As the year draws to a close and the Republicans get closer to passing their monstrous tax legislation, the set is already being constructed for the next melodrama that will envelop national politics: The looming showdown between the White House and the special investigation of former FBI Director Robert Mueller into collusion between the Russian government and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
Earlier this month, Trump’s former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to the charge of lying to the FBI about his conversations with the Russian ambassador in the month after Trump’s election.
Perhaps more important were all of the other potential charges that Flynn wasn’t facing — which indicates that he had probably cut a deal with Mueller to plea to a lesser charge in exchange for cooperating with the investigation of even higher-level administration officials like Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and possibly even the president himself.
Just as Flynn’s plea signaled a new phase in the Russia investigation, Trump’s team kicked its campaign to discredit Mueller and his work into higher gear.
Their aim is to dampen the political impact of whatever revelations come out next — and to lay the groundwork for Trump to retaliate, either by pardoning Flynn (and stop his forced cooperation with the investigation) or taking the explosive step of firing Mueller.
Trump supporters are trying to make the most out of the revelation that, back in August, Mueller removed FBI agent Peter Strzok from the Russia investigation because Strzok had made anti-Trump texts during the presidential campaign.
Last week, Jeff Sessions’ Department of Justice (DOJ) invited a group of reporters to view the offending text messages — even though the DOJ internal investigation is still in progress — and right-wing cranks predictably responded with outrage at this latest evidence that the FBI turns out to be a far-left radical group determined to get the president.
“Members of the FBI and the Department of Justice — some of whom ended up on Bob Mueller’s team to prosecute Donald Trump — did everything they could to exonerate Hillary Clinton for her crimes and incriminate Donald Trump with a non-existent crime,” declared Fox News’ Jeanine Pirro, who added that the guilty parties in the DOJ should be “led out in cuffs.”
As has been the pattern throughout the year, establishment Republican senators like Lindsay Graham and Richard Shelby, who a few months ago were urging Trump to not impede the Russia investigation, are rapidly shifting to catch up to the GOP’s Trump-loving, hard-right base.
“It’s long past time for a Special Counsel to investigate Clinton email scandal, Uranium One, role of Fusion GPS, and FBI and DOJ bias during 2016 campaign,” tweeted Graham on December 8.
The partisan cold war over the Russia investigation is heating up, leading to the question of whether Trump is preparing to fire Mueller — and, if he does, whether he’ll get away with it or provoke a resistance leading to the phrase seemingly on everyone’s lips these days: a constitutional crisis.
As is often the case with heated partisan debates between far-right Republicans and center-right Democrats, it’s important for the left to clearly recognize the bullshit being spread around on all sides.
The accusations coming from Trump supporters are obviously flimsy, although that won’t stop them from dominating the airwaves for at least some news cycles.
Obviously FBI agents — like the rest of the population — have political opinions, which doesn’t disqualify them from doing their jobs. If anything, there are more potential biases for Trump than against him in the DOJ. Mueller himself is a lifelong Republican who recently was a partner at a law firm that represented Kushner and Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort.
And if any candidate was helped during the election by DOJ agents, it was Trump — who benefited greatly from the October announcement by then-FBI director James Comey that he was reopening the investigation into Clinton’s private e-mail server — possibly in response to the threat of a leak from rogue anti-Clinton agents in the New York field office.
But on the other side are Democrats indignantly defending the honor of the FBI from the slander that this proud agency — created by the notorious J. Edgar Hoover to prosecute and persecute communists and the Black freedom struggle — could ever be accused of having a political agenda.
Most importantly, we need to keep taking our Glenn Greenwald vitamins — and stay alert to the fact that, while non-Fox corporate media assert as a matter of proven fact that Russian operatives hacked the presidential election, there hasn’t yet surfaced any strong evidence to back up those claims, and many breathlessly reported scandalous headlines have turned out to be false.
