Republican Sen. Ted Cruz Texas was once a fierce opponent of Donald Trump in the 2016 election, but he’s now become a happy warrior for the president, especially in the face of impeachment.
But as Cruz has settled into his defense that Trump did nothing wrong in the Ukraine scandal, his attitude is in stark contradiction with worries he expressed just months ago, in May of 2019.
At the time, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on the Russia investigation had been released by the Justice Department, and Attorney General Bill Barr was defending his own response to the end of the probe. Cruz, along with other Republicans, were proclaiming Trump’s supposed vindication and raising alarms about the origins of the Russia investigation under former President Barack Obama.
Like many on the right, Cruz pushed the notion that the Russia investigation was a politically motivated plot to take down Trump.
“I believe the Department of Justice under the Obama administration was profoundly politicized and was weaponized to go after political opponents of the president,” said Cruz during a Senate hearing with Barr. “If that is the case, would you agree that politicizing the Department of Justice and weaponizing it to go after your political opponents is an abuse of power?” (Emphasis added.)
“I think it’s an abuse of power regardless of who does it,” Barr responded (emphasis added).
“Of course,” Cruz said. “It is an unusual thing, is it not, for the Department of Justice to be investigating a candidate for president, particularly a candidate from the opposing party of the party in power?” (As was later made clear, Trump himself wasn’t actually under investigation before he entered office, though four members of his campaign were.)
“Yes,” said Barr.
As I noted at the time, the questioning took an unintentionally hilarious turn when Cruz queried whether any presidential candidates other than Trump were under federal investigation at the time, apparently trying to solicit the answer that they were not. Barr almost gave this answer, but then remembered that — famously — Hillary Clinton was under federal investigation during the campaign, which dramatically undercut Cruz’s accusations of a politicized department.
A recent report from the Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz recently concluded that there was no reason to believe that the Russia investigation was started for political motivations, as Cruz had indicated he believed. In particular, there’s no evidence that the probe was initiated from the White House or political appointees at the top of the administration, findings which Cruz surely would have taken to be damning evidence of abuse of power against the Obama administration.
But that was then, before the Ukraine scandal broke.
Now, we know that Trump himself told Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a presidential candidate, while the opposing party is in control. Not only that, he wanted the Justice Department to be part of the probe; he asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to work with Barr, and his attorney Rudy Giuliani has said Trump told him to take the dirt he dug up in Ukraine to the Justice Department.
And what does Cruz think of all this? He thinks there’s no problem whatsoever with what Trump did.
“A president is always justified — and in fact has a responsibility — to investigate corruption,” Cruz said recently on Fox News, discussing Trump’s scheme to get Ukraine to investigate Biden and his son Hunter. “The fundamental argument that disposes of this case, that makes clear that the president did nothing impeachable, is that he has the authority to investigate corruption.”
So even though, in May of last year, Cruz was deeply concerned about the politicization of criminal investigations during an election year — and agreed that it would be an abuse of “regardless of who does it” — he is willing to give Trump a pass on what he once enthusiastically called an “abuse of power.” He can dismiss the idea that Trump did anything wrong by saying he had the “authority” to do it, while ignoring the previous considerations that made him fearful of an abuse of that authority.
And the evidence that Trump was politically motivated is overwhelming and much stronger than any suggestion that the Russia investigation was somehow improperly predicated. It came directly from the president’s mouth. While he did try to involve the Justice Department, it never seems to have taken up the matter to his satisfaction. So he tried to involve another country’s legal system — one that he admits openly is corrupt — to target American citizens, which, as it happens, is another claim that critics of the Russia investigation make about Obama. When Trump was asked in October 2019 if he had asked for any foreign investigations of corruption that didn’t involve his political opponents, he came up empty. And of course, he, like the rest of the Republican Party, almost entirely ignored the issue of Biden and Ukraine until 2019, the year the former vice president emerged as a formidable challenger to Trump.
Despite his previous claim to be concerned about abuse of power, regardless of who does it, Cruz will let Trump do whatever he wants. The Texas senator will cheerfully defend this corruption.
Watch Cruz’s remarks to Barr below: