As Donald Trump takes center stage as “Individual 1” in Russia probe filings, Republicans are calling him a victim of the special counsel’s fixation on so-called “process crimes.” And by using the term “process crimes,” they’re apparently trying to insulate Trump from legal jeopardy related to the 191 charges Robert Mueller has now brought against 30 individuals, including Trump’s longtime lawyer, campaign manager, deputy campaign manager, and national security adviser.
In response to this stark reality and Trump’s newfound centrality to the Mueller probe, conservative lawmakers, right-wing talkers, and former Trump administration officials all invented a new smear. As the MaddowBlog’s Steve Benen notes:
[Sen. Lindsey] Graham, who has emerged as one of Trump’s fiercest defenders, said he had “no idea what that’s all about” when asked his reaction to Cohen’s guilty plea, adding that it “seems to be a process crime.”
Soon after, Rush Limbaugh complained, “Every one of Mueller’s indictments is a process crime.”
Process crimes are apparently crimes committed during the investigation of a crime, rather than the actual crime being investigated. Perhaps the other way of saying that is it’s the cover-ups that are ensnaring Trump associates rather than the crimes themselves. Of course, all Trump boosters are now on-message about “process crimes, not cover-ups,” likely because one of the most oft-repeated political adages since Watergate is: “It’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up.” And because that saying originated from one of the biggest political scandals in modern America, no one ever questions whether cover-ups are equally as criminal as the crimes themselves.
In fact, as Benen notes, it was Graham himself who led the rallying cry for Bill Clinton’s impeachment 20 years ago based on perjury charges—otherwise known as a “process crime,” or “cover-up,” if you will. In that case, the behavior Clinton engaged in with Monica Lewinsky may have been abhorrent, but it wasn’t criminal. But Graham was plenty fine with wielding the cover-up charge back then.
So whatever, keep on talking, Repubs. Mueller’s “process crimes” are simply the building blocks of a case that very well could unleash the biggest political earthquake many of us will see in our lifetimes.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.