In yet another sign of our topsy-turvy political world, liberals – long suspicious of an FBI with a history of repressing dissent – are now defending the bureau against an increasingly frantic president seeking to undermine the investigation into possible Russian collusion in his election.
That support, unlikely as it is, is critical as the administration spins increasingly out of control and the dangerous rhetoric from the White House intensifies. What’s at stake is the rule of law and perhaps American democracy itself.
Candidate Trump expressed “great respect” for the FBI’s “courage” until he found out it was investigating ties between his campaign and the Russians. Then the FBI became “disgraceful,” he fired its director (NBC’s Lester Holt has the smoking gun interview) and replaced him with his own man, who quickly fell out of grace for not killing the investigations.
Trump’s attacks on the bureau got so rabid that FBI Director Christopher Wray felt a need to urge his staff to “keep calm and tackle hard.” “Talk is cheap; the work you do is what will endure.” Who could he have in mind?
Trump won’t fire Wray so soon after appointing him, but he would like to replace Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein with a lackey who will fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller. He probably has in mind someone like Robert Bork, who did Nixon’s dirty work by firing Watergate special counsel Archibald Cox when the attorney general and his deputy quit rather than carry out what became known as the Saturday Night Massacre.
Trump would be more comfortable with the autocratic, racist, nationalist, paranoid Hoover than today’s FBI leaders.
Trump accused the FBI and special counsel of being in cahoots with Democrats to bring down his administration. His latest attack was to call Democrats “treasonous” because they didn’t applaud enough during his State of the Union address. That may be a ploy to divert attending from the plunging stock market after boasting so much about its earlier rise. He indicated he’s going to take his “treason” message out on the congressional campaign trail this fall. That’s a dangerous accusation in such volatile times coming from an unstable, unprepared president.
Rosenstein, a Republican, is one of three Jews in Trump’s crosshairs.
Rep. Adam Schiff is the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, who has been blocking efforts by the chairman, Devin Nunes (R-California), to discredit the FBI and end the Mueller investigation. Trump on Monday last week – the same day he called Democrats treasonous for their lack of obsequiousness – called Schiff “one of the biggest liars and leakers in Washington.” That description best fits Trump; more on that below.
“Instead of tweeting false smears, the American people would appreciate it if you turned off the TV and helped solve the funding crisis, protected Dreamers or... really anything else,” Schiff responded to Trump.
Third is Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the New York congressman who has the largest Jewish constituency in the House. If Democrats win control of the House this fall, he is likely to chair the Judiciary Committee, which would hold any impeachment investigation and hearings.
House Republicans are “accomplices” in Trump’s campaign to “discredit, disable and defeat” the Mueller investigation, Nadler said. He called them “accessories” to Trump’s “continuing obstruction of justice.” The special counsel is said to be considering obstruction of justice charges against Trump.
The president is clearly worried. His attacks on critics and opposition politicians are growing shriller and more reckless, signs of growing worry about what might emerge from the various investigations.
Trump is obsessed with leaks and has ordered the Justice Department to launch a major crackdown, but reporters around Washington will tell you the most prolific leakers are in his own chaotic White House.
One of the most notorious leaks came from Trump himself and may have done great damage to relations with Israel and other allies.
Shortly after Trump’s election, American intelligence officials warned their Israeli counterparts to be careful what they shared with the incoming administration. Israeli secrets, new and old, including methods and sources, shared with Washington could be leaked to Russia and from Moscow to its allies in Tehran and Damascus.
Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman, who specializes in security issues, wrote that American intelligence officials believed Russian President Vladimir Putin had “leverages of pressure” over Trump. They also worried, he said, about Trump’s habit of lashing out at the American intelligence community, once calling them Nazi-like.
The warning was validated on May 10 last year in an Oval Office meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak. Trump boasted, “I get great intel” and proceeded to reveal to them top-secret intelligence from Israel about an Israeli commando raid into Syria where Islamic State (ISIS) terrorists were developing a new bomb to conceal in laptop computers that could avoid airport security.
Israel was upset because it knew what Trump couldn’t understand: that the Russians could figure out the sources and methods and let their Iranian and Syrian allies know there was an Israeli spy and where to look for the agent.
As a topper, Trump also gave his Russian guests some good news for Putin. “I just fired the head of the FBI,” whom he called “crazy, a real nut job... I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) said, “The American people deserve to know all of the facts surrounding Russia’s ongoing efforts to subvert our democracy,” not “partisan sideshows” that “undermine” the rule of law. The one who benefits from Trump’s efforts to discredit and dismantle the Mueller investigation is “only Putin,” he said.
The FBI that Trump has targeted is not J. Edgar Hoover’s. It needs and deserves the support of liberals and conservatives alike, especially when under attack by a president who puts his personal interest above the national interest.