Justin Amash, a rare Republican congressman who refuses to genuflect at Donald Trump’s feet, has been taking heat lately for daring to speak his mind. But bless his heart, he couldn’t care less.
On Sunday, Trump called him “a loser.” (The “loser” won re-election last year by 10 points, bucking the blue wave.) House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy derided Amash as an attention junkie who has “never supported the president.” (Amash, since January, has voted with Trump 92 percent of the time.) And Trump mouthpiece Lou Dobbs said that Amash should be thrown out of the GOP’s conservative House Freedom Caucus. (Amash, who was elected in the 2010 tea party wave, co-founded the House Freedom Caucus.)
All this, because Amash had the temerity to actually read the entire Mueller report and to publicly state the obvious in a string of Saturday tweets:
“Mueller’s report reveals that President Trump engaged in specific actions and a pattern of behavior that meet the threshold of impeachment.”
Granted, Amash is a Republican outlier; the odds are approximately zero that he will inspire his willfully deaf and dumb colleagues to put country over party. Nevertheless, the Michigan congressman is a potential nightmare for Trump in 2020, for reasons I’ll explain in the lower portion of this column. But first, let’s take a moment to celebrate his candor. Here are highlights from his Saturday thread:
“President Trump has engaged in impeachable conduct…I offer these conclusions only after having read Mueller’s redacted report carefully and completely, having read or watched pertinent statements and testimony, and having discussed this matter with my staff, who thoroughly reviewed materials and provided me with further analysis…
“Mueller’s report identifies multiple examples of conduct satisfying all the elements of obstruction of justice, and undoubtedly any person who is not the president of the United States would be indicted based on such evidence. Impeachment…simply requires a finding that an official has engaged in careless, abusive, corrupt, or otherwise dishonorable conduct.
“When loyalty to a political party or to an individual trumps loyalty to the Constitution, the Rule of Law — the foundation of liberty — crumbles…America’s institutions depend on officials to uphold both the rules and spirit of our constitutional system even when to do so is personally inconvenient or yields a politically unfavorable outcome. Our Constitution is brilliant and awesome; it deserves a government to match it.”
And after Trump and his toadies hurled their abuse, Amash didn’t cower like a scalded puppy. Instead, he doubled down yesterday. Here are the highlights:
“People who say there were no underlying crimes and therefore the president could not have intended to illegally obstruct the investigation – and therefore cannot be impeached – are resting their argument on several falsehoods.
“They say there were no underlying crimes. In fact, there were many crimes revealed by the investigation…
“They say obstruction of justice requires an underlying crime. In fact, obstruction of justice does not require the prosecution of an underlying crime, and there is a logical reason for that. Prosecutors might not charge a crime precisely because obstruction of justice denied them timely access to evidence that could lead to a prosecution…
“They imply that ‘high crimes and misdemeanors’ requires charges of a statutory crime or misdemeanor. In fact, ‘high crimes and misdemeanors’ is not defined in the Constitution and does not require corresponding statutory charges. The context implies conduct that violates the public trust – and that view is echoed by the Framers of the Constitution and early American scholars.”
McCarthy, the GOP House leader, told Fox News on Sunday that Amash should be ignored because “he’s not a criminal attorney.” Nevertheless, Amash’s take on the Mueller report mirrors the view of 916 federal criminal attorneys – from Republican and Democratic administrations – who have signed this bipartisan letter: “Each of us believes that the conduct of President Trump described in (the Mueller report) would, in the case of any other person not covered by the Office of Legal Counsel policy against indicting a sitting President, result in multiple felony charges for obstruction of justice. The Mueller report describes several acts that satisfy all of the elements for an obstruction charge: conduct that obstructed or attempted to obstruct the truth-finding process, as to which the evidence of corrupt intent and connection to pending proceedings is overwhelming.”
But what’s arguably most noteworthy about Amash is his potential role as a spoiler in 2020. A committed small-government libertarian, he hasn’t ruled out challenging Trump by running for president on the Libertarian Party ticket; in that capacity, he could provide a home for conservatives who are sickened by Trump’s governmental corruption and protectionist nationalism. Their numbers may be small, but here’s what matters: Amash is based in Michigan, a state that tilted to Trump in 2016 by a mere 10,704 votes out of 4.5 million cast. His statewide approval rating has reportedly dropped 18 points since he took office, and he can ill afford to lose those 16 electoral votes. If the Democrats were to nominate someone capable of carrying normally blue Michigan (i.e., virtually anyone), then Amash, as a third-party draw for disaffected conservatives, could clinch that win.
All of which explains why House Republicans are hesitant to oust Amash from their ranks, despite his defiant stance on impeachment. As Trump’s protectors, they recognize the political peril of banishment. And as Lyndon B. Johnson used to say, it’s always better to have a dog inside the tent peeing out, than outside the tent peeing in.