WASHINGTON — In a normal political season, a congressman saying Congress should follow up on a whistleblower complaint is more likely to provoke yawns than headlines.
But as Rep. Mark Amodei, Nevada’s lone Republican in Congress, learned the hard way, this is no ordinary political season.
During a Friday conference call with reporters, Amodei said he supported the impeachment inquiry into a whistleblower’s complaint about a July 25 call between President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
He stressed, however, that he does not support the impeachment of the president, saying he has seen no smoking gun in the documents related to the call. “What I want to know is, were the rules broken?” Amodei said.
“I’m a big fan of oversight,” said the Carson City Republican, who first was elected in 2011. “So let’s let the committees get to work and see where it goes.”
After the call, Amodei said on Fox News Monday, he told his colleagues that he thought the call went well.
But then came the fallout. The New York Times reported that Amodei — Trump’s 2016 Nevada campaign chairman — had become, “the first House Republican to support Trump impeachment inquiry.”
The story made it sound as if Amodei supported not just the inquiry but impeachment itself. Observers wondered if Amodei was a trailblazer who might prod other Republicans to take a stand against Trump.
Before Friday was over, Amodei had issued a statement to clarify: “In no way, shape, or form, did I indicate support for impeachment.” He ended it with a punchy, “I now have a full appreciation of how the president feels. Have a nice weekend.”
But that statement didn’t stop network news outlets from playing Amodei’s support for the process as a huge story — Amodei even rated mention in a “60 Minutes” segment on impeachment on Sunday.
State Senate Minority Leader James Settelmeyer faulted journalists for overhyping the story and charged, “They didn’t necessarily reference exactly what he said.”
As a former federal prosecutor, Amodei naturally would want to look at evidence, Settelmeyer added, and his support for the process is “a lot different than saying he favors impeachment.”
Longtime Republican consultant Sig Rogich, a former senior assistant to President George H.W. Bush, told the Review-Journal that he thought Amodei “made a very succinct declaration that he was not in favor in impeachment.”
Rogich also argued that Republicans have to watch what they say about impeachment because Democrats are “looking for any hook to amplify this story. So they found Mark Amodei, who said he believes in the process,” Rogich said, adding Amodei “supports Donald Trump. He always has.”
And yet, during the 40-minute call, Amodei refrained from repeating the standard GOP talking points that challenge the whistleblower’s allegations based on hearsay. Instead Amodei observed that he supported the whistleblower statute, and hence was committed to following the process. Amodei also offered that he did not care if the whistleblower was a partisan if rules were broken.
“If you broke the law, then you know, there are consequences for that in this context,” Amodei told reporters. But he also said Trump deserves due process.
On Monday he acknoweldged that he eschewed the usual talking points as he told the Review-Journal, “Here’s why I say none of that. I’m a process guy.”
One former fellow Nevada lawmaker said Amodei did the right thing.
“Good for him. I think he just stated the obvious the other day,” said Gregory Brower, a former Nevada state senator who served as congressional liaison for the FBI during special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe. “The Mark Amodei I know would want to wait to see all the facts before he makes a decision.”
Brower also wondered if Amodei – as the first Republican to tell the media he supports the inquiry– augurs a change in attitudes among Republicans in Congress who have been loath to disagree with Trump publicly.
Brower noted that Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., chastised Trump for tweeting a quote by Pastor Robert Jeffress, which said impeachment could spark a civil war in America.
“I have visited nations ravaged by civil war. @realDonaldTrump I have never imagined such a quote to be repeated by a president. This is beyond repugnant,” wrote Kinzinger, a former Air Force pilot who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Also, last week Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said that he found “deeply troubling” the transcript of the phone call in which Trump asked Zelenskiy to investigate unsubstantiated allegations that former Vice President Joe Biden blocked a Ukranian prosecutor’s investigation of son Hunter Biden’s business dealings.
By not categorically denying the possibility that Trump might have crossed a line, as some other Republicans have done, Amodei himself crossed a line. His remarks set political observers wondering if the Trump re-election campaign will want Amodei to serve as its Nevada chairman again. The campaign declined to comment on the story.
To the Review-Journal’s query on that subject, Amodei responded, “We’ve spoken with the Trump campaign about that, they haven’t finalized anything yet, but if they ask us to do it we’d be happy to do it.”
“I now have a full appreciation of how the President feels.”
-Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., statement
Sept. 26, 2019