House Speaker Paul Ryan did some damage control on Thursday, one day after he told reporters he had seen “no evidence” to support President Trump’s assertion that the FBI planted a spy in Trump’s presidential campaign.
At a press conference in the Capitol, Ryan echoed the president’s line that there had been no collusion in his campaign. “There’s been no evidence that there’s any collusion between the Trump campaign and President Trump and Russia,” Ryan said on Thursday. “Let’s just make that really clear. There’s no evidence of collusion.”
The earlier comments had complicated Ryan’s already fraught position as the lame duck leader of the House. After announcing in April that he plans to retire at end of his term, Ryan has faced doubts from within his own party about his ability to lead during the interim, especially with the looming threat of a discharge petition and a tough midterm election season. A few rank-and-file Republicans have called for Ryan to step down early. Ryan’s comments on Wednesday only made matters worse, garnering praise from Democrats and ire from the far right wing of his party.
A week earlier, Representative Trey Gowdy, who chairs the House Oversight Committee, had pushed back on Trump’s “Spygate” claim. “I am even more convinced that the FBI did exactly what my fellow citizens would want them to do when they got the information they got, and that it has nothing to do with Donald Trump,” he said in an interview on Fox News.
Echoing Gowdy’s comments on Wednesday, Ryan said that he had seen no evidence in support of “Spygate” and went one step further, telling reporters that a president should not pardon himself.
“I don’t know the technical answer to that question, but I think obviously the answer is he shouldn’t. And no one is above the law,” Ryan said.
Ryan struck a different tone on Thursday, criticizing the Department of Justice for “foot-dragging” over the delivery of documents to corroborate the briefing that he and a small group of congress members had received two weeks ago. “Had they complied with these document requests earlier, when we made them, we probably could have spared the country of all this drama,” he said. (The DOJ did bring documents to the Gang of Eight briefing on May 24, but lawmakers did not request to see them, according to The Washington Post.)
Ryan did his best on Thursday to refocus the conversation around Russia. “This is about Russia, and what they did, and making sure they don’t do it again and about us, the Congress, the elected representative branch of government, conducting very legitimate oversight over the appointed executive branch of government,” he said.
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