jonathan turley
Credit: C-SPAN/Screengrab

I often find that the most maddening political commentators are the “concern trolls,” or those who “disingenuously express concern about an issue in order to undermine or derail genuine discussion.” No one does concern trolling better than Peggy Noonan.

Bur when it comes to legal analysis, Jonathan Turley is perhaps the most adept concern troller. He regularly appears on Fox News and adopts the persona of an intellectual struggling with the questions raised by the Mueller investigation, complete with a furrowed brow to show how thoughtful he is being. Turley’s trolling was so effective that even the president noticed.

Turley’s latest column reaches what might be the pinnacle of bothersiderism, which comes through loud and clear in the title: “Choose the truth instead of taking sides in the Trump-Mueller drama.” Aren’t we all relieved to know that finally someone is going to tell us the truth rather than take sides?

How does Turley accomplish that feat? Take a look.

Last week, former acting attorney general Sally Yates denounced President Trump for his tweet “demanding” an investigation into allegations of spying on his campaign. Yates is correct that the president, again, crossed a long-honored separation between the White House and the Justice Department. Yates, however, is hardly a compelling voice on the maintaining of proper institutional roles in such cases.

Indeed, her controversial record is a case study of how officials, not just presidents, can exceed their authority in the handling of federal cases. Yates was fired for good cause by Trump after ordering the Justice Department not to defend the president’s travel ban at the start of his administration. Ironically, both Trump and Yates assumed that they had far too much inherent authority, yet, where Trump’s harm was rhetorical, Yates’s harm was institutional.

Turley is trying really hard to be balanced, but Yates is a bit worse than Trump because her actions were harmful institutionally while Trump’s harm was merely rhetorical. Of course, all of that ignores the fact that the courts agreed with Yates and that she was fired for her “offense” while Trump still sits in the White House, but never mind those little details. He goes on to admit that all of Trump’s breeches haven’t necessarily been simply rhetorical—like the firing of FBI Director James Comey.

Trump has complied with court orders and he has not fired special counsel Robert Mueller or others associated with the Russia investigation, at least following his disastrous decision to fire FBI director James Comey. President Obama advanced even more sweeping claims of executive authority in federal court and took equally sweeping unilateral actions.

Wait, I thought we were comparing Trump to Yates, not Obama. Oh…nevermind.

Ultimately Turley claims that he is simply providing some perspective for citizens who are trying to make sense out of “these controversies.”

While each side claims the other side is undermining our democratic traditions, the truth is that both parties are doing so in seeking to undermine these investigations. If Trump officials colluded with a foreign government in our election or obstructed justice, that is a serious matter for the integrity of our political system. If the Obama administration improperly used national security powers to investigate the campaign of its opposing party, that is obviously no less a serious matter.

Both sides often manifest a similar purpose to delegitimize or even derail investigations that could prove embarrassing for their party or helpful to their opponents. We are constantly given secondhand information or leaks filtered through a thick screen of partisan advocates. The public would be wise to reject the cyphers on both sides and focus on the factual over the rhetorical.

Turley just put all of the conspiracy-mongering from the right-wing media on an equal footing with the fact-based Mueller investigation. Both are described as “serious matters for the integrity of our political system.” If you are in the market for a master class in concern trolling, Turley just provided one for you.

As for myself, I think I’ll take his advice and focus on the factual over the rhetorical—which means going back to ignoring Jonathan Turley.

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