On Monday, the White House successfully forced out FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. In contravention of the protocol followed by both Democratic and Republican administrations, chief of staff John Kelly — not the White House counsel — was the point person for the effort. Kelly, who holds a purely political role, was tasked with badgering and haranguing the very same entities conducting an investigation of the president.
The ludicrously partisan House Intelligence Committee chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) — who devises more conspiracies than Alex Jones (e.g. the “unmasking” non-scandal) — secured a party-line vote to release a memo, which Democrats say is misleading and will attack the Justice Department and FBI, thereby institutionalizing the Republicans’ obstruction of justice on behalf of the president. Meanwhile, Republicans voted to prevent Democrats from releasing their own report — in case anyone had any doubt that this had devolved into a partisan crusade to damage our premier law enforcement organizations. President Trump, along with his GOP cohorts, is flaunting his plan to obstruct the investigation, not bothering to disguise his gambit to erode confidence in our justice system and smear law enforcement to save his own skin. It is, to say the least, a peculiar way to defend oneself against allegations of obstruction.
We had votes today to politicize the intelligence process,” said Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), the committee’s senior Democrat. He also said the committee is investigating the FBI and the Justice Department, though a Republican disputed that characterization, saying the panel is conducting oversight of those agencies. … A person familiar with the Democrats’ document described it as a point-by-point rebuttal, about 10 pages long, of the GOP memo.
Perhaps Schiff should release the rebuttal anyway. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is standing mute on the sidelines as Nunes launches a political assault on the FBI and the Justice Department.
To top it off, Trump won’t be imposing new sanctions on Russia pursuant to legislation passed by overwhelming bipartisan majorities in both houses. The Post reports:
The Trump administration, under fire from lawmakers for not punishing Moscow over election meddling, said Monday it will not implement Russia-related sanctions mandated by Congress last year because the threat itself is acting as a “deterrent.” The decision was made public after nightfall on deadline day for implementing sanctions against those who do business with Russian defense and intelligence firms, as required under a 2017 law. . . .
More details were provided to Congress in classified briefings, and some Democrats were angered. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he was “fed up” with the administration’s failure to punish Russia over election interference.
“The Trump administration had a decision to make whether they would follow the law and crack down on those responsible for attacking American democracy in 2016,” he said in a statement. “They chose instead to let Russia off the hook yet again.”
They must be popping champagne corks in the Kremlin.
Republicans in their anti-law enforcement zeal have chosen to destroy the principle that criminal investigations should be distinct from partisan warfare. They have also gone one step further in damaging our relations with allies. (“The fight over the memo underscores a broader concern among U.S. intelligence agencies that political tussles could cause longtime allies to share fewer intelligence reports. Several U.S. officials said there are growing worries that congressional demands for classified intelligence, followed by efforts to make public some of that information, will lead foreign intelligence partners to restrict what information they share with the United States.”)
House Republicans’ shenanigans do not stop with the McCabe news. The Nunes memo apparently is aimed at discrediting Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, claiming he improperly used part of the Christopher Steele dossier to obtain a FISA warrant to continue monitoring of Carter Page. As Ben Wittes of Lawfare blog explains, “The [New York] Times is reporting that what Trump calls ‘the Trump Justice Department’—for all the president’s lies about the FBI and law enforcement—believed in spring 2017 that there was still probable cause to conduct surveillance against Page.” In short, “To believe—as so many Trump defenders seem to—that there is something defective about the Mueller investigation, one has to believe not merely that the Obama administration conducted inappropriate surveillance against the Trump campaign based on laundered opposition research from the Democratic National Committee. You also have to believe that the Trump administration itself is still doing it. You have to believe—or have to choose to believe—that Rosenstein is a corrupt actor out to get the president.”
The president has told close advisers that the memo is starting to make people realize how the FBI and the Mueller probe are biased against him, and that it could provide him with grounds for either firing or forcing Rosenstein to leave, according to one person familiar with his remarks. He has privately derided Rosenstein as “the Democrat from Baltimore.” Rosenstein is not a Democrat. He was appointed as a U.S. attorney in Maryland by President George W. Bush and was kept in that post by President Barack Obama. …
Trump has shown a repeated pattern of attempting to regain control of the Russia investigation and deploy the Justice Department for his own protection and personal gain — comments and actions [Robert S. Mueller III’s] team could include in the obstruction-of-justice portion of their probe.
This latest episode also comes after word leaked that Trump ordered White House counsel Donald McGahn to fire Mueller, a report that has elicited shrugs from Republicans. If Republicans are unwilling to protect Mueller, Trump could well have concluded that they won’t come to Rosenstein’s aid either.
The deeply disturbing turn of events takes place amid buzz about Trump’s decision — although it’s not his call, because he can be subpoenaed — on whether to sit down for an interview with the special counsel. By creating a thick cloud of smoke, Trump may hope to discredit Mueller.
To sum up, Trump has hounded out McCabe and colluded with Nunes to discredit the FBI and set up Rosenstein based on nothing but a crackpot conspiracy theory. Ryan’s refusal to halt this travesty, the complicity of Nunes and House Republicans in this scheme and Kelly’s willingness to do Trump’s bidding leave our justice system badly bruised. If Trump were to fire Rosenstein and install someone to fire Mueller, the constitutional coup would be complete.
Let me suggest several responses for those who seek to halt this assault on law enforcement.
First, McGahn had it right when he threatened to quit over Trump’s attempt to oust Mueller. He should consider doing so now and explain to the country that the course of action Trump has undertaken is dangerous, unacceptable and possibly illegal. There is no one better suited to lay out Trump’s unprecedented scheme to scuttle an investigation into his wrongdoing.
Second, Democrats should enlist the Senate Intelligence Committee, which by and large has acted in a bipartisan fashion, to denounce release of the Nunes memo. If all members were to decry Nunes’s stunt, admonish the plot against the FBI and defend Rosenstein, Trump might reconsider this tactic. In any event, the Senate Intelligence Committee would help the American people recognize that this is nothing less than a stunt designed to help Trump discredit law enforcement.
Third, the organized bar has an obligation to defend attacks on the FBI’s independence and the Justice Department’s reputation. Bar officials at the national and state level as well as Justice Department veterans and former U.S. attorneys have an obligation to speak up to decry Trump’s stunts. Common Cause released a statement admonishing Ryan. “To protect the integrity of the House of Representatives and its role in our democracy, Speaker Ryan must remove Nunes from further participating in the Russia investigation,” it declared. “The memo that the Republicans voted to release — the veracity of which is not confirmed — is widely seen as a blatant attempt to smear the DOJ and the underlying investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller using cherry-picked findings.” Other good-government and legal reform groups should speak out as well.
Once again, we see the GOP descend into intellectual and ethical corruption. It chooses to disregard, or worse, join in Trump’s plot to hobble a criminal investigation. Republicans with each passing day convince more Americans that they are unfit to hold office, let alone hold majorities in the House and Senate.
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