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House Republicans embark on a mission: Avenge Trump

They've punished his Democratic critics, probed prosecutors who charged him and set up a weaponization panel boosting his narrative. Now they want to “expunge” his impeachments.
Donald Trump in Novi, Mich., on June 25, 2023.
Donald Trump in Novi, Mich., on Sunday.Scott Olson / Getty Images

WASHINGTON — House Republicans are using the powers of their majority to carry out Donald Trump’s quest for retribution against his political adversaries, bolstering the indicted former president’s 2024 campaign message that he is the victim of a wide-ranging conspiracy by “villains” who must be brought down.

The battle to avenge Trump began on the first day of the new Congress, and it has grown nearly six months into the GOP majority, led by Trump’s staunchest allies in the conference and usually getting a helping hand from Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.

They’re fighting to “expunge” his impeachments. They’ve punished his most outspoken Democratic critics. They’re investigating law enforcement entities that charged Trump. They crafted a “weaponization” panel that channels his grievances.

Swing-district Republicans are in a bind between the wishes of their pro-Trump GOP base and Trump-skeptical independents.

“I accept Trump at his word that he will seek retribution,” said David Jolly, a former Republican congressman who is now a vocal Trump critic. “But what we’ve learned is: If he has a Republican Congress, that Congress will probably do what they can to ensure Trump has the executive authority to seek retribution.”

‘Expunge’ impeachments

In the latest move to prop up Trump, key Republicans are pushing to expunge his two impeachments — one in 2019 for abuse of power by pressuring Ukraine’s president to investigate his campaign rival Joe Biden and one in 2021 for inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection.

The resolutions, which could pass with a majority vote in the House, would amount to a symbolic pro-Trump vote without legal or practical impact. Trump was acquitted both times because of insufficient Senate Republican votes to convict.

Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., the No. 3 member of GOP leadership, who has labeled herself “ultra MAGA,” blasted the two impeachments as a “sham smear against not only President Trump’s name, but against millions of patriots across the country.” She introduced the resolutions with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., who said the goal was to “clear President Trump’s good name.”

McCarthy has endorsed the expungement effort.

“The impeachments never should have happened,” McCarthy said Friday. “When they accuse somebody of something and you’re found innocent, you should clean the record.”

The expungement push comes on the heels of House Republicans’ voting to censure Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., a vocal Trump critic who argued that the vote shows “the crazy extreme MAGA people are now running the House of Representatives.” In January, McCarthy threw Schiff and Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., a fellow Trump impeachment manager, off the Intelligence Committee.

“McCarthy has converted Congress into Washington’s largest law firm, representing just one client, Donald Trump,” Swalwell said. “Their defense of the indicted former president has no limit but comes at the cost of our constituents’ legislative priorities’ being cast aside.”

'A fealty to' Donald Trump

Jolly, who narrowly lost his Florida swing district in 2016, said the House GOP quest to seek revenge for Trump is the product of several interconnected dynamics.

“One is a fealty to — and protection of — Donald Trump. The second is there’s a true conviction among some members, particularly your newer members, that the Biden family is a crime family. They do actually believe that,” he said. “And then, finally, the weak stature of Kevin McCarthy, who is unable to stop any of these impulses, because the political reality is he needs the caucuses of those seeking retribution.”

Jolly, who has left the GOP, said that by avenging Trump, the House is “tilting the scales” of the 2024 election. “It’s an expression of where the House caucus is in the presidential primary that they are willing to very openly and specifically aid Donald Trump.” He added that swing-district Republicans tend to go along because they know they're “not going to beat back this overwhelming impulse of Republicans,” so they pick their battles elsewhere.

Republicans opened the new Congress by creating a subcommittee on “weaponization” of the federal government, giving credence to Trump’s narrative of a “deep state” conspiracy. The panel is run by Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, an outspoken Trump defender and McCarthy ally who also chairs the powerful Judiciary Committee.

“Maybe, instead of the never-ending attacks on President Trump, maybe the country would be better off if we figured out how the whole false Trump-Russian narrative started,” Jordan said last week at a Judiciary Committee hearing featuring testimony from John Durham, the special counsel appointed in the Trump administration to investigate the origins of the investigation into links between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election.

‘Liberate America from these villains’

Much of the Trump defense effort in the House, including the weaponization panel, has focused on the contention that the justice system is treating Trump unfairly and differently from his political opponents. Jordan called it a "double standard." (Some former prosecutors argue Trump is being treated with greater lenience — not harshness — in the investigation of his handling of classified documents after he left office.)

This spring, House Republicans launched an investigation into New York prosecutor Alvin Bragg over his indictment of Trump. And more recently, they’ve set their sights on Attorney General Merrick Garland, with McCarthy threatening to open an impeachment inquiry. Republicans cite the Justice Department’s handling of the plea deal of Hunter Biden, the president's son, on criminal charges. The focus on Garland comes after special counsel Jack Smith indicted Trump on 37 counts in connection with his illegal possession of classified material and refusal to return it. (Trump has pleaded not guilty to all state and federal charges.)

Caught in the middle of the Trump-GOP vengeance campaign are politically vulnerable House Republicans — including 18 lawmakers from districts Biden won in 2020. They need strong support from pro-Trump Republican voters at home to win primaries, but they also need support from Trump-skeptical independents to hold their seats in the general election.

In the narrow House majority, their votes are required to pass measures. Sometimes that means giving them off-ramps to sell at home — the resolution that created the special "weaponization" panel, for instance, doesn't name Trump. Other times, it leads to haggling: The Schiff censure resolution was tweaked to eliminate a provision that would have fined him $16 million to win holdouts like Rep. Marc Molinaro, R-N.Y., who represents a swing district around the Hudson Valley.

The House Republican efforts align with Trump’s campaign vows of retribution against his perceived political foes if he’s elected in 2024 to return to the White House.

“We will demolish the deep state. We will expel the warmongers from our government. We will drive out the globalists. We will cast out the communists, Marxists and fascists. And we will throw off the sick political class that hates our country,” Trump said Sunday in a speech in the swing state of Michigan. “We will rout the fake news media, and we will defeat crooked Joe Biden. We will liberate America from these villains once and for all.”