Rep. Francis Rooney (R-Fla.), a congressional ally of Donald Trump, talked to MSNBC’s Hallie Jackson yesterday, and went further than most in trying to discredit the Justice Department and the FBI. Sure, plenty of Republicans have attacked federal law enforcement in recent months in the hopes of providing cover to their party’s president, but few have called for a “purge.”After casually throwing around a couple of far-right conspiracy theories, Rooney made the case for “purging” federal law enforcement of Trump’s critics.
“I would like to see the directors of these agencies purge it and say, ‘Look, we have a lot of great agents, a lot of great lawyers here.’ Those are the people that I want the American people to see and know the good work being done, not these people that are kind of the deep state.”
Rooney didn’t specify how, exactly, agency directors would identify and root out officials who are disloyal to Trump, though I’ll certainly look forward to hearing more details.
The Republican congressman may have a limited understanding of the history of such rhetoric, but as USA Today noted, “purge” is “a term more commonly associated with authoritarian dictators than democratic societies.”
TPM’s Josh Marshall had a good piece along these lines, noting how Rooney’s rhetoric is emblematic of “the Republican right’s broader embrace of authoritarianism,” which isn’t limited to the president’s alarming instincts. “We focus on Trump’s antics. They remain erratic and unbridled,” Josh wrote. “But equally important, probably more important, is the absence of any overriding respect for the rule of law or democratic norms among his supporters.”
I’ve long believed that Trump poses important challenges to core American principles, but our system is designed to withstand these kinds of crises through checks and balances – most notably, congressional oversight of the executive branch. When we have a president taking deliberate steps to undermine public confidence in federal law enforcement, we’d ideally have lawmakers stepping up to defend institutions such as the FBI and the Justice Department.
Instead, we see knee-jerk partisan antics like those of Francis Rooney, playing the role of a White House accomplice. If Trump’s presidency is imperiled by a federal investigation, Rooney apparently believes it’s necessary to target those doing the investigating.
Wait, it gets a little worse.
When Republicans go after the Justice Department and the FBI, they also appear to be boosting the strategy preferred by the president’s allies in Moscow. Newsweek reported:
Michael Morell, who ran the CIA, and Michael Rogers, former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, wrote in an op-ed in The Washington Post that Russia is still busy using its social media tools to create doubt across the U.S. about Mueller’s integrity.
“There is a perception among the media and general public that Russia ended its social media operations following last year’s election and that we need worry only about future elections,” the pair wrote. “But that perception is wrong. Russia’s information operations in the United States continued after the election, and they continue to this day.”
During one week in early December, for example, roughly 20 percent of the activity from accounts tied to Russian intelligence for propaganda was focused on undermining faith in Mueller’s investigation into potential collusion between Russia and the successful campaign of Donald Trump, according to research by The Alliance for Securing Democracy.
As Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation intensifies, it’s easy to believe this dynamic will get worse before it gets better.