As we have noted, President Trump has consistently attempted to interfere with and control the independent investigation into his own possible wrongdoing. He demanded Attorney General Jeff Sessions not recuse himself; Sessions did so anyway. He tried to get then-FBI Director James B. Comey to give a loyalty oath and fired him after he refused. White House Counsel Donald McGahn stopped him from firing special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. White House lawyer Uttam Dhillon in essence lied to Trump, telling him he could not fire Comey without cause. Dhillon failed to head off the firing, but it is impossible to imagine his boss McGahn wasn’t behind this as well.
We might also throw into the mix the attempts to pressure FBI Director Christopher A. Wray to fire Andrew McCabe, presumably after McCabe received a tongue-lashing for his wife’s campaign contributions. (Another disloyal FBI official!) Wray wouldn’t fire McCabe.
We should underscore that five individuals — Sessions, Comey, Wray, Dhillon and McGahn — had enough fidelity to the rule of law (or enough fear of their own legal exposure in the case of Sessions and McGahn) that they stood up to the president. Whatever we can say about the damage to democratic norms, they’ve constricted Trump because even those working for him take them seriously.
The fact that Trump could not get his own White House counsel to execute his will on this point shows that the president really is constrained in his apparent desire to shut down the Russia investigation. Particularly in combination with the Axios story about Wray [refusing to fire McCabe], the incident paints a picture of a president who desperately wants to corrupt the justice system but just can’t get it done: malevolence tempered by incompetence, one might call it.
The point is well taken: Trump is either too dim or too afraid to pick up the phone to do the dirty work himself. (Remember he sent his longtime aide to deliver a note firing Comey.) Therefore, the patriotic refusniks identified above succeeded in fending off a constitutional crisis.
One can imagine that leaking this information was another way to head off errant action by the president. Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress have shown none of the courage Comey, Wray, McGahn, etc., demonstrated. With the exception of chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Republicans have demonstrated little inclination to dig deeply into the scandal or to restrain Trump. Two bipartisan bills seeking to hinder Trump from firing Mueller remain dormant. Democrats should insist these get an up-or-down vote.
Moreover, the antics of House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) should be seen in the context of Trump’s multiple efforts to decapitate the FBI and the Russia investigation. Nunes is plowing the way — cooking up conspiracy theories and propounding baseless allegations against Mueller and the FBI — to predispose the public to accept Mueller’s firing. He is encouraging, almost baiting, Trump to fire Mueller. He is also assisting Trump by tainting the jury (the American people), if you will, to accept or even applaud Mueller’s firing. From the unmasking stunt to his latest “memo,” he has tried to distract from the Russian threat and discredit law enforcement.
The Moscow Project, after detailing a litany of his antics, concludes:
Similar to Nunes’ earlier White House unmasking incident, he is again staging a laughably bizarre event to generate press attention—in this case, demanding that House Republicans release a document that he and fellow House Republicans themselves drafted and have already shared with House Republicans.
Conservatives have launched a media campaign to hype the memo, including breathless allusions to unlawful actions by the FBI in investigating Trump. The crazed conspiracy theories have reached a fever pitch, with members of Congress alleging without any evidence that there is a “secret society” in the FBI that is out to bring down the president. Congressional Republicans have briefed their allies in conservative media who have dutifully gone on the attack, demanding the investigation and jailing of top FBI officials, and even saying “it may be time to declare war on the deep state and clear out the rot at the upper levels of the FBI and the Justice Department.”
Nunes is in every sense cooperating — colluding, you could say — with the ongoing attempts to obstruct justice. It is indefensible.
Nevertheless, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) gives him free rein to keep this up. Neither of them have shown anything near the fidelity to the rule of law that Comey, McGahn, Wray and even Sessions (caveat: his lack of candor under oath to the Senate and participation in Comey’s firing may also implicate him) have demonstrated. Neither Nunes nor Ryan seems to grasp that setting up barriers to constrain Trump is the right and constitutional thing to do. It also amounts to protecting Trump from Trump. You almost wonder if Ryan is giving Trump enough rope to hang himself.
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