Long-time Idahoans remember GOP Congressman George Hansen, who represented Idaho’s second congressional district from 1964-1968 and from 1974-1984. At 6’6” Hansen was an outsized figure with a personality to match. A far-right conservative, Hansen had a flamboyant, impulsive style and a pronounced disdain of all things relating to the federal government.
In 1974, Hansen was the first member of Congress to be convicted of violating a federal regulation requiring disclosure of campaign contributions. Initially, he was sentenced to two years in jail but the sentence was later suspended after his attorney convinced the judge that Hansen was “stupid, but not evil.”
I was just in college when Hansen made this novel plea, but as soon as I heard Paul Ryan’s defense of the president, the words came back to me. “He’s new at government,” Ryan said. “He’s learning as he goes.” Aha, I thought, a variation on the “stupid, not evil” theme. It seemed Paul Ryan was echoing Hansen’s attorney, “The poor fella, he just didn’t know any better.”
Citing Trump’s lack of political experience, Ryan said, “The president’s new to this. He probably wasn’t steeped in the long running protocols that establish the relationship between DOJ, FBI and White House’s. He’s just new to this.”
Trump is hardly an ingénue, wide-eyed to the ways of the world. And, to the extent he is ignorant, that ignorance is purposeful. After all, the president has constant and ready access to abundant expertise.
But Trump knew exactly what he was doing when he sent Attorney General Sessions and his omnipresent son-in-law Jared Kushner out of the room before telling former FBI Director James Comey he wanted to talk about Michael Flynn. He knew it was wrong to tell Comey he hoped he would drop the Flynn investigation.
This was not the naïve act of a babe in the political woods; it was a calculated ploy to get Comey to do his unlawful bidding. That’s why he didn’t want any witnesses.
Not to put too fine a point on it, this was an attempt to obstruct justice.
Paul Ryan said that – in pointing to Trump’s newness to governing – he wasn’t making an excuse, just an observation. Call it what you will – an excuse, an observation, or an attempt at obfuscation – it is nonsense. Ryan knows it, and so do the American people.
Perhaps Trump, like Hansen, was stupid. But the presence of contrived stupidity does not negate the existence of real evil. The American people deserve so much better. They deserve a president who is neither stupid nor evil. Unfortunately, the incumbent is both.