After Attorney General Bob Barr issued a short summary of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian interference in the 2016 election in late March, Religious Right leader Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council (FRC), was quick to claim that the report vindicated President Donald Trump.
Mueller found no direct evidence that Trump tried to work with Russian operatives. But Trump had also been accused of obstructing justice by attempting to block Mueller's investigation. Mueller determined (on the basis of a longstanding Justice Department memo against indicting a sitting president) that he lacked the authority to charge Trump in this area, but he made it clear that the president was not exonerated.
On the basis of Barr's four-page summary of a report that ran to nearly 450 pages of text, Trump and his Religious Right allies claimed victory.
"Americans won't get a do-over on the millions of resources the president's enemies have wasted--or the dozens of priorities that could have taken this investigation's place," Perkins wrote in a column on FRC's website. "But the Russia probe has given the country one thing: a glimpse into just how far the other side will go to delegitimize the president."
A month later, a redacted version of the Mueller report was issued. Even with much material edited out, it was obvious that Barr's summary was misleading, and it came to light later that Mueller felt the same way. The redacted report found "substantial evidence" that Trump had broken federal law and listed several examples of obstruction and lies by the president. It also cited instances when Trump ordered subordinates to break the law to protect him. (They refused.)
A flavor of the report is encapsulated in an anecdote that quickly made the rounds on social media and sparked a million memes: On May 17, 2017, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions told Trump that Mueller had been appointed special counsel, leading Trump to lament in despair, "Oh my God, this is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I'm f*cked."
Mueller's report lists 11 instances in which Trump may have obstructed justice, a stunning chronicle of presidential wrongdoing not seen since the Nixon administration.
Summarizing the report's findings, The New York Times observed, "If the report--and the entire saga around the Russia investigation--has one through-line, it is the dishonesty at the heart of the Trump administration.... Mr. Mueller may have thought he couldn't indict a president in the legal sense of the term, but he has delivered a devastating description of Mr. Trump's attempts to abuse his powers and corrupt his aides."
None of this--not even a documented use of a crude obscenity--has shaken the Religious Right's faith in Trump. They continue to insist that the Mueller investigation is a frame-up designed to force Trump from office. The American Family Association called the investigation "Sham, Scam and Hoax."
Some evangelicals go further and assert that Trump is more or less untouchable because God anointed him to run the country. One of Trump's biggest evangelical supporters, Robert Jeffress, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, peddles this line and has apparently won a convert in Lou Dobbs, a Fox Business Channel host, who asserted after the Mueller report was issued that the investigation was part of a conspiracy to drive Trump from office.
"Pastor Robert Jeffress always talks about this president--God sent this president," Dobbs said. "He is a person of providence. And I'll tell you the evidence is accumulating mightily to support the pastor's views."
None of this is new. Fawning Religious Right leaders have been sticking with Trump no matter what he says or does since before the 2016 election. When, during the campaign, the infamous "Access Hollywood" videotape surfaced of Trump boasting about how easy it is to sexually assault women when you're rich and famous, the heads of Religious Right groups shrugged it off.
Once in office, Trump immediately began behaving erratically. His constant use of crude language, including a comment about "sh*thole" countries in the Third World, didn't faze his evangelical base. His frequent insults of the late U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a Vietnam War veteran who as a prisoner of war was tortured for years in a facility dubbed the "Hanoi Hilton," meant nothing to them.
After neo-Nazis and anti-fascist counter-protestors clashed in Charlottesville, Va., in August 2017, Trump insisted there were "some very fine people" on both sides--and no one in the Religious Right called him out for it. When the...