This is the United States of America, and the year is 2018. It could just as easily be Argentina in 1947. That was the year that laid the groundwork for Juan Perón to dismiss three judges on the Argentine Supreme Court and replace them with others more sympathetic to his ideology. So far no one is planning on impeaching US Supreme Court justices, though Governor Mike Huckabee and Senator Ted Cruz—both staunch Constitutional “originalists,” supposedly—have expressed disdain for a few of their Constitutionally mandated life terms. However, other institutions critical to the rule of law and the concept of blind justice are under extraordinary attack in the country founded on those very principles.
The Deputy Director of the FBI has retired after withering attacks by the President of the United States, both in person and on his favorite policy projection instrument, Twitter. The president, again of these United States—it bears saying because it is hard to believe such behavior from the occupant of that office—reportedly called the deputy director after the president fired his boss and told him he should talk to his wife about what it feels like to be “a loser.” That was an apparent reference to her defeat in a Virginia political race the year before. Agent McCabe is said to have replied, “yes, sir” just before the president hung up on him. This is in addition to the president asking during a sit-down in the Oval who the agent had voted for and expressing anger over the campaign donations she received from a PAC affiliated with Virginia’s Democratic governor. Of course, the president did the aforementioned firing of a Democrat-appointed Republican FBI director after said director refused to swear fealty to the man instead of the office of the president. He then called into question the former director’s mental state in conversations with the Russian ambassador before unilaterally releasing classified information to the ranking official of greatest threat to US security. The description of the ambassador’s country comes from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The president also reacted with rage and mounted a Twitter campaign to oust his Attorney General who had the good sense to recuse himself from the Russia investigation after it came to light during his confirmation hearings that he was less than truthful about his Russian contacts. The president has intimated that the man who appointed the special counsel investigating his campaign’s connections to Russia and gave the “justification” for firing the FBI director, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, should be let go. And this week we learned that the president actually tried to fire that special counsel only to be talked down—though perhaps more accurately, simply ignored—by the White House Counsel, who threatened to quit instead.
These are not small issues, or “nothing burgers” in the vernacular of a former Press Secretary. Make no mistake. These are clear attacks on the independence of the nation’s leading law enforcement agency, the office of the Attorney General, and the special counsel, the latter seemingly the only entity in Washington, D.C. who appears to care that America was attacked in 2016 by a highly sophisticated (dis)information operation led by the prime threat the general named above. The fate of our system of government apparently has already relied on the good judgment of a very few lawyers. That is not a viable plan for Constitutional sustainability.
In any other administration, in any other time in our history, in any chamber of our legislature filled with any other Republicans than the ones we are shackled to at this particular instant in time, this would be viewed as the Constitutional crisis—the clear and present danger to our governance and the rule of law—that it is. It should go without saying (it cannot) that if these events played out at the end of the Obama administration in relation to the Benghazi probe, the server issue, the missing emails, Solyndra, the indiscretions of the flawed man married to Secretary Clinton’s closest advisor, or the infamous “meeting on the tarmac,” imagine the furor from the right. Or this: the fact that FBI agents in New York City opened the investigation into the Clinton Foundation based on a book backed by the man who led a vile propaganda organization he described as the “voice of the alt right,” the same man who would eventually chair the Trump campaign. It is exactly the sort of partisan beginning to an investigation the House Intelligence Committee is now accusing the Department of Justice of in relation to the Russia investigation. The House Intelligence Committee and the Republican establishment are silent on that prior issue. The clear message is that partisan attacks from law enforcement are fine as long as they are against your political opponents. That reality was repeatedly given voice on the campaign stage by the man who now holds enormous power and by the Pavlovian mob mentality giving rise to the choruses of “lock her up” perpetrated by those who could not be bothered to consider the deeper issue of governance they were fomenting.
Yesterday, the House Intelligence Committee voted to release a memo they say sheds light on partisan actions by certain members of the FBI. The memo revolves around a FISA warrant to wiretap a member of the Trump campaign. The House Intelligence Committee did not allow the FBI or other members of the Intelligence Community (IC) to review the memo before floating the idea of releasing it. An Assistant Attorney General called releasing the memo “extraordinarily reckless.” He casts enormous doubt on the authenticity of any information in the memo saying it “purports to be based on classified source materials that neither you nor most of them [committee members] have seen.” He went on to say, “Indeed, we do not understand why the Committee would possibly seek to disclose classified and sensitive law enforcement information without first consulting with the relevant members of the Intelligence Community.” Why would the chair of the committee even consider doing such a thing? For that, you have to be able to recall something Republicans would rather have you forget.
