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The new target of right-wing rage: Veteran employees at the FBI and Justice Department

Joseph Tanfani, Tribune Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- The tone of the ad is ominous, a familiar conservative warning about a looming threat to American freedom. But instead of President Barack Obama or a foreign adversary, the target is a veteran federal prosecutor appointed by President Donald Trump.

"Rod Rosenstein -- a weak careerist at the Justice Department," says the digital ad about the deputy attorney general. "Protecting liberal Obama holdovers and the deep state instead of following the rule of law."

The ad says Rosenstein should "do his job -- or resign."

The ad, by a wing of the Tea Party Patriots group, is part of a growing wave of conservative attacks on the Justice Department and the FBI -- following the lead of the president himself, who has repeatedly belittled or questioned the motives and competence of the nation's top intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

The hard-right wing of the Republican Party is expressing its rage even as Attorney General Jeff Sessions pursues a traditionally conservative agenda of harsher prison sentences and tougher approaches to illegal immigration.

The criticism rose sharply after House Republicans released a memo Feb. 2 that alleged Rosenstein and other senior FBI and Justice Department officials had repeatedly misinformed a secretive court to eavesdrop on a former Trump aide in 2016. The FBI said the memo was inaccurate.

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In perhaps the most extreme response, Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., declared that the memo showed "clear and convincing evidence of treason" and urged Sessions to prosecute "these traitors to our nation." Under the Constitution, treason is punishable by death.

Trump has fumed in private and in public at the special counsel investigation led by Robert S. Mueller III, which Rosenstein oversees, into whether Trump or his aides cooperated with a Russian plot to influence the 2016 election, or obstructed justice after taking office.

Trump has railed at Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia investigation, has tweeted bitter personal jibes at former FBI Director James B. Comey (whom Trump fired), former acting Attorney General Sally Yates (also fired), and Andrew McCabe, who stepped down as deputy director of the FBI.

Claims that Trump was under siege by a "deep state" conspiracy of FBI agents and others loyal to Hillary Clinton took off after the release of cellphone text messages between FBI agent Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page, who were lovers, that showed them expressing horror at the prospect of Trump's election.


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