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Opinion My former party’s reaction to the Mueller report fills me with disgust

A redacted version of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's report was released to the public on April 18. Here's what's in it. (Video: Brian Monroe, Monica Akhtar/The Washington Post)

Having declared the Republican Party to be morally bankrupt last month — after 90 percent of GOP lawmakers voted to approve President Trump’s unconstitutional state of emergency — I am not remotely surprised by the party’s dishonorable and dishonest reaction to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report. But I am nevertheless dismayed and disgusted that a once-great party — to which I belonged for most of my life — could become a handmaiden to foreign attacks on the United States and blatant lawbreaking by the president.

The pattern was set by Attorney General William P. Barr, an establishment Republican who turned out to be a more unprincipled sycophant than his immediate predecessor, the erstwhile purveyor of toilets for “well-endowed” men. Barr released his own summary of the Mueller report, which was highly favorable to the president — and highly misleading. He then held a news conference to claim that Trump had been cleared on both obstruction of justice and collusion with Russia.

Anyone who has actually read the 448-page report knows that neither of those things is true. Mueller uncovered not only extensive connections between the Trump campaign and Russia but also extensive evidence of lying and obstruction of justice by the president. As former attorney general Eric Holder noted, “ANY competent public corruption prosecutor would bring obstruction charges against Trump and win.” Only the Justice Department position that a president can’t be indicted saved Trump — for now.

Yet the president’s cultists reacted as if the special counsel had anointed him as the second coming of “Honest Abe” Lincoln. “TRUMP CLEAN,” blared the front page of Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post. “No crimes committed. Dem hoax destroyed.”

“Try as he did to find a crime regarding Russia or obstruction of justice, Mr. Mueller found nothing to prosecute,” wrote the editorial board of Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal.

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“The witch hunt is officially over. The Mueller report is out, and the president of the United States has been totally and completely vindicated,” said Sean Hannity on Murdoch’s Fox News.

Republican paladins agreed. “Democrats want to keep searching for imaginary evidence that supports their claims, but it is simply not there,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said. “I think [Trump] has every right to feel good about what we’ve heard today,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said.

Want to know the definition of chutzpah? Many on the right demanded that Democrats and the media apologize for casting aspersions on Trump’s good name. “The Mueller report,” Tucker Carlson said, “is probably the single most humiliating thing that has ever happened to the White House press corps in the history of this country.” In truth, as Anna Dubenko documented in the New York Times, the Mueller report was the media’s finest hour. Mueller confirmed scoop after scoop about the Russia investigation, while exposing some of the hoaxes peddled by the president’s lickspittles — such as the bogus claims that Democratic emails were leaked not by Russian hackers but by murdered Democratic National Committee employee Seth Rich or that the investigation of Trump was triggered by the Clinton-funded Steele dossier.

Ironically, the conservative conceit that Mueller had vindicated Trump was undercut by, of all people, Trump himself. The president went on an extended Twitter rant against “the Crazy Mueller Report,” which he claimed had been written by “18 Angry Democrat Trump Haters” and was full of “fabricated & totally untrue” statements. People who have genuinely been exonerated don’t usually attack the exonerators.

Virtually the only elected Republican to express the appropriate level of outrage was Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah). “I am sickened at the extent and pervasiveness of dishonesty and misdirection by individuals in the highest office of the land, including the President,” he tweeted. “I am also appalled that, among other things, fellow citizens working in a campaign for president welcomed help from Russia.” Yet even Romney falsely minimized Mueller’s findings when he said: “It is good news that there was insufficient evidence to charge the President of the United States with having conspired with a foreign adversary or with having obstructed justice.” This fib conveniently absolved Romney of any responsibility for holding Trump to account for his lawbreaking.

Yet it’s hard to be too hard on Romney because he was so much better than anyone else in my former party. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) called the report an “unflattering portrayal” of Trump. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said the “report documents a number of actions taken by the presidents or his associates that were inappropriate.” Unflattering? Inappropriate? Those mild adjectives are obscenely inadequate to describe the worst exposé of presidential wrongdoing since Watergate. But, hey, at least they said something negative about Trump. That’s better than Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) saying that Trump “has a brash demeanor, that’s about all I can say.”

The prize for political pusillanimity goes yet again to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), whose statement focused entirely on Russia’s attack on the United States — without a word about what Mueller had revealed about Trump. But, hey, at least he didn’t say that “there’s nothing wrong with taking information from Russians.” Those were the words of Trump’s attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani, a once-respected Republican.

This is how morally bankrupt people talk. If a latter-day Diogenes were wandering around Washington, lamp in hand, looking for an honest Republican — well, he would be in for a looooong walk.

Read more:

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Jennifer Rubin: A brutal Sunday for Trump