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There must be consequences in the partisan crusade against Mueller

Recent weeks have marked a turning point in the attacks Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpAccuser says Trump should be afraid of the truth Woman behind pro-Trump Facebook page denies being influenced by Russians Shulkin says he has White House approval to root out 'subversion' at VA MORE and his cronies have made on our rule of law. As Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE’s investigation into potential ties between Trump’s campaign and Russian interference in the 2016 election closes in on the White House, Trump partisans have undertaken a dishonest, coordinated attack on Mueller’s integrity. 

The end goal for Trump is obvious: He is trying to establish baseless grounds to fire Mueller and further obstruct justice. But if he were successful, the consequences for our democracy would be catastrophic.

That’s why he must be stopped, and every Republican who believes in the rule of law must unequivocally oppose partisans interfering with this investigation. Should Trump do the unthinkable and act on his impulses, he must know that he will be held accountable by Congress.

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The attacks on Mueller are absurd on their face, but are marked with particular irony for those of us who raised concerns in the 1990s about the suitability of then Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr — a partisan Republican who stacked his investigation with fellow partisans pursuing a clear agenda.

 

At the time, professional right-wingers of all stripes viewed raising any questions about a special prosecutor as an attack on America’s legal system. Newt Gingrich, one of the first of Trump’s propagandists to turn on Mueller, said it was “disgraceful that official representatives of the executive branch are undermining a legitimate, legal investigation of the Department of Justice.” The Wall Street Journal editorial board characterized questions about Starr as the kind of strategy you pursue only if “you can’t win on the facts” or “win on the law.” Attacks on a prosecutor like Starr, they wrote, had “chilling implications for the rule of law.”

Mueller, in contrast to Starr, of course, is a man who was seemingly designed in a lab to assuage any legitimate concerns about his impartiality or qualifications. A lifelong Republican and former FBI director who has served presidents of both parties, Mueller has won bipartisan acclaim throughout his career. Republicans praised his “impeccable integrity” and “impeccable credentials,” calling him a “good and honorable man” who would conduct this investigation impartially.

Yet, now that Mueller is closing in on the White House, the same right-wing figures who zealously defended Starr at every turn have begun to turn on the investigation. The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board called on him to step down, and Newt Gingrich reneged on his initial praise. Some Trump allies even stooped so low as to attack the entire Federal Bureau of Investigation. Even Donald Trump’s personal lawyer has gotten in on the act.

The difference between how the right is treating Mueller and how it treated Starr makes clear that these attacks are not being made in good faith. Trump’s allies are trying to discredit Mueller to insulate the president from being held accountable for the misconduct Mueller might bring to light.

They’re not angry that Mueller is doing his job badly; they’re afraid he’s doing it too well.

Unable to attack Mueller for anything of substance, Republicans have taken to manufacturing scandals. Their distortion du jour focuses on the fact that Mueller uncovered evidence that one of his investigators sent private text messages that may have created the appearance of a conflict of interest, and then dismissed the investigator long before the public learned of those messages. Of course, this is actually a testament to Mueller’s extreme caution and commitment to fairness, but put through the right-wing distortion machine it becomes a partisan conspiracy within the FBI. It’s as if Trump shot a man on Fifth Avenue and Republicans began challenging his indictment because one of the arresting officers was a Democrat. 

What remains are fabricated scandals and fake outrage. They are the creation of paranoid partisans who recognize the threat that this investigation poses to Trump’s presidency. And let's be clear: They wouldn't exist if Trump and his cronies were innocent of wrongdoing.   

Those attacking Mueller cannot be taken seriously. They are cynics jeopardizing the rule of law to pursue a partisan agenda, and their antics cannot continue. Trump needs to understand that this smear campaign is unacceptable, and he needs to know that if he acts to further obstruct justice, he will be held accountable. And most important, he needs to hear this message from members of his own party. No one is above the law, and Republicans need to act accordingly by putting country over party.

Our democracy is depending on it.    

David Brock is the founder and chairman of American Bridge 21st Century, a super-PAC that supports Democratic candidates. An author of several political books, he founded Media Matters for America in 2004. Follow him on Twitter @davidbrockdc