In fact, the main evidence revealed so far by the Mueller investigation about collusion between the Trump transition team and a foreign power has involved not Russia but Israel, which worked with Jared Kushner to get Russia to vote against a UN condemnation of illegal settlements on Palestinian land because the Obama administration was planning to abstain. But good luck finding a politician in either party who will raise a stink about that.
None of this is to say that the Russia investigation isn’t significant. It’s not a conspiracy of the “deep state” to bring down Trump, as the tin foil hat crowd in Trump’s inner circle actually seem to believe. But it’s not just a distraction from more important issues that affect working class people, as some on the left might understandably conclude.
It’s clear that many members of Trump’s team had repeated contacts with Russian officials and then lied about it, which is strange.
What we don’t know is the extent to these contacts, and whether they come from Trump’s personal business history of shady deals with Russian financiers, or a desire for warmer relations with Russia in order to pursue the tougher stance against China.
The fact that it’s impossible to disentangle the two is the real crisis of the Trump presidency for the US ruling class.
The keys to the empire are in the hands of an untrustworthy and incompetent rogue and the motley crew of fawning charlatans and neo-fascists surrounding him — who wouldn’t have made it past the security desk in most previous administrations.
It’s too early to tell exactly how this crisis will play out in the coming weeks and months, and it’s even less clear what impact the growing but still small US left can have on the situation. But it’s important for socialists to start figuring out where we stand.
Our starting point can’t be dismissive. If Trump gets away with firing Mueller and ending an investigation into his administration’s wrongdoing, it could give a dramatic boost to his already authoritarian powers to run roughshod over any number of other laws and civil liberties.
It’s already obvious that Republicans aren’t going to stop Trump. They’ve shown that they’ll tolerate the White House cheerleading Nazis in Charlottesville and a sexual predator in Alabama if the GOP can get away with cutting taxes and gutting regulations for their corporate paymasters.
And while Democrats have a more obvious partisan motivation to resist Trump’s firing Mueller, history has shown that, when push comes to shove, their party and its wealthy backers prioritize stability over justice.
In 2000, for instance, Republicans in Florida and on the US Supreme Court flat out stole the presidential election for George W. Bush. But Democrats discouraged labor and civil rights activists from fighting the fraud. “They don’t want to rock the boat,” union organizer Jane McAlevey was told at the time. “They don’t want to seem like they don’t have faith in the legal system.”
As Bill Blum recently wrote at TruthDig, that stolen election could have produced a constitutional crisis, but didn’t because the Democrats, “spineless and fully captive to its corporate wing and the policies of neoliberalism, failed to mobilize its shrinking working- and middle-class base against the electoral theft that placed George W. Bush in office.
The pathetic surrender after the election in 2000 helped bolster the Bush administration’s arrogance that it could get away with anything — including a disastrous Iraq invasion that haunts the Middle East and the world to this day. It’s chilling to imagine the thought-fragments that would pass through Donald Trump’s head if he got away with firing Robert Mueller.
So yes, if Trump fires Mueller, we should be defending the basic democratic norm that presidents should be accountable to the rule of law. At the same time, we should also be clear that this is just one of many crimes for which Trump should be held accountable, starting with his record of sexual assault, moving on to this support of white supremacists, and then working our way from there.
Those protests don’t have to wait for the next shoe to drop in the Mueller investigation. But it seems that too many liberal organizations who take their cue from Democrats are doing just that. How else to explain the lack of protest from many unions and civil rights organizations around the tax bill or the repeal of DACA?
There are many reasons why Russiagate continues to garner far more attention than any other issue. For Democrats, it’s a way to channel anti-Trump opposition into the most patriotic and imperialist direction possible. For the non-Fox media, it projects the idea that their breaking information is the most important weapon against Trump and his threatening use of “fake news.”
But insider-Washington intrigues aren’t going to stop Trump. What we need is struggle and organization that stand for everything Trump doesn’t — equality, community and justice. That’s a social force that Trump can’t fire.