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Our institutional crisis is upon us

E.J. Dionne Jr. on

WASHINGTON -- Our democratic republic is in far more danger than it was even a few weeks ago.

Until this point, there was an underlying faith in much of the political world that if Robert Mueller's investigation of Russian collusion in the election of Donald Trump turned up damning material about the president, Republicans in Congress would feel obligated by their commitment to the country's well-being to take him on.

We would often hear recollections of how Republicans during Watergate -- Sen. Barry Goldwater would inevitably come up -- decided that the smoking guns were too smoky and that Richard Nixon had to go. They made clear to him that he no longer had the support of his party.

Surely, said the optimists, we have not drifted so far from decency that this sort of patriotism is beyond us.

Well, it sure seems to be. It's not surprising that Trump and those on his payroll want to protect him at all costs. But we learned last week that Republicans are deepening their complicity in derailing Mueller's investigation and burying the facts. The more Mueller imperils Trump, the more McCarthyite the GOP becomes.

The apotheosis of Republican congressional collusion with Trump's efforts to hang on at all costs came at a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee. One Republican after another attacked Mueller and the Federal Bureau of Investigation as if the latter should be placed on a new compendium of subversive organizations.

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The occasion was testimony before the committee by Christopher Wray, the Trump-appointed FBI director. It was heartening to see Wray stand up for his colleagues, which made you wonder if Wray may soon go the way of his predecessor, James Comey.

Deserving an Academy Award for the most striking imitation of a member of the old House Un-American Activities Committee was Rep. Louie Gohmert. The hard-right Texas Republican went through a roll call of investigators, name-by-name, asking Wray if each had shown political bias. Wray defended every one of them he knew, and wryly smiled when he was unfamiliar with one of the five names on Gohmert's hit list.

Gohmert might as well have echoed the favored question of the congressional inquisitors of the early forties and fifties: "Are they now or have they ever been ... supporters of Hillary Clinton?" When Republicans are FBI haters who are sidetracking probes into Russian subversion, the world truly is turned upside down.

Note also the statement of Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, that if every member of Mueller's team who was "anti-Trump" were kicked off, "I don't know if there'd be anyone left." The implication is that even if Mueller's investigation produces unassailable evidence of wrongdoing by Trump, we should ignore the truth, because Mueller's team should have been vetted to exclude anyone who had a smidgeon of doubt about the president.

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