Facing the real prospect that their long-sought fifth anti-abortion Supreme Court justice might go unseated, and President Trump’s growing legal exposure, the Republican Party is charging into election season with a two-fronted disinformation campaign, in a desperate effort to salvage conservative control not just of the Court, but of Congress and the White House as well.
Specifically, they are maximizing confusion about whether Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted a 15 year old girl when he and she were both high school students, and about the legitimacy of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. And they are advancing both goals with naked abuses of power.
In the Senate, Republicans believe the path to confirming Kavanaugh now runs through preventing the public from reaching consensus about Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s allegation that Kavanaugh assaulted her in high school. We know what Republicans are up to because we know what a good-faith process would look like.
Consensus may be difficult to reach under any circumstances, but the best way to try would be to conduct an exhaustive investigation. That would entail sworn interviews not just with Ford and Kavanaugh, but with Kavanaugh’s friend, Mark Judge, whom Ford places at the scene of the alleged assault, and, to the extent that they’re identifiable, the four other teenagers who were elsewhere in the home at the time. It would also entail a review of Ford’s corroborating evidence, plus any exculpatory evidence Kavanaugh might have in his possession (he has thus far presented none).
Republicans are trying to make such a truth-seeking process imposible. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley has invited only Ford and Kavanaugh to testify publicly, and scheduled a hearing for next week, before investigators could conceivably complete a thorough background inquiry about this incident. Moreover, to prevent details of such a background investigation from becoming public after rigging the hearing, Grassley promises that “the FBI is not doing any further investigation.”
Ford brings more than just her word to the table, which means her version of events remains, for now, more persuasive than Kavanaugh’s. But Republicans are manipulating the process to maximize the likelihood that the truth remains unknowable—that the inquiry devolves into competing but unverifiable narratives, so that Kavanaugh can not be disqualified, and Republican senators can be bullied into confirming him before the midterm elections.
That timeline—not just for Kavanaugh, but for any Trump nominee—isn’t just an artifact of the slim but real possibility that Republicans will lose control of the Senate in the midterms. It also stems from the likelihood that Kavanaugh, or any Trump Supreme Court nominee, will become more difficult to confirm if Mueller indicts members of Trump’s campaign, or implicates Trump for conspiring with Russia to illegally sabotage Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2016.
The blow to Trump’s presidency if that happens would be existential. He would only survive, along with a level of public support required to reshape the Court, by discrediting the investigation with misinformation.
To that end, Trump has ordered the Justice Department and the Director of National Intelligence to breach Mueller’s investigation by declassifying and disclosing sensitive counterintelligence information—including an application to surveil former Trump campaign adviser and known Russian agent Carter Page, and a large cache of text messages from and between DOJ and FBI officials who worked on the Russia investigation. This order, though within Trump’s power, is wildly corrupt—both because he is a subject of the investigation, and, more broadly, because elected officials aren’t supposed to deploy official powers to advance their personal interests.
It’s also an outgrowth of the same scourge of bad faith that defines the GOP’s approach to Kavanaugh, and politics more generally. Trump has described his order as a blow for “transparency,” but, as with Kavanaugh, it is actually an effort to turn partial information into a tool of confusion, and, as, Washington Post‘s Greg Sargent notes, to place propaganda on a par with neutral fact gathering.
Here again, we know what proper transparency and truth-seeking would look like. Mueller’s investigation will eventually conclude; the Justice Department has an inspector general, who can refer government employees to federal prosecutors if he uncovers criminal abuse of law-enforcement powers. Congress could convene a bipartisan commission to examine both the nature of Trump-Russia affair and the origins of the FBI’s Trump-Russia investigation.
Instead, Trump is concocting a partial snapshot of the Russia investigation, and—as journalist Marcy Wheeler has noted—a it’s a snapshot of the investigation as it looked over a year ago, before DOJ had filled out evidence of a conspiracy with Russia. Since then, multiple Trump campaign officials have pleaded guilty to felonies, including, last week, Trump’s former campaign chairman, and foreign agent, Paul Manafort.
These abuses of power may save Kavanaugh’s nomination; they may even insulate Trump from impeachment in the future. But they are serious, brazen abuses, undertaken at a moment of heightened public awareness and blowback risk. And the worst-case scenario is that they work across all three fronts. It is terrifying to ponder the scale of corruption Republicans will engage in and tolerate if they maintain control of Congress despite these abuses—or because of them.