June 12, 2017: Undermining Mueller | Tory Meltdown | NYT Assassinates Trump
1. Mueller: Let the Undermining Begin
As we reported last week, even before the former F.B.I. director James Comey began speaking at the Senate Intelligence hearings on Thursday, the Right was preparing to assault his credibility. Since then, it has hammered away with any point that might undermine his credibility.
There are too many instances to cite, but here’s one: The New York Times broke down how a completely fake report -- that Comey said under oath that Trump had never asked him to stop the investigation of Michael Flynn -- made its way to big outlets like Rush Limbaugh’s show and Fox News.
Meanwhile, Fox also interviewed a legal expert who said Comey committed a Federal crime when he leaked notes of a privileged conversation with the president to a friend to give to The Times.
Considering the considerable energy focused on delegitimizing Comey, we assumed that conservatives would soon have to turn their poison pens on the man who is the next big threat to Trump: the special counsel himself, Robert Mueller.
And sure enough, Comey had barely finished testifying when the attack on Mueller began. The conservative blog Legal Insurrection asserted that Mueller’s investigation already had a “stench” because of the close personal ties between Mueller and Comey.
Whether they were just close professional friends, or consider themselves personally friendly, the fact is that they are not at arm’s length. This relationship, at least as reported, appears to be much more than the routine interactions you might expect two law enforcement officers to have had in the regular course of business.
Something doesn’t seem right here. Comey manipulated the system into getting his friend appointed Special Counsel, and now that friend will be investigating matters in which Comey is a key witness. More than that, Comey’s own actions in leaking government property raise legal issues as to whether Comey himself violated the law.
Even assuming Mueller is able to separate his past with Comey from his present investigation, that relationship damages the whole purpose of having a Special Counsel who is completely independent in fact and appearance.
In a truly independent investigation, friends shouldn’t be investigating friends. Mueller should step aside to remove the taint on the Special Counsel investigation created by friend and witness James Comey.
The Daily Caller made a similar case, but added a different line of argument. Its objection was that Mueller once asked a congressman to go easy on some of the F.B.I. agents who disastrously stormed a compound in Waco, Texas in 1993. Supposedly, he told the congressman, who was investigating the incident, that the agents were “good guys.” Never mind that Mueller wasn’t in government at the time or that he wasn’t trying to actually stop the investigation, The Caller saw parallels between this and Trump’s entreaty on behalf of Flynn:
‘According to former Georgia Congressman Bob Barr, now special counsel Mueller said nearly the same thing to him during the 1995 Congressional investigation into the 1993 stand-off in Waco, Texas that resulted in the deaths of 76 members of the Branch Davidian cult.
Barr, writing in his 2011 book, “The Meaning of Is: The Squandered Impeachment and Wasted Legacy of William Jefferson Clinton,” recounted a phone call with Mueller, who was then working at the Justice Department, in which he asked Barr not to “go too hard on these guys.”
Also of Note:
BuzzFeed had a fascinating story over the weekend on the competitive jockeying to be the first to reply to one of Trump’s tweets. That’s because, according to BuzzFeed, “The top reply to a Trump tweet is guaranteed to get in front of hundreds of thousands of eyes. That’s likes and retweets, not to mention profile views, replies, and new followers. Engaging with the president of the United States is Twitter's weirdest growth hack.”
2. Tory Meltdown
Six weeks ago, it seemed that Theresa May would lead Britain's conservative party to a big victory at the polls. Instead, the Torries lost seats. Worse, May’s reason for holding the election -- to go into negotiations with the European Union on Brexit with more proof of solid public support -- crumbled. Some, like The Financial Times, said the election cast doubt on the future of Brexit.
Over on this side of the pond, members of the conservative media were aghast and going to great lengths to explain how this was not a repudiation of conservative populist politics. The Weekly Standard, for one, preferred to emphasize the incompetence of the May campaign:
What went wrong? Everything: the grand strategy, the policies, the personalities. In the Brexit referendum and in recent by-elections, traditional Labour voters in the north of England had shown signs of defecting to UKIP and the Tories. May's team tried to create a permanent Tory bridgehead in this working-class Labour territory. The Conservative vote there rose, but not high enough to win seats. Like Hillary Clinton, Theresa May has lost an election she should have won—though not, as Clinton did, by neglecting key working-class constituencies, but by focusing on them too much.
On policy, May's campaign made a number of U-turns that undermined her talk of competence, toughness, and stability. A proposal to replace free lunches in state schools with free breakfasts alienated low-income voters. Solid middle-class Conservatives were appalled by the suggestion of a "dementia tax," which would effectively force them to cover the cost of old age care by selling their most valuable legacy, their homes. Neither fiasco convinced this season's key electoral segment, the "JAMs" (voters who are "just about managing") that May knew what she was doing.
