The ‘law and order’ party triples down on lawlessness

FBI headquarters

Traffic along Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington streaks past FBI headquarters Wednesday night, Nov. 1, 2017. (AP Photo/J. David Ake, file)

Anyone with a scintilla of cognitive intellect quickly recognized, during the summer of ’16, that Trump was running one of his cons when he adopted Nixon’s ’68 mantra about “law and order.”

Trump’s convention acceptance speech featured these immortal lines: “We will be a country of generosity and warmth; we will also be a country of law and order … When I take the oath of office next year, I will restore law and order … I am the law and order candidate.”

And sure enough, his con is now fully exposed.

Trump’s relentless assaults on law enforcement — most notably, the traditionally conservative FBI, which is led by Republican appointees overseeing a Republican special counsel — make a mockery of his ’16 rhetoric. But the majority of the ’16 electorate, which voted against him, is not shocked by his rapacious behavior. Character is destiny, after all, and who he was then is who he is now.

What is somewhat surprising is how congressional Republicans — traditional champions of the FBI and law enforcement; traditional foes of Russian tyranny — continue to applaud and abet his Russian-inspired lawlessness. They’re doing so at the expense of traditional American values. They’re doing so at the risk of triggering the most serious constitutional crisis since “law and order” Nixon went rogue in his ’73 Saturday Night Massacre, firing the Watergate special prosecutor and compelling the top two Justice Department leaders to quit.

I hesitate to delve into the details of the “Nunes Memo,” the House Republican document that cherry-picks classified information in a failed attempt to discredit the entire FBI-Justice investigation of the Trump-Russia scandal. I’ve now read the memo three times, and have concluded that only an honors grad of Trump University could possibly spot a grassy knoll conspiracy. As Tony Soprano famously said, “The con never stops.”

I hesitate to even dwell on this memo, which takes its name from the Trump shill who heads the House Intelligence Committee, because that’s precisely what Trump and his lockstep minions want everyone to do. If we allow ourselves to be hypnotized by that shiny object, we miss the real story.

Trump doesn’t have a clue how to govern, but he does have a gift for sowing chaos, for manufacturing distractions. And the Nunes memo is duly intended to distract the public from the indisputable fact that Robert Mueller and his professional investigators are building a case that could imperil Vladimir Putin’s handpicked western regime.

Trump and his inner circle, most notably his family, are terrified about that prospect. That’s the real story. And congressional Republicans, having opted to serve a lawless narcissist in exchange for a share of power — the most Faustian pact in the history of American politics — are debasing all they once purported to hold dear.

The memo, written by Nunes’ Republican staffers, uses classified info to suggest that the FBI bamboozled a federal intelligence court into approving a warrant to spy on ex-Trump adviser Carter Page. (In truth, the feds had long been concerned about Page; they learned in 2013 that the Russians were trying to recruit him.) The FBI is so alarmed by the Republican memo that, yesterday, it took the unusual step of releasing a public statement that defended its “career professionals” and voiced “grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.” The FBI is concerned that the Trump Republicans are exposing “sources and methods,” potentially blowing the cover of some of its confidential contacts – thus undermining the agency, and shifting the spotlight away from the targets of the probe.

But Paul Ryan is naturally on board with the Nunes memo, with its lawless trampling of our law enforcement norms. Ryan told reporters yesterday that “Congress is doing its job in conducting legitimate oversight.” (If it was truly doing its job, Ryan’s Republicans would also release a Democratic-authored rebuttal to the Nunes memo. But they refuse to do that.) Ryan also said, with a distinctively Orwellian flourish: “What this is not, is an indictment on our institutions, of our justice system. This memo is not indictment of the FBI, of the Department of Justice. It does not impugn the Mueller investigation.”

Of course, that’s precisely the intent of the memo. Trump was hot to release it, because he thinks it ‘s an effective political weapon. CNN, citing two sources, reported earlier today: “In recent phone calls, Trump has told friends he believes the memo would expose bias within the FBI’s top ranks and make it easier for him to argue the Russia investigations are prejudiced against him.” (How ironic that he’s fine with releasing a memo that exposes classified information. Lest we forget, in ’16 he inveighed against Hillary Clinton’s email server, complaining that she played fast and loose with classified information.)

Trump was lying again this morning, tweeting that “the top Leadership and Investigators of the FBI and the Justice Department have politicized the sacred investigative process in favor of Democrats and against Republicans.” (Um, hello? Every person in the “top Leadership” is a Republican.) It is he and his congressional lackeys who are politicizing the “sacred” law enforcement process. It is he and his lackeys who are laboring feverishly to distract us from the indisputable fact that a hostile power invaded the ’16 election and intends to do so again in the ’18 midterms.

Trump, in that ’16 acceptance speech, promised: “We will honor the American people with the truth and nothing else.” With each passing day, he triples down on dishonor.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.