It’s not every day that a sitting president savages as “in tatters” the reputation of the federal government’s top law enforcement arm, but it is a fairly common practice for those who have something to fear from police and prosecutors to attack them as biased, ineffectual or dishonest. Given that Donald Trump’s extraordinary claim that the agency’s standing is the “worst in history” came not long after his former national security adviser admitted to lying to an FBI agent about his conversations with the Russian ambassador, Americans can draw their own conclusions as to what’s going on.
Nothing much surrounding President Trump’s latest frenetic Twitter storm is especially shocking. Not Michael T. Flynn’s guilty plea. Not the prospect that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is closing in on the president’s inner circle. And certainly not Mr. Trump’s customary counter-punch strategy directed mostly at familiar targets, former FBI Director James B. Comey and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. What would have been far more surprising would have been for Mr. Trump to remain silent and not give the nation further reason to suspect that he is seeking to obstruct justice.
Perhaps the most notable moment of all came Sunday when Mr. Trump’s attorney, John Dowd, took responsibility for an especially problematic Saturday tweet in which the president admitted he knew Mr. Flynn had lied to the FBI before he fired him — which strongly suggests he knew his adviser had committed a crime when he asked Mr. Comey to go easy on him after the firing (something Mr. Comey testified to under oath before Congress). Mr. Dowd said he dictated that particular tweet and sent it to the White House social media director to be posted.
Does anyone seriously believe Mr. Dowd actually did that? Or was he just protecting his client from a criminal charge (keeping in mind that the tweet in question was one of 10 on the subject of the Russia investigation from Mr. Trump’s account)?
Also in classic Trumpian fashion, the president took a small development and blew it entirely out of context. According to recent news reports, Mr. Mueller removed veteran FBI agent Peter Strzok, a counterintelligence expert, from the investigation because he sent text messages critical of Mr. Trump. The president noted that Mr. Strzok was involved in a previous FBI investigation of Ms. Clinton’s handling of email. In the president’s mind that underscores some kind of government-wide conspiracy in which the FBI’s 35,000 employees, and presumably untold numbers of former employees like Mr. Mueller, are all out to get him, rather than evidence of a special counsel being extra careful to dot the i’s and cross all the t’s lest this investigation be construed as a “witch-hunt.”
The whole thing would be laughable — akin to the kind of hyperbole associated with mob defense lawyers concocting elaborate fictions to plant a seed of doubt — if this didn’t involve the president of the United States and the U.S. Department of Justice. It’s also reminiscent of the president’s attacks earlier this year against the nation’s entire intelligence community for daring to point out that Russia, under direction of Vladimir Putin, interfered with the last election. There is virtually no one Mr. Trump is not willing to toss under a bus in order to put the cloud of possible collusion with the Russian government behind him.
All of which suggests there is, indeed, a reputation in tatters, but it doesn’t belong to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. And it isn’t just the well-soiled one belonging to the man in the Oval Office who seems to find new ways to debase his office and country on an almost daily basis. No, the public should save some outrage for all those in Congress who are watching these shenanigans, these attacks on the rule of law and mockery of law enforcement, and are lifting not a finger to do anything about it.
Republicans like to make a big show of their support for the military and for police. What about the men and women of the FBI who put their lives on the line every day to fight crime and protect national security? What would it take for current GOP members of Congress to show the kind of intestinal fortitude that the party demonstrated when Richard M. Nixon was abusing his authority four decades ago and call Mr. Trump on his transgressions? What’s the price of their silence? A tax bill? The next election? It would be nice to know.
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