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Horowitz: Attacks on Mueller Don’t Pass the Laugh Test

Tuesday, December 26, 2017


In the wake of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s guilty plea and the news that he has become a cooperating witness, right-wing media and certain House Republicans have stepped up their baseless and fact-challenged attacks on Special Counsel Bob Mueller and the FBI in a desperate attempt to discredit the investigation as it gains potency and to create political space for President Trump to fire Mueller.

Leading the charge is Sean Hannity with his fellow Fox evening prime time hosts Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingram and weekend host Jeanine Pirro following closely behind.  Instead of praising or at least noting that Mueller removed Peter Strzok, a senior FBI agent, who had sent text messages attacking President Trump from the investigation the minute he found out about them, Hannity, whose show should be re-named ‘The Trump Hour of Power”, used this revelation to launch a vicious and completely unfounded attack on Mueller. “Let’s start off with the head of the snake. Mueller’scredibility is in the gutter tonight with these new discoveries, his conflicts of interests, his clear bias, the corruption are on full display. Mueller is frankly a disgrace to the American justice system and has put the country now on the brink of becoming a banana republic.”

As Hannity knows, Bob Mueller has a well-earned reputation for integrity and honorable service to this nation.  Serving in the Marines during Vietnam, Mueller won the Bronze Star and received a Purple Heart.  Appointed by President George W. Bush as FBI Director, Mueller was instrumental to protecting the Homeland after 9/11, earning nearly unanimous bi-partisan plaudits for his 12-year tenure.  

Perhaps, more to the point, as Hannity and the other over-heated critics well-know, Mueller is a registered Republican--which makes the charges that the investigation is rife with partisan bias laughable.  You can just imagine, if they were on the air during Watergate, what Hannity, Jeanine Pirro, and the others would be saying about Special Counsel Archibald Cox, who actually was a Kennedy-supporting, liberal Democrat.

Additionally, Mueller was not appointed by an evil cabal of liberals; he was the choice of the Trump Administration’s Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. In a recent House Judiciary Committee hearing, in which the Republican members vied to see who can most embarrass themselves in either unfairly attacking Mueller or calling on the investigation to be disbanded, Rosenstein ably defended the special counsel:  Rosenstein told the Committee, “We recognize we have employees with political opinions. It’s our responsibility to make sure those opinions do not influence their actions. I believe that Director Mueller understands that, and he is running his office appropriately.”

People can and do put their professional obligations ahead of their partisan views.  That is the point being willfully ignored by the critics, who since they can’t point to any examples of actual misconduct in how the investigation is being conducted, prefer to launch a smear campaign. Additionally, even taken on its own terms, their argument falls apart because the investigation is being overseen by a registered Republican and he is being overseen by a Trump appointee.

These baseless attacks are, of course, welcomed and encouraged by President Trump. This past weekend he viciously went after FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. Trump tweeted, “How can FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, the man in charge, along with leakin’ James Comey, of the Phony Hillary Clinton investigation (including her 33,000 illegally deleted emails) be given $700,000 for wife’s campaign by Clinton Puppets during investigation. "FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe is racing the clock to retire with full benefits. 90 days to go?!!!”  Trump falsely stated that McCabe’s wife received the contributions while McCabe was working on the investigation, when he did not begin to be involved in it until after.  More broadly, just because his wife is running for office and receiving contributions that any Democratic candidate running in Virginia would have received from the governor and the state party in no way prevents McCabe from exercising his professional responsibilities with integrity.

Trump went after McCabe so viciously because in the Deputy Director’s testimony in front of the House Intelligence Committee he confirmed that former FBI Director James Comey had told him in real time about Trump’s request for loyalty.

No one including Bob Mueller is above criticism.  But there is a difference between far-fetched smears and legitimate arguments.  Especially on Fox, now that Rupert Murdoch needs Trump to approve his pending merger with Disney, the attacks on Mueller are only likely to grow more overheated. But I am confident, despite the best efforts of President Trump and his right-wing media and Congressional allies, that most of the American people can and will be able to recognize the difference.

Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island.


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