Normally one can safely ignore Newt Gingrich’s bombast. He holds no position in the Trump administration, and is not thought to be among those who regularly counsels the president. However, when he says something so egregious that he risks polluting public debate in consequential ways, it is time to speak up. That is what he did on Thursday, and a major civil rights group condemned his language, rightfully so.
Appearing on Fox News, Gingrich condemned the no-knock raids at Paul Manafort’s home and at the office, hotel and home of Michael Cohen, President Trump’s lawyer. The former speaker of the House declared, “It ain’t the rule of law when they kick in your door at 3 o’clock in the morning and you’re faced with armed men. And you have had no reason to be told you’re going to have that kind of treatment. That’s Stalin. That’s the Gestapo in Germany. That shouldn’t be the American FBI.”
That’s a disgraceful statement for two reasons. Let’s take the Gestapo part of it first.
Jonathan Greenblatt, the chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League, told me, “Newt Gingrich’s remarks comparing the Justice Department’s actions in executing a search warrant to ‘the Gestapo in Germany’ are deeply offensive, especially coming on Holocaust Remembrance Day, when we recall the campaign of Nazi atrocities against the Jewish people. There’s simply no comparing the actions of the Gestapo with America’s criminal justice system. This is an inappropriate trivialization of history.”
Gingrich says many foolish things, but the danger here is that the slavish viewers of Fox News, which includes the president, will absorb that Nazi-themed message and adopt it as their own. Soon, an entirely inappropriate analogy gets normalized.
The other problem with Gingrich’s outburst is the now-common smearing of law enforcement acting pursuant to a lawful subpoena issued by a U.S. court. Gingrich’s heated condemnation of the FBI and Justice Department lawyers is par for the course in Trumpland. A Republican Party once known for its support for law and order now has become a swampland of anti-law-enforcement conspiracy theories and baseless accusations. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, leads the jackals in accusing the FBI of bias and corruption. Even Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) wants to investigate the investigators.
If Democrats did such things, the Republicans’ heads would explode. In fact, they did when President Barack Obama mildly criticized a Cambridge, Mass., police officer for arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. outside Gates’s home. Obama said: “But I think it’s fair to say, No. 1, any of us would be pretty angry; No. 2, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home; and, No. 3 . . . that there’s a long history in this country of African Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately.”
The conservative media (and a good deal of the GOP) went nuts. How dare he criticize law enforcement? He should never second guess a policeman from afar! Shame on him for accusing law enforcement of racism! Where’s the proof they did anything wrong? Obama was so chastened that he had to hold a “beer summit” to make amends with both the police officer and Gates.
My how things have changed. Republican lawmakers are so nervous about Trump setting off a constitutional crisis, they are trying to come up with legislation to at least slow him down if he decides to fire Mueller or Mueller’s boss. However, it is Republicans that have been goading Trump, demonizing law enforcement and setting the pretext for the president to act rashly. It is Republicans in office and in right-wing media who thereby have sought to delegitimize law enforcement.
It’s long past time for Republican members of Congress to condemn such talk and defend the impartial administration of our criminal justice system. They might remind the public that this is an investigation in which the deputy attorney general and special counsel are both Republicans, and in which the deputy attorney general and FBI director are both Trump appointees. Hey, maybe Attorney General Jeff Sessions — yet another Republican — should defend his people more forcefully and more frequently.