The “witch hunt” by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III keeps turning up actual witches. The coven of Russian military officers that Mueller indicted Friday certainly seems to have put a whammy on U.S. democracy.
The indictments charge a dozen military-intelligence agents with conspiracy to attack the United States in 2016. They further connect at least one candidate for U.S. Congress to the Russian spies. And they suggest that any Americans who collaborated with Guccifer 2.0, a front for the Russian military operation, could be considered co-conspirators. So far, two Republican operatives have admitted to ties with Guccifer 2.0: Trump’s close advisor Roger Stone and political consultant Aaron Nevins.
But congressional Republicans are still faking it, trying hard not to notice the gathering storm. Just one day before the indictments, they staged a show trial of senior FBI agent Peter Strzok.
Because, you know, when the U.S. president looks like he was installed by Russia, it’s time to put the most patriotic officers of the FBI on the stand.
It has been 32 years since Geraldo Rivera, the passionate Trump supporter who used to host a talk show, threw open a concrete vault that belonged to the mobster Al Capone.
As 30 million viewers watched, a hopped-up Rivera teased the possibility that the box held glittering treasure. Or exciting dead bodies. In the end, all Rivera did was furnish high school teachers with an elegant illustration of “anticlimax.” The vault contained dirt, an old stop sign and some empty bottles.
Viewers were treated to a similarly feverish — but much, much longer — anticlimax Thursday when Strzok testified before Congress.
He was testifying about — what, again?
Oh, yes: some SMS blather during the 2016 campaign he’d written to his extramarital girlfriend — the least sexy sexts in the history of the genre — about how Trump is an idiot.
That bias seems to be shared by Republicans in Trump’s circle, reportedly including White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, former economic advisor Gary Cohn, White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah, former national security advisor H.R. McMaster, former EPA chief Scott Pruitt and, as Trump chronicler Michael Wolff put it, “100 percent of the people around” Trump.
(For a list of Trump staffers who have called him an idiot, Vanity Fair’s “A Brief History of Trump’s Allies Calling Him an Idiot” is suitable for lamination.)
Strzok, of course, led two drastically asymmetrical FBI investigations in 2016 and 2017: one into Hillary Clinton’s email and the other into Russian interference in the presidential election.
The first, which got a lot of play two summers ago, was over almost before it started. The second got much less play during that dreadful summer, but it eventually kicked off the appointment of a special counsel. To date, the special counsel’s investigation has netted 34 indictments, five guilty pleas and more than 100 charges.
And yet Republicans on Thursday kept pounding away at Strzrok’s anti-Trump “bias,” how it compromised his impartiality in the email investigation and stacked the deck for Clinton in the 2016 election, which she — if memory serves — lost.
In short, it was the #buthistexts hearing. It will now join #butheremails and #releasethememo in the dustbin of unethical plays by Republicans to prop up Trump and smear anyone who threatens to get in his way.
Through it all, Strzok kept his composure. He kept silent when Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) tried to shame him for cheating on his wife. And he kept silent while the chamber shouted Gohmert down, in a rowdy free-for-all that recalled the British House of Commons.
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.) concern-trolled Gohmert, asking: “Do you need your medication?”
Even Laura Ingraham of Fox News thought Gohmert’s strzlut-strzhaming was beyond the pale. “I didn’t think that was good,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to have been one of the Republicans on that committee when that went down.”
(It seems we have found at least one point of consensus in our fractured times: Hands off the adulterers!)
When Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) asked about the Strzok text that said, “Trump is a disaster. I have no idea how destabilizing his presidency would be.” Strzok offered to provide “context.”
It was an unpromising start. “Context” — where adultery is on the table — usually means something like “I was drunk when I wrote that.” But this time “context” was the news cycle.
“When I made the comment about Trump having no idea how destabilizing his presidency would be,” Strzok said, “that came on the heels of a speech where then-candidate Trump said he didn’t know whether the United States should honor its commitment to mutual defense under NATO.”
And, this week in Brussels, Trump destabilized NATO, just like he promised. As of Friday, the Pentagon was doing damage control, scrambling to reassure the American allies that Trump’s threat to break commitments to them were hollow.
If it’s bias to second what Trump and his fans say about Trump — that he’s an idiot destabilizer — then Trump and his fans are also biased against the president. After this week of Mueller’s bombshell indictments and the Republicans’ empty vault, it seems history may be, too.