Want to know what Comey, Mueller and Rosenstein have in common? They have all been Republicans longer than Trump. Just that one fact alone should tell anyone how f**ked up it is that Trump has attacked all three, over and over and over again. And let’s not forget that if there were ever a truth-telling contest between the president and his three FBI/DOJ targets, Trump would lose in a rout, given that he’s churned out false and misleading claims and outright lies at a clip of around 5.9 per day, every single day.
Comey played a role in undermining the Hillary campaign with not one but two public statements that likely decreased her chances of winning, and both statements occurred in the heat of a 2016 election season. Instead of giving Comey a loyalty test, Trump should have just thanked him and left it at that. Rather, Trump sacked Comey because the FBI Director wouldn’t stop investigating the extent of Vladimir Putin’s meddling in an American election.
Robert Mueller was appointed FBI Director by George W. Bush and he served his ten-year term, and he did it reasonably well and without serious controversy. Rosy Rosenstein, a “lifelong Republican”, was appointed by George W. Bush and has stayed in the DOJ through three presidential administrations.
But first, let’s get some things out of the way. One, Andrew McCabe had no business being near an investigation of Hillary Clinton given that his wife ran for office as a Democrat, taking hundreds of thousands in PAC money from Clinton boot-licker Terry McAuliffe. Two, Peter Strzok was not only unethical because he was banging an FBI colleague who was not his wife, he exchanged anti-Trump pillow-talk text messages with his mistress. Associate Deputy AG Bruce Ohr was demoted because his wife worked for FusionGPS and he was “concealing his meetings with the men behind the anti-Trump ‘dossier'”.
Eric Holder and Tarmac Lynch were political hacks masquerading as chief law enforcement officers, but that situation has thankfully corrected itself. The real scandal here isn’t that Comey and Mueller were being diligent in investigating the scope of Putin’s intrusions into our electoral system, it’s that the Lynch-led DOJ wasn’t diligent enough at investigating malfeasance by Hillary and the Hillary-friendly Obama administration.
There is no doubt that there are imperfect people in FBI/DOJ. But does this mean the FBI’s reputation is in “tatters“, as Trump stated? No. If anyone’s reputation is in tatters, it should be Trump’s. How many other people on this planet could disseminate 5.9 verifiable false and misleading claims every single day and not have his/her reputation untainted? It beggars belief.
The FBI is an agency that is led by a Trump appointee, who reports to Sessions, also a Trump appointee, yet the bashing goes on unabated. Benjamin Wittes, who has said more than once that Rosy should resign, has more.
Not all of Trump’s lies are big lies. But some certainly are. And among the biggest, most audacious, most “colossal” or “grossly impudent” is the way he talks about federal law enforcement. To understand why the defense of Rosenstein has become so critical, let’s take a step back and consider this big lie. And let’s consider it beyond the almost-comical point that Rosenstein, a lifelong Republican appointed to Senate-confirmed positions by two Republican administrations, is being tarred as a “Democrat from Baltimore” with a vendetta against the president.
Trump wants to politicize law enforcement. He announces this himself. He talks openly about the job of the attorney general as protecting him and going after his political enemies. He says he admires Eric Holder’s protection of Barack Obama—a supposed corruption that represents yet another conspiracy theory, but one that sheds enormous light on his thinking about how an attorney general should behave. Trump is many things, but on this point he is no hypocrite. He has said exactly what he thinks law enforcement should be: his political plaything, his tool for the crude form of justice Polemarchus describes in Plato’s Republic: “rewarding friends and punishing enemies.”
Trump wanting to politicize law enforcement is a serious charge, so is it true? Jack Goldsmith, a Hoover Institute conservative, lays it out.
But whatever tattered shred of rug may have remained under Rosenstein’s feet, Trump quickly yanked it away when he gave a talk radio interview to WMAL in which he addressed his attitude towards the Justice Department and the FBI with this remarkable comment:
But you know, the saddest thing is, because I am the President of the United States, I am not supposed to be involved with the Justice Department. I’m not supposed to be involved with the FBI. I’m not supposed to be doing the kind of things I would love to be doing and I am very frustrated by it. I look at what’s happening with the Justice Department, why aren’t they going after Hillary Clinton with her emails and with her dossier, and the kind of money… I don’t know, is it possible that they paid $12.4 million for the dossier…which is total phony, fake, fraud and how is it used? It’s very discouraging to me. I’ll be honest, I’m very unhappy with it, that the Justice Department isn’t going…maybe they are but you know as President, and I think you understand this, as a President you’re not supposed to be involved in that process. But hopefully they are doing something and at some point, maybe we are going to all have it out (emphasis added).
