The Republicans’ coordinated campaign to discredit Special Counsel Robert Mueller has at least a patina of plausibility.
A reasonable but not open-and-shut case can be made that Mr. Mueller is part of a setup led by James Comey and other “deep state” actors. These “alligators” — to use Trump-backers’ pejorative term for the permanent government’s revolving-door careerists — will stop at nothing to take down President Trump before he can fulfill his promise to drain the swamp, costing them their jobs and influence.
The attacks on Mr. Mueller are exploding amid frustration on the political right. It thinks the left, with an impunity not granted the right, gets to engage to the extreme in hatred, violence and lying.
Assassination plots against President Harry S. Truman and the shooting up of Congress by Puerto Rican nationalists … the violent Weather Underground and Black Panther movements … the wounding of Rep. Steve Scalise … the almost daily emailed and social-media threats on the lives on other GOP lawmakers — it does seem as if progressives have a corner on haters and homicidal psychotics.
Mr. Mueller won’t recuse himself, but maybe it’s not just partisan hackery to wish he would, even though his record does seem to be more about principled government service than Mr. Comey’s self-service. That difference is magnified by an atmosphere clogged with partisan hate not seen since the early days of the republic..
“We live in an era of deep partisan hostility,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said when a casual conversation about his new book “Understanding Trump” turned to why Trump loyalists have suddenly turned on Mr. Mueller.
Mr. Mueller’s career, after all, seems pretty clean for a long-time swamp denizen.
But there’s a new context of extreme partisanship in which Mr. Mueller and everyone else is operating. So for Mr. Gingrich, it’s not what Mr. Mueller did over previous decades but what he’s doing now.
“Remember, 97 percent of the money given by Justice Department employees went to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign,” Mr. Gingrich said. “A so-called comedian, Kathy Griffin, holds up the president’s bloody head” in a photo shoot.
“A Shakespearean play in Central Park celebrates the assassination of the president,” said the man credited in 1994 with leading Republicans to their first majority in the House since 1952.
Mr. Gingrich didn’t cite a dark-side Comey-Mueller incident in the past, though columnist Carl Cannon wrote last month about the incident when Mr. Mueller was FBI director and Mr. Comey was deputy attorney general.
“Comey and Mueller badly bungled the biggest case they ever handled,” Mr. Cannon wrote. “They botched the investigation of the 2001 anthrax letter attacks that took five lives and infected 17 other people, shut down the U.S. Capitol and Washington’s mail system, solidified the Bush administration’s antipathy for Iraq, and eventually, when the facts finally came out, made the FBI look feckless, incompetent, and easily manipulated by outside political pressure.”
Mr. Gingrich agrees that “Mueller has been so close to Comey over the years he would have to recuse himself from investigating Comey.
“And when, for the Russia probe, Mueller’s first four hires are attorneys who contributed to Clinton and the Democrats, my instinct is to distrust,” Mr. Gingrich said.
“One of the attorneys Mueller hired worked for the Clinton Foundation defending it against freedom of information requests — great background for an open, transparent investigation,” the former Georgia Republican congressman said.
“Two of the attorneys Mueller has hired have records of hiding evidence from the defense. In one case involving Arthur Anderson, after 85,000 jobs were destroyed, the Supreme Court ruled 9-0 they were wrong to hide the evidence,” Mr. Gingrich added.
So there’s at least a patina of plausibility that Mr. Comey, Mr. Mueller and the alligators are colluding. But their suspected fear of the promised swamp drainage may be over-rated.
That fear would presuppose that there’s actually someone in the Trump White House who knows how to — and will bestir himself to — start hiring enthusiastic swamp drainers (or at least not Trump-haters) to fill the thousands of positions still held by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton loyalists.
• Ralph Z. Hallow has been covering presidential elections and Washington politics from the nation’s capital for 35 years.