From the moment Robert Mueller was named special counsel to investigate the Russia scandal, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has been a fierce defender of his due to the former FBI director’s extraordinary reputation for integrity and professionalism in law enforcement and the law.
This past Christmas weekend, there existed a tale of two political figures: President Trump continued his attack on the FBI, and he publicly displayed his paranoia over the dossier compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele. Meanwhile, Sanders warned the nation that if Trump fires Mueller or pardons suspects or witnesses in the investigation, he will provoke a constitutional crisis.
Reasonable people might ask what compelled Trump, when so many Americans were singing Christmas carols and exchanging gifts, to use the holiday weekend to continue his vendetta against the FBI through his false accusation that investigations of the Russia scandal are witch hunts and to continue his repeated attacks against the Steele dossier.
The most likely answer lies in a concept commonly used by lawyers in criminal cases called “consciousness of guilt.” This means that lawyers, judges and juries will consider the behavior of a suspect to determine whether the suspect acts in a way consistent with innocence or guilt.
While I have never offered a declarative opinion about the ultimate innocence or guilt of Trump or others in the Russia scandal, Trump sure acts like someone who believes he is guilty and not like someone who believes he is innocent.
By contrast, Sen. Sanders, who I would call one of the great truth-tellers in American politics today, is a straight shooter who believes in straight talk.
Appearing on Jake Tapper’s “State of the Union” show on CNN Sunday, Sanders fiercely defended Mueller and his investigation and warned the nation that if Trump fires Mueller or pardons suspects or witnesses, he would provoke a constitutional crisis.
Patriotic Americans of all political persuasions should applaud Sanders, a pillar of integrity in American politics, rising to the defense of Mueller, a pillar of integrity in law enforcement and the legal profession, warning Trump about his behavior toward the Russia investigation, which earned the president the “Lie of the Year” award from the respected fact-checker PolitiFact for falsely claiming the Russian attack against America is a “made up story”.
As the Putingate investigation comes closer to a crescendo, Sanders is right to be concerned that Trump could take extreme actions out of panic or desperation that would trigger a constitutional crisis of historic magnitude.
The attacks against the FBI by Trump and his Republican supporters in Congress do indeed demonstrate a growing panic and desperation. The false claim that the FBI was biased against Trump and in favor of Hillary Clinton is disproven by the facts of the matter. The intervention of former FBI Director James Comey in the closing days of the 2016 campaign helped Trump, not Clinton. Period.
It is revealing and uplifting that in response to Trump’s attacks against the FBI, donations have surged to the FBI Agents Association, which provides support for the families of deceased FBI agents.
The attacks against Mueller offered by a pro-Trump faction of Republicans in Congress are transparently false. Once Mueller learned that someone on his staff had shown a bias against Trump, he removed that person from the case. For this, Mueller deserves commendation for once again proving the integrity and honor he has shown throughout his career.
Trump’s repeated and virtually obsessive attacks against the Steele dossier are highly revealing and should be deeply troubling to Trump defenders. Christopher Steele, who composed the dossier that has only gained credibility in recent months, was an intelligence officer for MI-6, the British intelligence agency that is among the most respected in the world.
Sanders is right about the consequences if Trump moves to fire Mueller or senior Justice Department officials who might refuse to execute an order to fire Mueller, or pardons leading suspects or key witnesses.
If Trump takes any extreme actions, there would be a tidal wave of public outrage, a national debate about impeaching the president and massive demonstrations across the nation that would unite those who supported Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton in 2016 with large numbers of Republicans.
Robert Mueller is a professional of rock-solid integrity. Bernie Sanders is a political leader of rock-solid integrity. It is fitting that Sanders rises in defense of Mueller at a critical moment in American history.
Brent Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas) and former Rep. Bill Alexander (D-Ark.), who was chief deputy majority whip of the U.S. House of Representatives. He holds an LLM in international financial law from the London School of Economics.