The attacks on Mueller push us closer to the precipice

Our democratic republic is in far more danger than it was even a few weeks ago.

Until this point, there was an underlying faith in much of the political world that if Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation of Russian collusion in the election turned up unmistakably damning material about Donald Trump, Republicans in Congress would feel obligated by their commitment to the country’s well-being to accept Mueller’s findings and challenge the president.

.. we learned last week that Republicans are deepening their complicity in derailing Mueller’s investigation and burying the facts. The more Mueller imperils Trump, the more McCarthyite the GOP becomes.

.. The apotheosis of Republican congressional collusion with Trump’s efforts to hang on at all costs came at a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee. One Republican after another attacked Mueller and the Federal Bureau of Investigation as if the latter should be placed on a new compendium of subversive organizations.

.. Gohmert might as well have echoed the favored question of the congressional inquisitors of the early ’40s and ’50s: “Are they now or have they ever been . . . supporters of Hillary Clinton?”

Deserving an Academy Award for the most striking imitation of a member of the old House Un-American Activities Committee was Rep. Louie Gohmert. The hard-right Texas Republican went through a roll call of investigators, name by name, asking Wray if each had shown political bias. Wray defended every one of them he knew and wryly smiled when he was unfamiliar with one of the five names on Gohmert’s hit list.

.. When Republicans are FBI haters who are sidetracking probes into Russian subversion, the world truly is turned upside down.

.. Note also the statement of Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) that if every member of Mueller’s team who was “anti-Trump” were kicked off, “I don’t know if there’d be anyone left.” The implication is that even if Mueller’s investigation produced unassailable evidence of wrongdoing by Trump, we should ignore the truth, because Mueller’s team should have been vetted to exclude anyone who had a smidgen of doubt about the president.

.. Trump’s allies want us to say: Too bad the president lied or broke the law, or that Russia tried to tilt our election. This FBI guy sending anti-Trump texts is far more important, so let’s just forget the whole thing.

.. Only recently, it was widely assumed that if Trump fired Mueller, many Republicans would rise up to defend our institutions. Now, many in the party are laying the groundwork for justifying a coverup. This is a recipe for lawlessness.

.. Just last May, Newt Gingrich called him a “superb choice to be special counsel” and praised his “honesty and integrity.” Now, pro-Trump politicians feel free to contradict anything they said in the past and to dismiss what they once saw as legitimate authority if those who hold it threaten their power. This is a recipe for autocracy.

Trump himself told us plainly on Friday night in Pensacola, Fla., that he will do whatever it takes to hold power, and he should be taken seriously. “There are powerful forces in Washington trying to sabotage our movement,” he declared. “These are bad people, these are very, very bad and evil people. . . . But you know what, we’re stopping them. You’re seeing that right now.”

We are far closer to the edge than we want to think.

Senator Margaret Chase Smith Opposed Joseph McCarthy

Four months earlier, McCarthy had rocketed to national attention. In a well-publicized speech in Wheeling, West Virginia, he claimed to possess the names of 205 card-carrying communists in the State Department. Smith, like many of her colleagues, shared McCarthy’s concerns about communist subversion, but she grew skeptical when he repeatedly ignored her requests for evidence to back-up his accusations. “It was then,” she recalled, “that I began to wonder about the validity… and fairness of Joseph McCarthy’s charges.”

At first, Smith hesitated to speak. “I was a freshman Senator,” she explained, “and in those days, freshman Senators were to be seen and not heard.” She hoped a senior member would take the lead. “This great psychological fear…spread to the Senate,” she noted, “where a considerable amount of mental paralysis and muteness set in for fear of offending McCarthy.” As the weeks passed, Smith grew increasingly angry with McCarthy’s attacks and his defamation of individuals she considered above suspicion. Bowing to Senate rules on comity, Smith chose not to attack McCarthy, but to denounce the tactics that were becoming known as “McCarthyism.”

“Mr. President,” she began, “I would like to speak briefly and simply about a serious national condition…. The United States Senate has long enjoyed worldwide respect as the greatest deliberative body…. But recently that deliberative character has…been debased to…a forum of hate and character assassination.” In her 15-minute address, delivered as McCarthy looked on, Smith endorsed every American’s right to criticize, to protest, and to hold unpopular beliefs. “Freedom of speech is not what it used to be in America,” she complained. “It has been so abused by some that it is not exercised by others.” She asked her fellow Republicans not to ride to political victory on the “Four Horsemen of Calumny–Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry, and Smear.” As she concluded, Smith introduced a statement signed by herself and six other Republican senators–her “Declaration of Conscience.”

