Quantcast
Connect with us

Republicans roll out a dangerous new gambit — and it could have a major impact on 2020

Published

on

- Commentary

When President Trump’s new attorney general, William Barr, announced at his first congressional hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee that he believed “spying” on Trump’s 2016 campaign “had occurred,” Democrats on the committee and many in the press seemed to be shocked. In fact, Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, asked Barr if he’d like to use another word, suggesting that the use of such an explosive term would “cause everyone in the cable news ecosystem to freak out.” Barr declined and declared that he would be taking a look at the genesis of the investigation, saying, “I just want to satisfy myself that there were no abuse of law enforcement or intelligence powers.”

ADVERTISEMENT

This article was originally published at Salon

Since Trump’s incessant whining and complaining about the investigation is so common that people no longer take it very seriously, and only the most diehard right-wingers watch Fox News, a lot of people were taken aback by Barr’s use of the word “spying.” I don’t think they realized what this strategy of “investigating the investigators” really amounts to. Neither did they fully recognize that Barr was not acting in good faith but rather as a hardcore right-wing partisan.

In retrospect, that should have been obvious from the beginning, and not just because Barr sent a memo to the White House (long before he was officially being considered as attorney general) explaining that the president cannot be subject to obstruction of justice laws. I’m referring to the fact that in Barr’s previous tenure as attorney general, under George H.W. Bush, he tasked the U.S. attorney in Arkansas with digging up Whitewater dirt on then-candidate Bill Clinton during the 1992 presidential campaign.

As the legendary Gene Lyons noted in the Arkansas Times back in 2016, that U.S. attorney knew that the story was bunk as well as inappropriate and refused to proceed, telling Barr he would not be a party to such an overtly political act, and pointing out that “even media questions about such an investigation … all too often publicly purport to legitimize what can’t be proven.“ Indeed they do.

That investigation didn’t proceed under Barr, but he’d set the wheels in motion for a series of pseudo-investigations that continued through all eight years of the Clinton administration. And what that U.S. attorney said was actually the point of the whole exercise. Republicans knew it didn’t matter if the investigations of the president were based upon serious suspicion of illegal activity. It was the narrative that mattered. They didn’t need to have a serious scandal like Watergate or Iran-Contra. They could the same model to leverage and pump up trivial or mundane events into major stories.

ADVERTISEMENT

There were endless congressional hearings by the Republican majority in both houses of Congress and multiple independent counsels, all creating hysterical headlines which finally culminated in the Lewinsky affair and Clinton’s impeachment. It was a right-wing production all the way. And it was highly effective. Clinton survived but the Republicans learned this was a useful way to keep their base engaged, particularly when the driver of right-wing politics during the 1990s, talk radio, was joined by the new powerhouse, Fox News.

Barack Obama was a harder nut to crack, but Republicans did their best. When the GOP took over the Congress in 2010 it immediately trumped up the so-called IRS scandal, alleging that the agency was targeting Tea Party groups for tax audits. There was also “Fast and Furious” about the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms losing track of some guns, one of which ended up killing a federal officer. (The Second Amendment absolutists who refuse even to allow the government to track the guns of suspected terrorists never saw the irony in their hysteria about these particular guns falling into the wrong hands.)

And then there was Benghazi. That event, although tragic, was barely a blip in the history of U.S. foreign policy mishaps. But it spawned 10 investigations, six of those by Republican-controlled House committees and the others by the FBI, the State Department Inspector General and the Senate Intelligence Committee. In one of the most revealing comments ever made by a Republican official, then-House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., actually admitted that the reason they did it was purely political.

ADVERTISEMENT

Benghazi didn’t really hurt Hillary Clinton but it pointed the way toward the notorious “email scandal” that dominated the campaign — largely due to the media’s longstanding obsession with Clinton scandals going all the way back to those heady days of Whitewater. We all know the result of that.

