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Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Republican lawlessness FTW

by digby

My Salon column this morning is about Trump's continued assault on the rule of law:

Many in the media and Democratic politics are complaining vociferously about the Republican-led House Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform committees and the Senate Judiciary Committee, which they see as lackadaisical in their approach to administration scandals. They are actually way off base. Those committees are committed to do their duty and have simply been waiting for Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz to release his report so they can really dig in and investigate. That report is about to drop, and the committees have already scheduled a number of hearings to obtain testimony from high-level participants in the hopes of getting to the bottom of this whole complicated mess.

I'm speaking, of course, about Obama administration scandals, specifically the ongoing, burning issue of Hillary Clinton's emails from when she was secretary of state. This particular investigation began in January 2017 with the intention of looking into former FBI Director James Comey's decision to violate protocol and publicly criticize Clinton, even as he declined to pursue a case against her, and then to reignite the controversy just 10 days before the election.

Horowitz was also going to investigate whether former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe should have recused himself, an issue that has already been discussed when McCabe was fired earlier this year, and also explore Rudy Giuliani's shenanigans in the waning days of the 2016 campaign, when he signaled that he might be getting information from inside the FBI about the reopening of the email investigation. (Fox News reports that the committees have scheduled a whole bunch of current and former FBI and DOJ officials, but so far Giuliani doesn't seem to be on anyone's witness list.)

So never say these Republicans don't care about oversight. They are actually obsessed with it -- as long as it has nothing to do with the current occupant of the White House. We can expect a full-blown rehash of the email scandal, possibly in public, leaving no stone unturned, turned over, rolled down a hill or turned over again.

This is their privilege, of course. They have the power to investigate anyone they choose. But it doesn't take a very stable genius to know that they are not doing this because they are deeply concerned with national security. If they were, they might be investigating the fact that the president spills classified information constantly and -- much as he declares himself immune from all conflict of interest and corruption -- insists that he cannot endanger national security since he has the power to declassify anything he chooses.

Even though the one result of the inspector general's report that's been made public was actually rushed through in order to deny McCabe his pension by firing him at the last possible moment, Trump evidently doesn't trust Horowitz to do his bidding. He's already preemptively attacked him, just in case, making it very clear that he was unhappy when Attorney General Jeff Sessions tasked Horowitz with investigating the supposed scandal about the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that's been cooked up by House Republicans. He tweeted, “Why is A.G. Jeff Sessions asking the Inspector General to investigate potentially massive FISA abuse. Will take forever, has no prosecutorial power and already late with reports on Comey etc. Isn’t the I.G. an Obama guy? Why not use Justice Department lawyers? DISGRACEFUL!”

That is just one example of Trump attacking his own government in order to create the perception that the FBI and DOJ are part of a "deep state" conspiracy to ruin his presidency. He tweets out endless insults and degrading comments and gives interviews saying that he's "disappointed." In another example of his dictatorial mindset, he has said a number of times that he is barely holding back from exercising his constitutionally guaranteed presidential power to force people at those agencies to follow his orders or be fired.

These messages are loud and clear. The president publicly makes it known what he wants, and it's up to the FBI and DOJ to determine how to deal with it. As with the recent capitulation of FBI Director Christopher Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to reveal highly classified intelligence information to Trump's acolytes, they often appease him and erode the norms even more. (He is apparently even worse in private. The New York Times reported on Tuesday evening that Trump personally told Sessions to rescind his recusal from the Russia investigation!)

An independent Department of Justice that operates at some distance from the White House is another one of those "norms" we all talk about incessantly. Donald Trump seems to believe that norms were made to be broken. But this pattern does seem to be escalating in a specifically authoritarian way. As I've noted, he's been very clear to exclude himself from the rule of law in any number of ways, with his constant Nixonian insistence that if the president does it, it can't possibly be illegal.

But lately, Trump has been branching out to attack the rule of law in other circumstances beyond his own. Last week, for instance, speaking of the backlog in immigration courts, he told "Fox & Friends":
Other countries have what's called security people. People who stand there and say you can't come in. We have thousands of judges and they need thousands of more judges. The whole system is corrupt. It's horrible. Whoever heard of a system where you put people through trials? Where do these judges come from?
Eliminating courts would be illegal under both federal and international law, as well as unconstitutional. But then, Trump thinks that immigrants from "shithole countries" are "animals," so perhaps he believes he's found a loophole. He has also suggested in recent days that even Americans should be deported if they refuse to stand for the national anthem.

Over and over again, Trump is making the case that he is above the law, and the Constitution is no more than an anachronistic irrelevance. His followers cheer him wildly for making that case, and there's every reason to believe that this idea is starting to become less shocking and disorienting every day. Trump is marketing this idea as diligently as he marketed his former brand, with arrogance and authority, over and over and over again. The Republicans in Congress are fully subscribed, as are roughly 40 percent of the American people. How can anyone be sure we can put Humpty Dumpty together again after all this?