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Conservative Writer Says Republicans 'Sacrificed Their Honor' By Attacking FBI


Last summer, President Trump reportedly ordered the firing of Robert Mueller, the special counsel overseeing the Russia investigation. This is according to news this morning in The New York Times and The Washington Post. The revelation comes as Mueller and his entire Russia investigation have been under attack in recent days from Republican members of Congress and other conservatives. Here's Republican Senator Ron Johnson talking about Robert Mueller on our show yesterday.


RON JOHNSON: Listen, he's probably perfectly qualified for his investigation. But now that this thing has expanded into possible - you know, for sure biased possible corruption at the highest levels of the FBI. He would not be qualified to investigate that. He's just too close. He has too many conflicts of interest.

MARTIN: We're joined now by Noah Rothman. He writes for the conservative Commentary magazine.

Noah, thanks so much for being with us this morning.

NOAH ROTHMAN: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: First off, what do you make of these news reports saying that President Trump tried to fire Robert Mueller?

ROTHMAN: Well, it comports with stories that we heard at the time. Allies close to the president were in the media laying the groundwork for Robert Mueller's removal or perhaps a presidential move against the Justice Department in order to facilitate that. It did not occur, and the story kind of died. But these revelations suggest that we were closer than ever to some sort of a conflict between Donald Trump and the Justice Department.

MARTIN: It hasn't been just the president, though, who has been maligning Robert Mueller. Several Republicans have been engaged in what I think can be described as a fairly concerted effort to discredit not only Robert Mueller and the investigation but the entirety of the FBI. Would you agree with that characterization, and what do you think is the effect of that?

ROTHMAN: I would agree. I think this is a big shift from earlier in the year when those stories began to emerge that the president was thinking about making a move against the Mueller investigation. We heard Republicans making efforts to box the president in, including entertaining the prospect of legislation that would prevent the president from doing something that would be very politically damaging to his administration, including people like Lindsey Graham and Senator Grassley, who entertained that notion and sent, you know, brushback pitches against this president.

That sentiment seems to have disappeared. Over the course of the last year, something has taken hold among Republican legislators and the Republican base that seems convinced that this president is a victim of a concerted effort behind the scenes by members of the FBI to sabotage his administration.

MARTIN: We heard some of that yesterday. We heard that clip from Senator Ron Johnson. He was on our show talking about this, quote, "secret society" inside the FBI, which he says was potentially holding secret meetings off-site. He's since tried to walk that back. But, I mean, how damaging do you think that line of argument is?

ROTHMAN: I think it's been incredibly damaging. This has been a humiliation for not just Senator Johnson but other members of the Republican conference in the House who got out way in front of - over their skis on this story and suggested the conclusion that they were implying outright, which was that there was a concerted conspiracy, a shadow organization within the FBI, indicated - exposed by these anti-Trump texts from a former member of the counterintelligence division of the FBI who ended up on the Mueller probe for about six weeks.

And the suggestion was, outright from people like Representative Bob Goodlatte, that this was a conspiracy - using that word. And we've since seen a lot of these texts in their appropriate contexts. And it seems as though this was really overblown to the point now where you have to wonder whether or not some credibility has been lost by these Republican members.

And if you're a Republican and a conservative, you should be furious over this because Republicans and conservatives only have so many advocates. And when they sacrifice their credibility over narratives like this - and it's not the first time this has happened - you're losing an advocate. Republicans should be furious.

MARTIN: So you're saying this isn't the first time this has happened. You see a pattern of Republicans seizing onto specious narratives right now?

ROTHMAN: I do. And it began on the very first day of the Trump administration when former press secretary Sean Spicer was compelled to go out in front with a narrative that the inauguration was the most-watched inauguration of any presidential inauguration, a statement he now says he regrets making because it was demonstrably false even at the time.

Trump campaign officials have insisted that crime in this country is trending up, not down - contradicting federal statistics - and then, when the president got in office, credited Trump for ending a crime wave that never existed. The notion that Donald Trump was robbed of a popular vote victory as a result of illegal immigrant voters resulted in the creation of a commission to investigate this notion, which then, summarily, he quietly dissolved when it realized that there was very little that it could prove along those lines and also that states would not cooperate with the investigation because it was legally dubious.

These sorts of things sap credibility.

MARTIN: But what - why...

ROTHMAN: And they're entirely designed to protect this president.

MARTIN: So that was my question - clearly, Republicans who are seizing on these, as you call them, false stories - many of which are demonstrably false - they're just putting all their eggs in the Donald Trump basket. They believe that the risk of their own credibility - it's worth it to align themselves with him.

ROTHMAN: It is. And it's a tragedy because it's not as though these aren't based on issues that are real. Violent crime is on the rise. For two consecutive years, we've had violent crime on the rise. And it's incumbent Republicans to say that because it's primarily located in Democrat-heavy urban centers, and Democrats are not interested in engaging on that issue. Voter fraud is a real thing. There are convictions all the time. Democrats are insisting that this is a myth, etc., so forth.

We - Republicans need advocates for their point of view. And similarly, unmasking is a real issue. The prospect of the abuse of FISA courts is a real issue. And Republicans are the only ones who seem concerned about that sort of thing. So when Republicans sacrifice their credibility for dubious narratives designed only to protect this president and help him win a news cycle, they are making a serious sacrifice that conservatives should not tolerate.

MARTIN: Noah Rothman - he's an associate editor at Commentary magazine and the author of the book "Unjust: Social Justice And The Unmaking Of America."

Noah, thanks so much for your time this morning.

ROTHMAN: My pleasure. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MAMMAL HANDS' "BOREAL FOREST") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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