WASHINGTON – Thursday was Pearl Harbor Day, the anniversary of one of the deadliest attacks on American soil and perhaps the most unifying day in American history.
This year some of us marked Pearl Harbor Day by attacking America from within.
For five hours on Thursday, President Donald Trump’s partisans delivered a reckless and sustained attack on the FBI and the special counsel. They amplified Trump’s claim that the FBI’s “reputation is in Tatters – worst in History” and that Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia probe, which has already secured guilty pleas from two Trump campaign officials and the indictments of two more, is part of a system that is “rigged,” “phony,” “dishonest” and using a “double standard.”
Shamefully, Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee launched an all-out assault on the special counsel and the FBI – choosing to protect Trump at the cost of Americans’ faith in the justice system and the rule of law.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., the chairman, echoed Trump’s “tatters” claim and told FBI Director Christopher A. Wray that Mueller’s probe and the Clinton email probe have been tainted by “bias.”
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said he has a “hunch” that “pro-Clinton, anti-Trump bias” at the FBI was behind a secret “warrant to spy on Americans associated with the Trump campaign.”
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., called former FBI director James B. Comey an “egomaniac rogue” and speculated that the FBI paid for the “dossier” on Trump’s activities in Russia.
Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., speculated that anti-Trump bias led the FBI to conclude that Russia interfered in the U.S. election, and he threatened Wray: “I think you’re walking into a contempt of Congress.”
This is calumny. Mueller is a longtime Republican who was appointed FBI director by George W. Bush. He was named special counsel by Rod J. Rosenstein, also a Republican, who was appointed by Trump himself to be deputy attorney general. Comey, a Republican who served in Bush’s Justice Department, made political contributions to John McCain, Mitt Romney and other Republicans. Wray, a Republican who also gave to GOP candidates, was appointed by Trump.
The slander is based on the fact that several of Mueller’s underlings made political contributions that went mostly to Democrats, including Clinton; that one member of Mueller’s team opposed Trump’s first travel ban (which was struck down and withdrawn), and anti-Trump texts between one of Mueller’s people (since taken off the case, with the incident under review by the Justice Department inspector general) and his girlfriend.
But if we’re going to declare “biased” those who gave money to Democrats, then Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Steven Mnuchin, Gary Cohn and the president himself are biased against Trump. Also, if Mueller had inquired about political leanings before making hires, he would have violated Justice Department rules.
And more broadly: pro-Clinton bias? It was precisely Comey’s public announcement of a reopened Clinton probe just days before the election that helped give the presidency to Trump.
What’s more outrageous is the purpose of the attacks on the FBI and Mueller: To help Trump with his legal problems, these officials are willing to undermine Americans’ faith in the justice system. This is part of a pattern. As House Republicans were attacking the FBI and Mueller, Sen.?Al Franken, D-Minn., was announcing his resignation on the Senate floor. He had been drummed out by fellow Democrats for sexual misbehavior, but Trump and the Republicans are rallying behind GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore, faced with credible allegations of sexual misbehavior with teenagers – for the short-term benefit of keeping one Senate seat Republican.
Trump routinely attacks institutions, including the courts, the media, the electoral process, the intelligence community, the IRS, the United Nations, foreign allies, the Justice Department and the pope. That’s the strategy of the autocrat: Don’t believe the courts or the justice system or the electoral process or the legislature or the media or my accusers. Believe me.
When lawmakers back up Trump, however, they give a cue to Republican voters that such out-of-bounds attacks on our system are legitimate. That’s how they normalized Trump. That’s how we’re getting Moore. That’s why Republicans are being convinced the FBI and federal prosecutors are corrupt.
The FBI is one government agency Republicans historically held in high regard (70?percent had a favorable view in a 2015 Pew Research Center poll), but a poll by the University of Texas in June – after Trump’s attacks began – found favorable views of the FBI among Texas Republicans at 43?percent.
Likewise, multiple polls found that Republicans are far more likely to believe sexual-harassment claims against Democrats than against Republicans; Democrats see the claims as credible regardless of the perpetrator’s party.
This tribalism is meant to help Trump, and Moore. It undermines America.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter @Milbank.