We learned this week that President Trump in June ordered the firing of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, but few Republicans on Capitol Hill bothered to raise an eyebrow. In more settled times, this kind of presidential assault on an independent investigation would have stirred grave concerns throughout the halls of Congress. But Trump’s corrupted coalition has instead trotted out one twisted conspiracy theory after another, all designed to distract the president’s most fevered fans and concoct a case against Mueller’s investigation.
Wild tales of secret societies, Obama wiretaps and “deep-state” conspiracies flow freely from the tongues of Trump apparatchiks. Those preposterous narratives are then spread across cable news networks and inside Capitol Hill cloakrooms.
Not so long ago, Republican leaders prided themselves on protecting middle-American minds from the liberal intellectual rot being spread by politicians and college professors they viewed as being hostile to law enforcement, contemptuous of constitutional traditions, indifferent to personal morality and accommodating to Russian tyrants. They claimed to be the intellectual heirs of Edmund Burke, Russell Kirk and William F. Buckley Jr. Now those same politicians debase themselves daily in service to Trump.
In the Age of Trump, it is no longer in vogue to stand athwart history in defense of American institutions, constitutional norms and cultural traditions. These days, Republicans’ intellectual firepower is rather focused on defending Stalinist attacks on the press and pricey payoffs to porn stars.
The president now finds himself in full panic mode. The revelation that Trump ordered the firing of the special counsel charged with investigating the White House is just one more in a long line of desperate attempts to derail his Justice Department’s investigation of Russian interference during the 2016 campaign.
Early in his presidency, the commander in chief demanded a loyalty oath from FBI Director James B. Comey and pressed him to drop the investigation of the national security adviser, Michael Flynn. This presidential pressure was applied even though Trump would later admit that he knew Flynn committed a federal crime. After Comey rebuffed Trump’s loyalty demands during their famous one-on-one dinner, Trump would fire the FBI director, concede to NBC’s Lester Holt that he did it to end the agency’s investigation, and offer the same confession to both Russia’s foreign minister and the ambassador to the United States.
“I faced great pressure because of Russia,” America’s president told the Russians. “That’s taken off. I am not under investigation.”
But Trump’s brash move against Comey and the FBI’s investigation created an even more toxic legal reality for White House lawyers. Attorney General Jeff Sessions had already been forced to recuse himself, and Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein appointed Mueller to conduct his own probe. Sessions had no choice in removing himself, but the panicked president began planning to dispose of his attorney general.
Facing pushback from his Breitbart base, Trump ultimately backed down, and he turned his focus instead to the firing of Rosenstein. As the New York Times’s Michael S. Schmidt and Maggie Haberman reported this last week, Trump considered firing Rosenstein and replacing him with another deputy, who presumably would follow his orders to fire the special counsel. The president ultimately ordered that deed to be done by White House Counsel Donald F. McGahn, but McGahn threatened to resign first.
Imagine that. Beneath the blizzard of news headlines pounding ceaselessly at our nerves, this week we discovered a Republican loyalist willing to sacrifice his political standing over a higher principle. McGahn’s stand contrasts greatly with Capitol Hill conservatives who do little more than occasionally tweet a veiled critique of the president or deliver a meaningless speech from the Senate floor.
As a storm gathers over Washington and the world, Donald Trump’s Republican Party remains complicit in his frenzied efforts to undermine the American institutions and established values that conservatives once claimed to share.
And while the clouds overhead are cause for all to be concerned, it will be the husk of a once-proud Republican Party that will be swept away first by the deluge that is sure to come.
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