Twitter war and a logical fallacy: Trump v. Mueller



Photo of Robert Mueller courtesy of J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press.

James Rudolph, Opinions Editor

While under investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller III., President Donald Trump never referred to Mueller by name in his Twitter outbursts.

Under advice from his lawyers, Trump refrained from directly mentioning Mueller and stuck with terms like “Fake News” and “Witch Hunt.” On March 17, the story changed when Trump directly attacked Mueller in a tweet. The president tweeted,” The Mueller probe should never have been started in that there was no collusion and there was no crime. It was based on fraudulent activities and a Fake Dossier paid for by Crooked Hillary and the DNC, and improperly used in FISA COURT for surveillance of my campaign. WITCH HUNT!”

The tweet was met with applause and action from Trump’s supporters. Hours after the tweet a story appeared on Drudge Report that blamed Mueller for the F.B.I.’s mishandling of the investigation into the 2001 anthrax attacks when Mueller was running the F.B.I. Sara Carter, an independent pro-Trump journalist, accused Mueller of covering up the F.B.I’s dealings with organized crime informant and Boston crime boss Whitey Bulger, while Mueller was a federal prosecutor in Boston in the mid-1980s. She later discussed her findings with Sean Hannity on Fox News. A video of testimony Mueller gave to Congress was circulated on Twitter by Trump supporters. The video showed Mueller endorsing the view that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, which was proven false, before the 2003 Iraq War.

This isn’t the first time Trump publicly denounced Mueller and his investigation, and Mueller has faced criticism from other Republicans as well. What both Democratic and Republican political analysists said is these wave of attacks on Mueller, from the President and the public, seem more personal than ever. While accusing the Justice Department and F.B.I of bias against him and for unethical tactics, Trump and his supporters resorted to demeaning the personal credibility of Mueller. Meanwhile, a CNN poll shows Mueller’s public support for handling the Russian investigation at 48 percent.

Is this the president lashing out in an emotional outburst, or is this a strategy by the Trump administration to undermine Mueller for support to fire him?

A source familiar with Trump’s legal strategy told Politico that,” It looks like the beginnings of a campaign. It looks like they are trying to seed the ground. Ultimately, if the president determines he wants to fire Mueller, he’s going to want to make sure there’s ample public record that he can fall back on.”

John Dowd, the personal attorney for Trump who resigned after Trump said he would like to meet with Mueller, told a Daily Beast reporter that the Mueller investigation should be shuttered. He later said he was only speaking for himself, but his claim was met with skepticism.

“I think President Trump is going to war,” said Steve Bannon, former White House Chief Strategist, and former Executive Chairman of Breitbart news, “I think it’s very obvious he is going to war.”

Jay Sekulow, the new personal attorney to the president, declined to comment and said, “We are proceeding with our ongoing cooperation with the Office of Special Counsel.”

The president’ supporters bring up interesting issues about Mueller’s record. While the Senate was considering President Barrack Obama’s request for a two-year extension for Mueller’s F.B.I term, Mueller was under investigation over the Whitey Bulger case, who was captured by authorities that same year in Santa Monica, and the anthrax investigation, when the F.B.I. pursued the wrong suspect for several years, and the prime suspect committed suicide as prosecutors prepared charges. Regardless of the investigations, Mueller won unanimous confirmation.

What is most concerning is how the president is lashing out against Mueller, and how his supporters attack him. Trump and his conservative allies are making an argument ad hominem. Ad hominem is an argument made “against the man,” in which one persona verbally attacks the other, so they demean their credibility in order to diminish their argument. This is considered a logical fallacy that replaces logical argumentation with attack-language unrelated to the truth of the matter, as opposed to advancing good sound reasoning. For example, calling Hillary Clinton “Hilla the Hun,” or calling president Trump “Rome burning in man form,” in an argument is part of ad hominem.

Why would the president reduce his stance to a position that gives him no credibility? This doesn’t advance his cause against “fake news” or “collusion.” It makes him seem more guilty, as he seems to have nothing left to defend himself against the special counsel except screaming personal attacks.