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The 'total witch hunt' that clearly isn't

Whether the FBI’s raid of Michael Cohen’s office and hotel room Monday was justified or not (and given the legal hurdles investigators had to clear and the number of Republican appointees overseeing it, the “not” part is an awfully tough sell) President Donald Trump’s reaction to events was even more worrisome. Sitting with military commanders at the White House to consider the proper response to the chemical attack launched by the Syrian government just days earlier — a national security matter of grave concern — Mr. Trump channeled Richard Nixon to portray himself as a victim of lawless law enforcement.

The FBI did not execute a search warrant in the president’s version of events, they “broke in” to Mr. Cohen’s office. The Justice Department wasn’t investigating possible criminal acts, it was perpetrating a “witch hunt.” Mr. Cohen wasn’t a criminal suspect, which, of course, he is, but a victim of a department headed by an attorney general who has not demonstrated sufficient loyalty as well as a deputy attorney general and special counsel who have launched an “attack on our country in a true sense” with their “disgraceful situation.”

Whatever the exact justification for the raid — and there is much speculation that it centers on the machinations surrounding Mr. Cohen’s hush money contract with adult film performer Stephanie Clifford (a.k.a. Stormy Daniels) — these are not comments befitting the office of president, of someone contemplating launching a military strike, of an American who recognizes there are limits on presidential authority or, frankly, of an innocent man. Mr. Trump’s Tuesday follow-up reaction on Twitter only served to underscore the severity of the situation: “Attorney-client privilege is dead!” That’s the most damning element of all — whatever information special counsel Robert S. Mueller III passed along to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York (which actually conducted the raid), it must have been pretty darn convincing that a crime may have been committed to get a search warrant from a federal judge for the very reason that so much communication is protected by that privilege.

The president is now openly flirting with a Watergate-style Saturday Night Massacre, working himself up to a lather in which he could fire not only Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy A.G. Rod Rosenstein but anyone else who refuses to dismiss Mr. Mueller. Yes, we know, he’s mused about that before, but never quite so openly, and never with so few restraining voices in his orbit.

How shameful, too, that there are still some in the conservative media who, perhaps in seeking to curry presidential favor or capture the undivided attention of his political followers through fawning coverage, continue to feed this kind of delusional thinking. Only in the most fevered dream of a “deep state” conspiracy theorist can so many GOP appointed professional prosecutors involved in this latest action (including, presumably, Geoffrey Berman, the acting U.S. attorney in Manhattan and a former law partner of Trump ally Rudolph Giuliani) be pawns of a Democratic cabal.

President Trump’s real beef isn’t that federal prosecutors and their FBI investigators are agents of Hillary Clinton, it’s that they see it as their mission to follow the law, not to protect the president. If Mr. Trump and his minions are innocent, they ought to rejoice that it’s Eliot Ness on the other side and not some amoral attorney out of Hollywood Central Casting — you know, an ethically suspect “fixer” who sweeps messes away by hook or by crook for a rich client. That doesn’t sound like anyone you know, does it, Mr. President?

Meanwhile, we are left with the even more alarming fact that Mr. Trump can’t keep his focus on his actual job long enough even to discuss the life-and-death possibility of military strikes and instead will take any opportunity to rant uncontrollably about his own personal legal situation. What kind of leader is that? This president considers an effort to hold him and his allies accountable to the law to be an attack on the country. How can we trust him to handle an actual attack on America’s interests?

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