Her speech triggered a public explosion of support and criticism. “This cool breeze of honesty from Maine can blow the whole miasma out of the nation’s soul,” commented the Hartford Courant. “By one act of political courage, [Smith has] justified a lifetime in politics,” commented another. Newsweek magazine ran a cover story entitled “Senator Smith: A Woman Vice President?” Critics called her “Moscow-loving,” and much worse. McCarthy dismissed her and her supporters as “Snow White and the Six Dwarfs.”

Smith’s Declaration of Conscience did not end McCarthy’s reign of power, but she was one of the first senators to take such a stand. She continued to oppose him, at great personal cost, for the next four years. Finally, in December of 1954, the Senate belatedly concurred with the “lady from Maine” and censured McCarthy for conduct “contrary to senatorial traditions.” McCarthy’s career was over. Margaret Chase Smith’s career was just beginning.

The Mooch: White House Communications Mis-director

Former Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel’s “colorful language” was part of his charm, at least according to the White House press corps. Lots of people, including a few presidents, used language that would make Paulie Walnuts wince. I used to work for a former LBJ speechwriter. He used to tell me stories about some of the things Johnson said — and did — with regard to his, well, namesake.

.. In other words, the cursing is not the issue, it’s the context. I recall some conservatives defending Donald Trump’s tweets at Mika Brzezinski on the grounds that Andrew Jackson had a filthy mouth too. Okay, but he kept the blue talk out of his official statements.

.. Scaramucci made no effort to confirm the truth of his accusation against Reince Priebus. He simply accused him of committing a felony. That’s outrageous. And so are his repeated efforts to conflate truly egregious and criminal leaks of classified information with utterly typical and legal leaks about White House intrigue. The leak that enraged The Mooch was about him having dinner with Sean Hannity, former Fox News co-president Bill Shine, and President Trump. In his paranoid fever, Scaramucci assumed it was Reince Priebus who went to the press — and maybe it was. But that is not an illegal leak. And it’s certainly not a disclosure of state secrets.

.. Indeed, the narrative Scaramucci seems Hell-bent on crafting is that all White House leaks are treasonous

.. There’s nothing inherently wrong with leaking. This White House — like all White Houses — does it on purpose all the time, the president himself perhaps most of all.

.. So, the problem isn’t leaking per se, it’s disloyalty to the president. There’s also nothing wrong with a White House trying to punish disloyalty. That’s part of politics. But Scaramucci defines political loyalty to the president as a patriotic duty, not just for the White House staff but for journalists too. And in his mind, patriotism justifies smearing political rivals and making baseless accusations of criminality. There used to be a word for this sort of behavior: McCarthyism.

.. But he undermined the cause by the demagogic and dishonest way he tried to win the argument. He made up evidence, wildly exaggerated, and accused anyone who disagreed with him or his tactics of being traitors. The Left wanted to make any concern about Communist infiltration of the government into a disreputable “witch hunt.”

.. But the truth is that, despite whatever witch-hunt atmosphere there may have been, there were actual witches to be worried about.

.. But here we have a man who thinks McCarthyite tactics are justified to support Donald Trump. Scaramucci says he’s doing this to advance the “president’s agenda” to make America great again. But it seems more obvious that his first priority is to curry favor with the boss and solidify his own power.

.. Also, let me just say that loyalty to a person isn’t how we define patriotism in this country. Patriotism is about adherence to ideas and principles.

.. And that brings me to the second reason why this is all so disturbing. Trump apparently approves of what Scaramucci is doing and how he’s doing it.

Trump Adviser Had Twitter Contact With Figure Tied to Russians

Roger J. Stone Jr., an off-and-on adviser to President Trump for decades, has acknowledged that he had contact on Twitter with Guccifer 2.0, the mysterious online figure that is believed to be a front for Russian intelligence officials.

.. But Mr. Stone insisted in an interview that the contact had been brief and involved nothing more than the exchange of a few direct messages, well after the party committee had been hacked. “Even if he is a Russian agent, my cursory exchange with him happens after he releases the D.N.C. stuff,” Mr. Stone said on Saturday. “There’s only one exchange with him. I had no further exchanges.”

.. He denied any knowledge of what the hackers were up to before their attacks. “This is a witch hunt,” Mr. Stone said. “It’s the worst form of McCarthyism. Seems as if you’re not for nuclear war with the Russians over Syria, then you must be a traitor.”

.. During the campaign, Guccifer 2.0 used social media to invite individual reporters and Republican operatives to request specific caches of documents.