Just as Trump did with the entirely bogus “wiretapping” accusation against President Barack Obama, Trump called for the Justice Department to investigate. Here is yet another instance in which, with no factual basis, he has attempted to have investigators, whom he perceives as political enemies, investigated. (Laurence Tribe, the constitutional scholar and co-author of “To End A Presidency: The Power of Impeachment,” tweeted: “Telling DOJ what to investigate as though it was [White House] staff — especially when the directive is clearly aimed at outing a top secret national security asset to conceal evidence of presidential wrongdoing — may well be part of an impeachable pattern.”)
Nevertheless, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein sidestepped a blow-up with the president by asking the inspector general already looking into the application for a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant (another non-scandal) to look into this, too. One could almost hear the sarcasm dripping from the DOJ statement.”If anyone did infiltrate or surveil participants in a presidential campaign for inappropriate purposes, we need to know about it and take appropriate action.” Yeah, right. One hopes that this a temporary means of pacifying Trump, not evidence of an erosion of the proper separation between the White House and DOJ with regard to specific investigative matters.
If not for our tribal politics and Republican spinelessness, Republicans’ exposure of a secret asset would create bipartisan fury. Alas, Republicans, who surely would be screaming “Treason!” if Hillary Clinton did this, have been mum so far. That left it to Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) and his House Intelligence Committee counterpart, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), to explain the gravity of revealing a source.
Warner was blunt during this exchange on CNN on Sunday:
WARNER: The first thing you learn when you get involved with the intelligence community is, you have to protect sources and methods. People’s lives depend upon it. As a matter of fact, Mr. Trump’s own FBI director this week, Christopher Wray, said, when officials or elected officials go out and start exposing classified information, exposing informants that work with our government, America is less safe.That is illegal if you reveal this kind of information.JAKE TAPPER: You think, if Devin Nunes reveals the name of this informant, he will be breaking the law?WARNER: I think that if any individual, elected official or otherwise, knowingly reveals a classified piece of information about an FBI source, you are breaking the law and should be fully prosecuted.
Schiff had a similar take on his “Meet the Press” appearance:
SCHIFF: You know I don’t want to characterize what this individual may or may not be, but I do want to say the Justice Department, the FBI, even the White House, although clearly not the president, has said that revealing information about this individual could compromise people’s lives, it could betray a relationship with our allies, it could compromise the investigation. And the president’s response and Chairman Nunes, Jordan and Gowdy, and others is: “Bring it on. We don’t care. Whatever is in the service of the president we’re willing to do.” This is a dramatic and new and destructive low I think for the Congress of the United States basically to ignore the warnings of the FBI and Justice Department and potentially risk people’s lives. What they would like this information for is clearly to be of service to the Trump defense team and further any narrative they have. The most I can tell you Chuck is that this claim by the President, the suggestion by Giuliani that there is a political spy embedded in the Trump campaign, is nonsense. And you hear it in the same terms that Trump often speaks which is “people are saying,” or “I’m hearing,” or “we’re being told.” That’s another way of saying this is patently untrue, but we would like to spread it anyway, and it’s singularly destructive of our institutions but then that’s the point.CHUCK TODD: Alright but in fairness to the president and his supporters, they look at this history of this informant. They see that he was involved in political campaigns and possibly even political espionage in 1980. And they think — why shouldn’t they be suspicious of this?SCHIFF: Well again I can’t comment on the, the identity of any individual or source but I can say this: this is part of a string of meritless allegations from the very beginning that “I was — I was wiretapped in Trump Tower. There’s a vast unmasking conspiracy. The investigation began with the Christopher Steele dossier.” All of which was untrue. All of which as you pointed out at the outset is designed to create this alternate reality for Trump supporters to live in.TODD: Very quickly. You’re confident the FBI acted appropriately?SCHIFF: I am confident.
It’s unprecedented for a congressman, let alone the president, to behave in this manner. Burning a U.S. source for one’s own political benefit betrays oaths of office and endangers the security of Americans who rely on people around the world willing to help keep us safe. Former acting Central Intelligence Agency director John McLaughlin told me, “Whatever damage ensues transcends this specific case: It will come from creating a precedent for revealing a source’s identity — and the caution and reluctance this will instill in individuals US intelligence seeks to engage for important clandestine work.”
Others agree that Trump threatens to go over the line. Tribe tweeted, “Unmasking an FBI informant assigned to help US intelligence uncover Russian threats to the integrity of our presidential election would verge on treason. It would make unmasking CIA operative Valerie Plame look like child’s play. Memo to Trump: BEWARE. You’re playing with fire.”
Tribe’s co-author, Joshua Matz, told me, “Knowingly outing a confidential national security asset to bury evidence of wrongdoing by the president or his advisers could certainly qualify as impeachable. That would most clearly be true if the president’s conduct was part of a broader pattern of obstructing justice or corruptly sabotaging our defenses against hostile powers.” He added, “Here, as is often true under Trump, the key questions are factual (what really happened) and political (what does the nation make of it) rather than constitutional (would such conduct properly justify removal).”
We’ve never had a president actively seek to undermine our intelligence community to protect himself. As Lawfare blog’s Ben Wittes put it, “This is a nakedly corrupt attempt on the part of the president to discredit and derail an investigation of himself at the expense of a human intelligence source to whose protection the FBI and DOJ are committed.” Hopefully, we will never again elect someone so blatantly willing to throw America under the bus.