Friday, August 17, 2018

The Department of Justice is Being Torn to Pieces

Every time I read one of these stories, it just seems that our elites are woefully unprepared to do anything to preserve, protect and defend this country from Trump:

One morning earlier this week during executive time, President Trump tweeted out his assessment of the Russia investigation. “The Rigged Russian Witch Hunt goes on and on as the ‘originators and founders’ of this scam continue to be fired and demoted for their corrupt and illegal activity,” he raged. “All credibility is gone from this terrible Hoax, and much more will be lost as it proceeds. No Collusion!”

Amid this torrent of lies, the president had identified one important truth. There has in fact been a series of firings and demotions of law-enforcement officials. The casualties include FBI director James Comey, deputy director Andrew McCabe, general counsel James Baker, and, most recently, agent Peter Strzok. Robert Mueller is probing the circumstances surrounding Trump’s firing of Comey for a possible obstruction-of-justice charge. But for Trump, obstruction of justice is not so much a discrete act as a way of life.

The slowly unfolding purge, one of the most vivid expressions of Trump’s governing ethos, has served several purposes for the president. First, it has removed from direct authority a number of figures Trump suspects would fail to provide him the personal loyalty he demanded from Comey and expects from all officials in the federal government. Second, it supplies evidence for Trump’s claim that he is being hounded by trumped-up charges — just look at all the crooked officials who have been fired! Third, it intimidates remaining officials with the threat of firing and public humiliation if they take any actions contrary to Trump’s interests. Simply carrying out the law now requires a measure of personal bravery.

Trump has driven home this last factor through a series of taunts directed at his vanquished foes. After McCabe enraged Trump by approving a flight home for Comey after his firing last May, the president told him to ask his wife (who had run for state legislature, unsuccessfully) how it felt to be a loser. This March, Trump fired McCabe and has since tweeted that Comey and McCabe are “clowns and losers.” The delight Trump takes in tormenting his victims, frequently calling attention to Strzok’s extramarital affair — as if Trump actually cared about fidelity! — underscores his determination to strip his targets of their dignity.

I would be happy to argue that, if President Obama had publicly called out a top official at the Justice Department over an investigation or a matter of accountability, the entire Republican Party would have burned down the government in fifteen minutes. There is no comparing what was done in previous times to today; yes, we've had periods of corruption and instability (Warren Harding, Ulysses Grant, Franklin Pierce), but the destruction of all norms and respectability has spiraled out of control.

Trump is actively destroying everything he can get his hands on, and, until there's a reckoning at the ballot box, this will continue unchecked. Chait is exactly right to suggest that this is a purge, and it is one that a dictator or despot would barely recognize. After all, Trump is leaving his enemies alive. Your garden variety Augusto Pinochet or Saddam Hussein would call that a rookie mistake.

Our history is so full of times when executive power was checked and held back. There were always boundaries of decorum. If you had Harry Truman writing a profane, abusive letter to a critic, the backlash to this behavior was swift. Truman did not get away with saying what he said because there were voices ready to speak up. He did not have anyone driven out of their jobs, he did not get away with anything. He was made to suffer the embarrassment.

There were always those willing to use J. Edgar Hoover to their advantage. Hoover was the original center of power in the Justice Department. He could blackmail or rein in anyone he liked. We have never fully reconciled how devious his methods were and the crimes he committed going after figures like Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy. But even Hoover knew that he had to be careful about who he smeared and where he wore his dresses. He survived because he understood the power that he could wield in ways Trump could never comprehend.

This is because Trump is a walking, talking obstruction of justice, writ large. A small part of me believes that there is an agreement between everyone on both sides--let Trump destroy himself and then we'll clean up the mess and be rid of him and his rabid supporters. I would have thought that we would have reached this point well over a goddamned year ago, but still.

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