The Republican senator from Utah had the temerity to describe as "lame" a classified briefing in which administration officials refused to explain the supposedly imminent threat President Trump claimed before assassinating a top Iranian general. Lee said he would vote to rein in Trump's war-making powers.
For his troubles, Lee was described as "Benedict Arnold" by Trump-allied Fox Business host Lou Dobbs. Fox News itself cut away from Lee's remarks criticizing the briefing, and Fox News host Bret Baier said some critics of Trump's Iran policy have "Trump Derangement Syndrome."
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Trump loyalist, accused Lee and like-minded Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., of playing a "game" and "empowering the enemy."
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., wondered on Twitter if those unpersuaded by the briefing "just oppose everything Trump does."
Trump himself, asked about Lee's remarks, accused the Republican senator of fabricating. "If you look at what happened with Ukraine, that's a hoax. Well, this is a hoax too," he said.
To summarize: Trump officials give a briefing in which they reportedly left open the possibility Trump could kill Iran's supreme leader without consulting Congress, and anybody who objects is a Trump-hating, terrorist-loving hoaxster and a traitor.
This is what Republicans have wrought as they remained silent, or even joined in, as Trump routinely declared his opponents treasonous and fraudulent. Now Republicans see that he can easily turn those weapons of authoritarianism against allies who disagree with him. Having excused and echoed his disinformation against others, they will have no defenses left when the charges of disloyalty are turned on them.
Think it can't happen to the rest of you, Republicans? Even Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., the single loudest Trump booster in Congress, was informed on Dobbs's show that his support of a "B.S." vote to restrict Trump's war powers was "stupid" and "mind-boggling" and would "damage his credibility" because "every Republican needs to be behind" Trump.
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It's American to debate the security trade-offs in killing somebody such as Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani and the limits of a president's war powers. To say that anybody who questions the supreme leader is a traitor trafficking in deceit sounds more like post-revolution Iran. Nearly 500 times Trump has referred to something he finds objectionable -- the Mueller probe, impeachment and now Lee's Iran objections -- as a "hoax."
In Toledo on Thursday night, Trump renewed his frequent treason allegation against Democrats, this time saying that if he had informed congressional leaders of the planned assassination (as presidents of both parties typically do) they would "call up the fake news" and "leak it."
This capped a week in which Rep. Doug Collins (Ga.), top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, said Democrats "are in love with terrorists" and "mourn Soleimani more than they mourn our Gold Star families." (Collins apologized for the former remark on Twitter Friday.) Former Trump U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley said Democrats are "mourning the loss of Soleimani."
Trump himself said he sees Pelosi and Democrats "trying to defend this monster" and alleged that the Obama administration "paid for" the Iranian missiles fired at bases used by U.S. forces in Iraq after the assassination. Trump retweeted a message suggesting Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and the Iranian government are equivalent threats to the U.S. military's operational security.
It's particularly rich that this man who routinely challenges his opponents' loyalty to country is the same man who has attacked the parents of fallen soldiers, sided with Russian President Vladimir Putin against U.S. intelligence, skipped memorials for those killed in combat and used their gravestones as a backdrop for political attacks, disparaged the military record of John McCain, sided with war criminals against military leaders, abandoned allies on the battlefield in Syria, avoided the Vietnam draft with bone spurs and said avoiding STDs was his "personal Vietnam." Trump excuses this by saying he "rebuilt" the military "at a cost of $2.5 trillion." (By this accounting, Obama "rebuilt" the military at a $7 trillion cost.)
Lee, responding to Graham's charge that the "game" he's playing aids the enemy, said "the Constitution of the United States is not a game." And Paul properly described the charge as a "low, gutter type of response" using a "fake sort of drape of patriotism, and anybody that disagrees with them is not a patriot."
Welcome to the club! This is what the targets of Trump's calumny have been saying for years. Republicans' refusal to speak up while Trump accuses loyal Americans of being traitorous frauds does more damage to American democracy than Soleimani ever could.
Dana Milbank is a columnist for The Washington Post.