On Tuesday, President Trump said he has such a wonderful relationship with Kim Jong Un that he wouldn’t let the CIA spy on the North Korean despot. On Wednesday, Trump said that if a foreign country provided information to him on his political opponents, “Oh, I think I’d want to hear it. … I think I’d take it." In short, the president of the United States thinks it’s wrong to spy on the enemies of the United States but perfectly acceptable to spy on his enemies.
This is what happens when a crook gets away with his crimes: He is emboldened to commit more of them. Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III did not find sufficient evidence to conclude that Trump’s campaign was guilty of criminal conspiracy with Russia during the 2016 campaign, but he did find ample evidence that Trump welcomed Russian interference and that he obstructed the investigation of that interference.
Most notoriously, Donald Trump Jr. said he would “love” to see the dirt promised by a Russian emissary who visited Trump Tower in June 2016, and Trump himself said, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.” While this had previously been reported, the Mueller report included fresh and damning details. After asking Russia to provide Hillary Clinton’s emails, for example, Trump “asked individuals affiliated with his campaign,” including his future national security adviser Michael Flynn, “to find the deleted Clinton emails.” The Mueller report also quotes Trump telling his deputy campaign manager, Rick Gates, during the summer of 2016 that “more releases of damaging information would be coming.” Gates told Mueller’s prosecutors that “the Trump Campaign was planning a press strategy, a communications campaign, and messaging based on the possible release of Clinton emails by WikiLeaks.”
Apparently, it never occurred to Trump to call the FBI and report this foreign attack on our elections. As he told George Stephanopoulos of ABC News on Wednesday: “I don’t think in my whole life I’ve ever called the FBI. In my whole life. You don’t call the FBI.” That is the mind-set of a mobster. The last thing in the world the president would do is notify law enforcement of a possible breach of the law and compromise of national security, even though his own FBI director said that any candidate is compelled to do just that. Under federal law, after all, it is unlawful for a foreign national to donate “money or other thing[s] of value” to an American political campaign, and unlawful for an American “to solicit, accept, or receive a contribution or donation” from a foreign national.
Trump tried to minimize the enormity of what he had said by suggesting that it’s just “oppo research” and that all politicians would take such research from any source — “they all do it, they always have, and that’s the way it is.” He is “defining deviancy down,” as Daniel Patrick Moynihan put it — or rather he is defining his own deviancy as the norm. It’s not. I worked on John McCain’s 2008 campaign, and I know exactly what McCain would have done if a Russian lawyer had come calling with “dirt” on Barack Obama: He would have called the FBI. So would any other normal, law-abiding candidate. Veteran political strategist Matthew Dowd wrote: “I have worked on 2 Presidential campaigns, & have close friends who have worked on every major nominee campaign since 1988. The Trump campaign is the only ones that have done this.”
Trump is not, of course, unique in his willingness to break the law to win office. But he is unique in his audacity to advertise on national television his willingness to do so. He is trolling for any dirt that any foreign intelligence service might have on the Democrats. He is thereby kneecapping the FBI, which is charged with enforcing the laws against foreign interference, just as he kneecapped the CIA by saying that it should not have recruited Kim’s brother as an informant. What Trump said may not be illegal, but it is definitely unethical, unpatriotic — and impeachable. He has once again violated his oath to “faithfully execute the office of president” and “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution.”
It is almost as if Trump is daring Congress to impeach him. He is thumbing his nose at lawmakers, arguing in a legal brief filed Tuesday that they have no right to investigate his conduct. He is essentially saying: As long as I remain in office, I will violate the law. What are you gonna do about it?
Sadly, there is little that Congress will do. The House could launch impeachment proceedings that would almost certainly result in the approval of articles of impeachment. But the Fifth Avenue Republicans in the Senate would never convict, and Trump would claim unwarranted vindication. More than a month ago, I wrote that “for the next 18 months, at a minimum, this nation is at the mercy of a criminal administration” and that “the president will now feel emboldened to commit ever greater transgressions to hold onto power.” Sadly, with his interview Wednesday, Trump confirmed the validity of that bleak judgment.