When Donald Trump started his term facing the most serious presidential scandal in history, however, Republicans had a problem. It was the FBI, the most revered police agency in the country, that had uncovered it, which made their usual character assassination a little bit risky. As we discovered, that didn’t stop them. They went after the FBI as if the whole bureau was full of Clintons, not sparing even a thought for what conservatives had always held out as a sacred institution. For two years the president, his Fox News supporters and Republican allies in Congress built the “deep state” conspiracy theory of the Russia investigation, which holds that the FBI was out to get Donald Trump during the campaign, and when he heroically succeeded despite it all, they set out to overthrow him in an illegal coup. (One has to wonder why, if that was so, the conspirators didn’t make sure their Russia evidence got out during the campaign. Republicans don’t seem to see that big hole in their story.)

ADVERTISEMENT

Now that Republicans have a congenial attorney general, they are using the power of the Department of Justice against itself. In addition to the two ongoing probes into the origins of the Russia case — along with the Mueller report, which goes into these questions in great depth — Barr has announced yet another “investigation into the investigation,” as well as some kind of cross-agency inquiry with the CIA and the director of national intelligence. It’s a wonder the Department of Justice will have time to do anything else.

The effect of this isn’t necessarily to put FBI officials in jail, although that’s not out of the question. The point is to mainstream the counter-narrative. Here’s a good example of how that works:

ADVERTISEMENT

 

Beyond the public relations there are serious issues at stake with all this, as Salon’s Amanda Marcotte points out in this analysis of Barr’s latest moves. And there can be no doubt about the chilling effect these investigations will have on FBI and intelligence officials throughout the government. They will think hard before they take another close look at Donald Trump’s crimes going forward.

On a political level, Republicans are running a familiar game which nobody should toss off as mere partisan warfare. It’s a crucial aspect of Trump’s re-election strategy. If they can engage the mainstream media and throw everything they have at it, they may succeed at confusing the public and convincing them that all this smoke they’re blowing means there must be a fire.

ADVERTISEMENT


Report typos and corrections to: [email protected].
READ COMMENTS - JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Continue Reading

Breaking Banner

WATCH: Saturday Night Live airs Christmas special — that’s just one giant dig at the Electoral College

Published

on

NBC's "Saturday Night Live" aired an opening skit that was just one giant attack on the electoral college.

A snowman introduced the segment, saying that we could look in on the holiday table conversation thanks to hacked Nest cams.

The skit featured a house in San Francisco, California, a second in Charleston, South Carolina and a third in Atlanta, Georgia.

Each dinner table debated impeachment, and the differences between President Donald Trump and his predecessor, President Barack Obama.

But then the snowman said that none of their votes matter.

"They'll debate the issues all year long, but then it all comes down to 1,000 people in Wisconsin who won't even think about the election until the morning of," the snowman said. "And that's the magic of the Electoral College."

Continue Reading

Breaking Banner

Georgia mayor being recalled for racism resigns from office: report

Published

on

Hoschton Mayor Theresa Kenerly resigned in a special city council meeting held on Saturday, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported Saturday.

"The resignation came just days after Councilman Jim Cleveland resigned saying he‘d rather leave office on his own terms than face voters in a recall election next month," the newspaper reported. "Both resignations follow an AJC investigation launched seven months ago into claims that an African American candidate for city administrator was sidetracked by Mayor Theresa Kenerly because of his race."

Continue Reading
 

Breaking Banner

Nine 2020 Democrats unite to demand DNC Chair Tom Perez scrap debate rules: report

Published

on

The Democratic National Committee is facing a revolt for the party's 2020 presidential candidates for its restrictive debate rules.

"Nine Democratic presidential candidates, including the party's front-runners, are urging the Democratic National Committee to toss out the current polling and fundraising rules used to determine who appears in televised debates and reopen the exchanges to better reflect the historic diversity of the current field. The candidates say the rules exclude diverse candidates in the field from participating," CBS News reported Saturday evening.

Continue Reading