3. The New York Times Assassinates Trump
Conservatives are suddenly obsessed with New York City’s annual free “Shakespeare in the Park” production. That’s because this season opens with “Julius Caesar,” and the stage tyrant bears quite a resemblance to the sitting president -- he has a glittering bathtub and a wife with a Slavic accent. Spoiler alert: Caesar is assassinated in the play as he was in real life.
One of the many sponsors of the Public Theater’s highly respected Shakespeare series is The New York Times, which led many on Twitter and elsewhere to accuse the paper of record of supporting violence against the president. (This doesn’t quite track, of course. As a Times review of the play notes, Shakespeare portrayed the killing as a catastrophe for Rome.)
“NYT is Sponsoring As Assassination Depiction of Donald Trump,” read The Daily Caller headline. The article went on: “In the vein of Kathy Griffin, a ”Shakespeare in the Park’ production of Julius Caesar by the Public Theater features a mock assassination of a president Donald Trump lookalike.”
Hue and cry over the play has been so strong on social media that on Sunday night, another sponsor, Delta Airlines, announced it would pull its support.
What We’re Watching:
Will the campaign backfire?
4. Radical of the Week: Reality Leigh Winner
Well, we suppose there was no chance that the Red Media would cut the woman who leaked classified material damaging to Trump to the Intercept a break. And we were right. In the Mainstream Media, Reality Leigh Winner came off as a confused kid who took yoga instruction and loved languages. In the eyes of the Red Media like National Review, she practically advocated terrorism:
Reality Leigh Winner, the 25-year-old intelligence contractor who is being charged with leaking to the press classified information on Russian efforts to hack U.S. voting machines, allegedly sympathized with terrorist leaders, wanted to burn down the White House, and mishandled classified information during her time in the military. After searching Winner’s home, government officials found Winner’s hand-written notes: “I want to burn the White House down . . . find somewhere in Kurdistan to live,” she wrote in one note. In other notes, Winner sympathized with Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour.
On Twitter, Anne Coulter snapped:
Send her to Afghanistan! Win-Win! NSA leaker Reality Winner admired Osama bin Laden, wanted 2 move to Afghanistan.
. What’s the Matter with Kansas?
On June 7, the Republican legislature of Kansas overrode Governor Sam Brownback’s veto of its move to raise taxes. It was a fairly powerful rejection of the conservative agenda of tax-cutting. We waited to see what the conservative media would write. And you know what, we are still waiting.
6. Bernie’s Religious Test
In other news, the Right was outraged by Bernie Sanders’ exchange during a hearing for Russell Vought, President Trump’s nominee to be deputy director of the White House Office of Management and Budget. Sanders questioned Vought about a piece he wrote in January 2016 for the conservative website The Resurgent. Sanders repeatedly quoted a passage that he found particularly objectionable:
Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology. They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned.
Asked Sanders: "Do you believe people in the Muslim religion stand condemned? What about Jews? Do they stand condemned, too?" When Mr. Vought responded, “I am Christian,” Sanders continued: "I understand you are a Christian … But there are other people who have different religions in this country and around the world. In your judgment, do you think that people who are not Christians are going to be condemned?" Answered Vought: "I believe that all individuals are made in the image of God and are worthy of dignity and respect regardless of their religious beliefs." He did emphasize "the centrality of Jesus Christ in salvation."
Sanders ultimately voted against Vought’s nomination. “This nominee is really not someone who this country is supposed to be about," Sanders said.
So far, the blowback has been hard. As NPR noted, Christian organizations have denounced Sanders' focus on the nominee's religious principles, instead of qualifications or behavior, as amounting to a religious test for public office, and multiple news outlets — religious, conservative and mainstream — also highlighted the exchange as a possible application of a religious test, which is prohibited under the Constitution.
The Washington Times, however, saw Sanders’ statements as a reflection of the Left as a whole:
The Sanders comments at the Budget Committee hearing are a snapshot of the totalitarian left’s view of the rest of America: Bow to our secular gods or else. Embrace moral relativism or else. Your acceptability depends on how closely you cleave to the Left’s pet views on a range of topics. The exception appears to be how they treat Islam. Can you picture Mr. Sanders asking a Muslim nominee, “Do you believe that people who reject Allah are ‘infidels’?” Don’t hold your breath.
And in a similar vein, David French in National Review criticized Sanders for personifying “the arrogant contempt for Evangelicals that so often marks the secular American elite.”
Emma Green in The Atlantic wrote: “The exchange shows just how tense the political environment under Trump has become. But it’s also evidence of the danger of using religion to deem someone unfit to serve in government.”
On the Rise:
Meanwhile, on Sunday, the Right was eager to dredge up old stories about Bernie’s radical past as well as point out that five of the seven candidates he has endorsed since Nov. 8 have lost their races. The other two still face election.