-walk the news in an attempt to kill it.
“It is obvious there are some people out there who want to harm the president,” Ryan said.
He added that it was appropriate for Congress to conduct its own oversight, and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has already requested a memo that Comey apparently wrote after meeting with Trump. Ryan said he wanted to reserve judgment until he and other lawmakers had seen that memo.
“I’m sure we’re going to want to hear from Mr. Comey about why, if this happened as he allegedly describes, why didn’t he take action at the time,” Ryan added, already seeming to question Comey’s version of events.
Ryan still hasn’t addressed reports that Trump revealed classified information to Russian officials, nor has he substantively addressed Trump threatening Comey in a tweet last Friday. But he did recycle one of his favorite lines, saying he wouldn’t “comment on the tweets of the day or the hour.”
The speaker has also been a champion of only conducting an investigation into Russian meddling in the U.S. election through the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, even as there are clear questions about the impartiality of members on those panels. Those investigations are moving slowly through Congress, and Ryan has been able to duck any real questions about Russian influencing by deferring to the investigation.
Although it’s hard to imagine it would take much time for Congress to subpoena the supposed Comey memo ― or much time to review it ― Ryan has given Trump extraordinary latitude and has found all sorts of creative ways to stand up for the president. That might be more difficult this time around, however.
Some Republican lawmakers are already suggesting that this could be grounds for impeachment. Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) told reporters Wednesday morning that, if the Comey allegation is true, it would be grounds for impeachment ― and that he trusts Comey a lot more than he trusts Trump.
That may just be Justin Amash being Justin Amash. But if even one or two Republicans start signing on to Democratic petitions to impeach the president, it could make life more difficult for Republicans as a whole. Until Ryan signals there is a limit to what abuses he’ll accept from Trump, though, calls for more investigations should be taken with some doubt that those investigations will yield anything more.