In Washington, the anti-Trump resistance talks about a "constitutional crisis" while the president and his allies decry a "rigged system." They’re using different vocabulary to describe the same thing: the coming death match fight for control of the U.S. legal system.
Former Attorney General Eric Holder and others are waking up to the reality expressed by Josh Marshall: "The Plot Is Afoot" to dump special prosecutor Robert Mueller and there is no longer any institutional force or political will sufficient to prevent Trump from carrying it out. It’s just a matter of time.
The Republicans who once praised Mueller or warned against his firing have announced retirement, fallen silent or turned into Trump toadies. Of the six phases in the campaign to get rid of Mueller, I wrote last week, four have already been completed.
As Holder tweeted on Sunday:
ABSOLUTE RED LINE: the firing of Bob Mueller or crippling the special counsel’s office. If removed or meaningfully tampered with, there must be mass, popular, peaceful support of both. The American people must be seen and heard - they will ultimately be determinative.
— Eric Holder (@EricHolder) December 17, 2017
Holder’s intervention, while welcome, has dismal implications. According to the man who was once the nation’s top law enforcement officer, the weakness and impending failure of Washington institutions is practically certain. That protest in support of Mueller, an uncharismatic former FBI man, will be massive, popular and peaceful is far from certain.
The truth is that the “red line” of Washington consensus that protects the special prosecutor process has been eroded by the anti-Mueller campaign, which cultivates fear and anger to depict the mechanism of accountability as a threat, not just to Trump, but to America itself.
The demonization campaign is multipronged. Justice Department officials leaked the private texts of FBI agent Peter Strzok, since removed from the investigation, who opposed Trump’s election. Breitbart and Fox News supply the analysis.
Congressmen are deployed as conspiracy theorists disguised as whistleblowers. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) says, “Everything points to the fact that there was an orchestrated plan to try to prevent Donald Trump from becoming the president of the United States.”
The rhetoric of rage, disgust and control add emotional force to the pro-Trump narrative. “Will you rein in the FBI,” cries a conservative reporter. People are "very, very angry about the FBI," Trump responded, adding, “we have a lot of sickness in some of our institutions.”
And the president’s son has provided the marketing slogan: “My father talked about a rigged system throughout the campaign, and people went, ‘Oh, what are you talking about?’ But it is,” Donald Trump Jr. said. “There are people at the highest levels of government that don’t want to let America be America."
“Let America be America” is the full flowering of the anti-Mueller narrative. This isn't about Russia, the argument goes, this is about America. Since Steve Bannon returned to Breitbart News, the right-wing media have layered on other Washington storylines, which have little or no substantive connection to the Russia investigation.
This is essential because one key aspect of the campaign against Mueller is to crowd out public and congressional discussion of the case against the four Trump officials Mueller has indicted, as well as the actions of those who are still under investigation. Yet these stories have everything to do with creating justifications for getting rid of Mueller.
The first was Uranium One, the story that claimed Hillary Clinton, as Secretary of State, "gave away" 20 percent of America’s uranium by approving the sale of a Canadian mining company to Russia’s atomic energy commission in return for donations to the Clinton Foundation.
The story, as framed, is essentially misleading, if not false, as Politifact patiently notes. The vast majority of the Clinton Foundation contributions preceded the sale, so they could not have been a reward for it. Clinton was not involved in the multi-agency approval process, and besides, no American uranium wound up in Russia.
Nonetheless, the story can be used to impugn James Comey, the FBI director fired by Trump, who did participate in the inter-agency review of the Uranium One deal. It gives Trump a talking point to deflect questions about his indicted aides. Last month Attorney General Jeff Sessions asked Justice Department prosecutors to look into the allegations and see whether a special counsel was necessary.
Now comes the Republican campaign to justify the killing of net neutrality by the FCC. Rep. Marsh Blackburn (R-Tenn.) has introduced legislation that allegedly “aims to ultimately end the heated debate around so-called 'net neutrality' regulations.”
As Breitbart News explained in its “exclusive interview” with Blackburn:
The FCC’s Obama-era net neutrality regulations controlled the Internet as a public monopoly, which conservatives argued diminished the freedom of the Internet and led to rampant censorship of conservative and alternative voices by content providers such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter.
The notion of “net neutrality” as a thwarted liberal conspiracy doesn’t have anything to do with Mueller and bears little relation to reality. But it nicely corroborates the master narrative that Trump is protecting the country from demonic liberals, from Silicon Valley to Washington, who won’t let America be America.
So we can expect the firing of Mueller to be portrayed, not as a defense of Trump’s Russia-related actions, but as an attack on a "rigged system," a defense of free speech and a purging of corruption. And if we don’t see massive popular protest to protect the special prosecutor, the plot against Mueller may well succeed in killing the rule of law in America.