Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ) has refused to condemn President Trump’s blatant abuse of power. Smith casts himself as a moderate in election years, but a look at his reaction to this and previous scandals reveal he lacks the courage to put his country before his party.
In response to Trump asking multiple foreign governments for help in a future election, an obvious quid pro quo that would deny aid to a vulnerable ally, an attempt to propagate a debunked conspiracy theory that absolves Russia from their 2016 election attack, and a side dish of trying to enrich Giulianni’s friends with jobs in Ukraine’s gas industry, Smith has mustered the energy to do two things: First, cast an easy vote with the entire House to send the whistleblower complaint to Congress, and second, issue the following statement:
We must have only one objective: providing the American people the truth. But I do not support this inquiry that is being initiated by the speaker for impeachment. I want the truth, but in order to initiate an inquiry there has to be the allegation of serious wrongdoing and illegal high crimes and misdemeanors.
Smith is wrong, there need not be “illegal” high crimes and misdemeanors. The judgement of what is and is not impeachable is left to Congress regardless of criminal statue. And Trump has broken the law - asking a foreign government for help in an election is illegal. Additionally, an inquiry, (what Smith is against,) is how we discern the truth, (what Smith claims he wants.) Smith has not been asked to vote on impeaching the president. Lastly, if Smith simply wanted the information from the whistleblower complaint before rendering judgement on the merits of an inquiry, he has had that and more for weeks now. He has not changed his position.
However, on October 21, after learning all we now know about Trump’s behavior, Smith signed on as cosponsor and voted in favor of a resolution to censure Adam Schiff, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
Just for good measure, Republicans threw a little shade at the Russia investigation in this resolution as well. Smith found that acceptable of course, because when Devin Nunes was smearing Robert Mueller and the intelligence community with his easily debunked “memo,” Chris Smith voted to release it to the public.
Smith is one of the longest serving members in Congress and could be a powerful voice of reason. He had two opportunities to stand up to his party and defend our democracy. He failed both times.
So what does it take to spurn Mr. Smith to action? What kind of scandal, abuse, or crisis is necessary for Smith to call for investigation? Not surprisingly, it often has to involve someone he simply doesn’t like.
During Bill Clinton’s tenure, Smith supported impeachment every step of the way. An examination of the timeline offers insight into what level of conduct Smith views as impeachable, or at least warrants a second look.
On November 5, 1997, Robert Barr (R-GA) introduced a resolution asking the judiciary committee to determine if there were grounds to impeach Clinton. Smith signed on as a cosponsor. One of Barr’s justifications was an allegation that Clinton had received money for his reelection from China. Yes, foreign help in an election.
The resolution also offered that Clinton “engaged in a systemic effort to obstruct, undermine, and compromise the legitimate and proper functions and processes of the executive branch.” Somehow, Mueller’s ten counts of obstruction and testimony that he could indict Trump were he not president didn’t register for Smith.
If “Clinton”, “obstruction”, and “impeachment” ring a bell to you, it’s probably because obstruction of justice did end up as an article of impeachment in 1998. But that article was based on the Lewinsky scandal. Smith’s vote in favor of Barr’s resolution came before anything about Lewinsky was known publicly. Still, he thought impeachment was a possibility.
To be fair, Smith stated that Clinton deserved the presumption of innocence, but publicly sounded the alarm and supported investigations nonetheless. He said Whitewater “should have been enough to bring down anybody.” Smith also wanted the investigation to expand beyond Lewinsky, stating that he believed “very strongly that all potential matters - especially “Filegate” which in my view is the most egregious of all if true - should be looked at.”
Whitewater and Filegate, (an allegation that Clinton used the FBI to compile information on top Republicans,) amounted to nothing. Ken Starr himself found no evidence of wrongdoing.
Smith has demanded investigations from far weaker footing. After fake videos purporting to show ACORN staffers helping people set up brothels, Smith sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder asking for a special counsel investigation.
The same perpetrators also made fake videos in Planned Parenthood, claiming that employees were selling fetuses for profit. Smith praised the tapes from the House floor, and insisted Planned Parenthood was “hiding something.” He wanted to withhold federal funds and investigate. He made a similar argument in an op-ed, even after the tapes had been debunked.
Smith made sure to board the Benghazi train when it arrived at GOP station. He said the “biggest open question” was “what about Hilary Clinton.” He claimed there were “huge questions about security requests” to Secretary Clinton, and was adamant that we needed to know everything Secretary Clinton knew, when she knew it, and if she ignored said requests. Smith also dove into debunked conspiracy theories about why back-up forces took seven hours to arrive.
Smith called for an investigation into whether the Obama administration broke federal law by supporting Kenya’s new constitution. (Hint, abortion was involved.) He felt Obama had so exceeded his authority that he voted with his Republican colleagues to sue him in 2014. (This was over the Affordable Care Act, and involved, among other things, using funds that Congress had not appropriated for subsidy payments. Apparently using unappropriated funds is only acceptable to Smith if you are building an unnecessary wall.)
It is impossible to reconcile Smith’s hair-trigger for investigations when it aligns with his political needs and his current silence on Trump. Considering his vote to censure Schiff, his statement against opening an inquiry, and the absence of any clarification, we can only conclude that he endorses all the ways Trump has abused his office. This is not leadership, and this is no moderate.
But if you really want to make your head spin, listen to this clip of Smith passionately pleading for the Obama administration to send military aid to our ally Ukraine, because people are dying.
Maybe they should have done Obama a favor first.