In April of last year, Devin Nunes recused himself in his committee’s investigation of Russian interference in the election and their possible ties to the Trump campaign after the House Ethics Committee decided to investigate his handling of classified information. Recall, it was Nunes who rushed to the president’s aid when the president falsely (this word should forever be extraneous in descriptions of the president’s speech) claimed President Obama had ordered wire-tapping of Trump Tower. He held a press conference on the White House lawn, without informing his committee, saying his committee had come into information proving the president’s [extraneous] claims. It turns out, Nunes received that information from the White House itself in what could be described as the rhetorical equivalent of the vulgar act “The Mooch,” during his two-week stint as White House Communications Director, accused Steve Bannon of practicing. That information was also false. Later Nunes, while still recused, signed off on subpoenas relating to the Russia investigation. He then later claimed he never recused himself. So, there exists a very clear picture of both the basic untrustworthiness of Nunes the man and of his penchant to try to protect the president at all costs, through deceit and the callous disregard for the aptitude or memory of the public he supposedly serves.
It is not surprising then, except that it is so historically shocking, that the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee has led the assault, backed either explicitly or tacitly by his fellow congressional Republicans, on the institutions that secure those items laid down in the Bill of Rights and under the Constitution as a whole. In order to cast aspersions on the good citizens working every day to protect us from all manner of threats and in the face of the coming revelations about our president, his campaign, and the attempt by a hostile power to hack the voice of liberty, elected leaders sworn to “protect and defend” the Supreme Law of the Land are seeking to undermine it instead. And as if that is not enough, they are seeking to harm our national security structure at the same time. Their actions are indeed “extraordinarily reckless.” They are also extraordinarily hypocritical.
Those supposedly so concerned with what may have leaked from a personal server used by the former Secretary of State apparently have no qualms about releasing a memo that may reveal sources and methods used by the IC in gathering intelligence that protects American lives. Those so concerned with the debunked theory that a rescue was declined and that this action that never occurred sealed the fate of four Americans in the field are placid about the consequences of exposing other Americans still lurking in shadow and doing the clandestine work of the US government. They see no need to even have their selectively edited memo reviewed by those responsible agencies. They do not shudder when considering releasing a memo claimed to be based on information they have not read, as long as it puts those attempting to find the truth about collusion with Russia in a bad light. Those who supposedly are from the “law and order” party obviously have no problem trashing the reputation of the world’s premiere law enforcement agency and cheering on the president when he does the same, often immediately after accusing this or that congresswoman of being “weak on crime.” Those who supposedly are so concerned about the security of the United States that they want to wall us all in or fix a military “in shambles” (the president’s words for the force he now commands) have no issue calling into question the unanimous opinion of the IC that the Russians interfered with our elections. To be clear, this is not some Pentagon exercise in future thinking. It happened. Already. And it will happen again. The president’s own appointed CIA Director expressed such concern just this week. So where are the national security hawks on this issue? They are looking the other way, excusing the bad behavior of the president, ignoring the possible obstructive behavior of that same president, and pursuing conspiracy theories about the “deep state” and “secret societies” in the law enforcement and intelligence communities. You cannot make this stuff up. It may be too far-fetched for even the best fiction writers, but it is right in the wheelhouse of this crop of Republican lawmakers. It is hard to explain just how far this crew’s credibility has fallen on virtually every issue that matters.
Juan Perón’s actions in the late 1940s made a joke of the independent judiciary. It robbed Argentinians of a justice system free from political influence. Perón’s actions were forceful and explicit, and they affected Argentinian society for decades. He set a precedent that allowed every successor up through the late 1980s to fill the courts with loyalists, dedicated not to the law or to principle, but to partisanship and ideology. We are not yet to that point. Not yet.
The President of the United States, thankfully in this regard, is a horrid and ineffective leader without the intellect or desire to understand the workings of the government he now heads. Those in congress, who have hitched their future success to this want-to-be authoritarian, respecter of the world’s despots and demander of loyalty from those he believes to be his minions, are far more dangerous. They have consciously decided to smear law enforcement and our intelligence agencies, they have coldly calculated that their constituents will not remember their actions, words, and deeds relating to their alleged support for citizen security, and they have blatantly elected to disregard any sense of principle where the president’s actions are concerned. Their actions, and their utter apathy toward those of the president, are harming the republic.
In his letter to Congressman Nunes, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd said this, “The rule of law depends on the confidence of the American people that our prosecutors and investigators apply the law fairly and without bias or regard for political influence.” Indeed, it does. The congressman, his ilk, and the President of the United States are damaging that confidence. That is dereliction of duty and completely counter to the fundamentals of the Founding. One hopes those around the president—there is no evidence the president himself has the capacity—will someday feel shame in it. Saving that, one hopes “the people” will do their duty and remove this cancer from the mechanisms of our secularly sacred institutions. If we do not, we may very well find ourselves living in the long shadow, cast from the darker days before the middle of the last century, of Juan Perón’s attack on the foundation of just society. Were that to occur, the “American Century” would have been for naught, and its namesake’s future would be in grave doubt.