That’s right. His deputy attorney general having assured the public of Trump’s fealty to the rule of law, the President of the United States declared that it was “the saddest thing” that he could not call up an investigation of his political opponent, that he would “love to be doing” things with the FBI and the Justice Department, and that he’s “very frustrated” and “very unhappy” that he can’t. As Rudyard Kipling might have put it, this is the way presidents who believe in the rule of law always talk.
If the President’s remarks once again make Rosenstein look foolish, they are a fabulous tribute to the men and women who work for him.
The tribute is, to be sure, inadvertent: Trump doesn’t understand the profundity of the statement he is making about independent law enforcement and its relationship to the presidency. That very lack of comprehension on his part is what makes the statement—and the tribute—profound.
But let’s unpack for a moment what Trump is saying here. He is saying with bold frankness that he would like to be able to interfere with ongoing investigations. He is saying just as clearly that he would like to be able to order up investigations of his political opponents. He is declaring himself a corrupt actor who believes that the FBI and the Justice Department should be at his beck and call for political purposes. We already knew these things about him. We knew that Trump is a man who is capable of firing his FBI Director because James Comey would not aid him in such endeavors and of threatening his attorney general and his deputy attorney general—the same deputy attorney general who is still giving speeches about Trump’s fealty to the rule of law—and the special counsel over the inconveniences they pose him in his corrupt attitude towards law enforcement.
Back to Wittes:
The trouble was that when Trump confronted the law enforcement apparatus of the United States, he discovered that it did not conform to his vision. He became aware, to his shock, that federal law enforcement actually had integrity. It included a set of institutions that did not work as simple arms of political power. There is no need to take my word for this: It was he who demanded loyalty of Comey. It was he who asked Comey to drop the case against former national security adviser Michael Flynn and who has publicly expressed his anger at Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia investigation—as Sessions was certainly bound to do. It was Trump who has expressed surprise that he couldn’t order up an investigation of his political opponent. Trump started discovering quickly that the FBI and the intelligence communities are not the janissaries of the powerful. And he didn’t like it.
His response? First, try to change this reality quietly. Try to corrupt Comey and get a pledge of loyalty from him. Install an attorney general he expected to behave as he imagined Holder had for Obama. It was as that effort failed that the big lie emerged.
That big lie is the notion that federal law enforcement is already behaving as corruptly as the president aspires for it to. The wrinkle is that the big lie imagines that law enforcement is behaving corruptly not in support of the president but on behalf of his political enemies. Instead of saying the truth, which is that Trump wants a law enforcement apparatus that will act corruptly on his behalf, he created an audacious smear in which it is acting to protect Hillary Clinton and destroy him.
The purpose of this big lie is twofold: the lie discredits the investigation against Trump in the minds of a large swath of the public and, perhaps more importantly, tends to tear down the institutions responsible for such investigations in general, with an eye toward their reconstitution in the image of the lie itself. In other words, the goal is to use the lie of politicized law enforcement to effectuate the politicization of law enforcement. By falsely describing a set of corrupt institutions, even by complaining of them, it is possible to lower public expectations to the point of accepting their corruption. Indeed, the lie seeks not merely to destroy the current leadership and install leadership more apt to behave in the fashion the president wants; it also erodes public confidence in the premise that a different reality ever existed.
Wittes goes on to address the memo prepared by Tool Nunes’ staff, but I’m not going there. As I see it, the memo’s contents are suspect until, as David French suggests, we see the evidence and the context of the evidence along with the memo. Absent the evidence, I’ll conclude that it’s a political document, put out there for political purposes. But here’s another area of dissonance: The person in DOJ who cautioned against the release of the memo, for national security reasons, is a Trump appointee. My guess is that Stephen Boyd won’t be staying in the DOJ for much longer because he put Trump and Tool Nunes in a worse light.
Finally, setting aside the Rosenstein-Mueller-Comey-FBI-DOJ bashing by Trump and his defenders, the reasons for investigating Putin’s meddling remain valid on the facts alone:
Why it matters: Take the known knowns — 10 undisputed facts — and the smoke clears considerably.
The investigation also remains relevant because, according to Trump’s own CIA Director, Putin hasn’t stopped with the meddling.
The director of the CIA expects that Russia will target the US mid-term elections later this year.
Mike Pompeo told the BBC there had been no significant diminishing of Russian attempts at subversion in Europe and the US.
Given the surprise of the Papadopolous guilty plea, we really don’t know the evidence that Mueller has accumulated. Bottom line, if Trump really wants this investigation over as soon as possible, he won’t fire Rosy Rosenstein and he won’t order Rosy’s replacement to fire Mueller. After all, Trump only lengthened the investigation by firing Comey. But, in Trump, we’re dealing with a guy who is all too often glandular and all too infrequently rational, so who knows what he’ll do. I’ve given up predicting the future.