So much for the vitriol President Trump has been spewing for years about former FBI director James B. Comey (“Leakin’ Lyin’ James Comey”), former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe (“a major sleazebag,” “a disgrace to the FBI and a disgrace to our Country”), former FBI lawyer Lisa Page and former FBI agent Peter Strzok (“incompetent & corrupt FBI lovers”), Justice Department attorney Bruce Ohr (“in legal jeopardy, it’s astonishing that he’s still employed”), former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III (the “highly conflicted” leader of “18 Angry Democrats”) and various other individuals. Trump accused them of concocting a “Phony & Treasonous Hoax” and of attempting to “overthrow the President through an illegal coup.”
All lies. Damnable lies. The only hoax was the one Trump was perpetrating.
We are so used to the venomous way Trump tweets and talks that we have forgotten how unprecedented, appalling and unhinged this actually is. No president has ever reviled so many individual Americans by name. President Dwight D. Eisenhower was more respectful in discussing convicted atomic spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg than Trump has been in referring to dedicated law enforcement professionals who have served our country for decades.
The FBI and Justice Department officials in Trump’s sights are all tough guys — or tough gals — so they haven’t dwelled too much on the pain and suffering the president has inflicted on them. But the toll is real. Most of Trump’s targets have lost their government jobs or been forced to quit. McCabe was fired 24 hours before he would have collected his pension after 21 years of service, and he has faced the threat of criminal prosecution for his alleged “lack of candor” with the inspector general. He told CNN that it is “revolting” and “quite honestly terrifying … to be accused by the president of treason.” Comey noted in a Post op-ed that his “89-year-old mother-in-law, watching Fox News in her Iowa assisted-living facility, became convinced that I was going to jail.”
Page told the Daily Beast that what she has experienced is like “being punched in the gut” — it’s “demeaning,” “sickening” and “intimidating.” “Despite the fact that I know there’s no fathomable way that I have committed any crime at all, let alone treason,” she said, “he’s still somebody in a position to actually do something about that. To try to further destroy my life. It never goes away or stops, even when he’s not publicly attacking me.”
If Comey, McCabe, Page and the others thought they would enjoy a respite from this modern-day McCarthyism after the release of the inspector general report, they were sadly mistaken. Rather than apologize for his loathsome lies, Trump doubled down by calling the FBI “scum,” falsely alleging that Strzok “needed a restraining order” from Page (“That’s what I heard. I don’t know if it’s true”), and claiming the report that actually shredded his conspiracy theories had instead revealed “an overthrow of government.” Fox News and other right-wing media outlets followed by millions of Americans shamelessly echoed these Orwellian falsehoods.
So did ultra-partisan Attorney General William P. Barr, now the second-most-dangerous man in America. He accused the FBI — in other words, Comey, McCabe et al — of “bad faith,” “gross abuses” and “intolerable” behavior. If there is another example of the attorney general disparaging the FBI in public, I’m not aware of it. Worst of all, John Durham, the prosecutor hand-picked by Barr to investigate the investigators, publicly disagreed with the inspector general’s findings. This, too, is unprecedented — prosecutors don’t comment on ongoing investigations — and it suggests that the men and women who dared to investigate the president could still face political prosecution.
How are Trump’s victims supposed to clear their good names? Page is suing the Justice Department for unlawfully leaking her personal texts, and McCabe is suing to get his pension back. But that seems inadequate to the monstrous size of the wrongs they have suffered. They could try suing Trump for his reckless and malicious slanders. But it would not be easy to win a lawsuit because defamation law is tilted against “public figures” and because the president enjoys wide legal protection in the exercise of his official powers.
In essence, these law enforcers have little choice but to stoically suffer continuing character assassination from a lawless president and his shameless lackeys. This is far from the worst abuse of this horror show of a presidency, but it is bad enough that it deserves to be remembered among Trump’s most despicable acts.