Complicit: Trump’s Hypnosis of the Republican Party is Complete - And the Fate of America's Democracy Itself is at Stake
The problem isn't that the president is under investigation for serious crimes (other presidents have faced that predicament). It isn't even that Trump is going out of his way to undermine the Justice Department officials whose job it is to hold him accountable (again, other presidents have also been in that situation).
No, the reason our nation faces a serious constitutional crisis is that the Republican Party absolutely refuses to stop the president from undermining the rule of law in order to save his own skin. For a party that drops praise for the United States Constitution in virtually all of their speeches, this failure has exposed them to be craven partisans instead of genuine patriots.
To understand what's happening to the GOP, let's take a look at Trump's most recent actions.
On Monday, the president ordered an inquiry into recent claims that the FBI had sent a so-called "spy" to infiltrate his campaign, according to CNN. While Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein seems to have appeased the president (for now) by having the Justice Department's inspector general look into the matter, the mere fact that the president is using organs of the government to discredit an investigation into alleged misconduct is in itself an extremely troubling precedent.
"Our President is more limited by norms than he is (by the) Constitution or law. It is the traditions of the office that keep the President, I think, in his lane. And one of those norms is the independence of the judiciary," Michael Hayden, a former director of the CIA and the National Security Agency under both Democratic and Republican presidents, told CNN's "The Situation Room."
He added that the president "has stepped so far beyond these norms that... people lose confidence in the independence of the judiciary, which frankly is our only off-ramp from this overhang currently over the entire nation."
Hayden's analysis was echoed by Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post, who wrote on Monday:
Trump’s power play is a gross misuse of his presidential authority and a dangerous departure from long-standing norms. Strongmen such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin use their justice systems to punish enemies and deflect attention from their own crimes. Presidents of the United States do not — or did not, until Sunday’s tweet:
“I hereby demand, and will do so officially tomorrow, that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes — and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration!”
Rather than push back and defend the rule of law, Justice tried to mollify the president by at least appearing to give him what he wants. The Republican leadership in Congress has been silent as a mouse. This is how uncrossable lines are crossed.
It is also worth noting that, although Trump claims the FBI used a "spy" on his campaign, the agency actually used an informant — and was completely within its rights to do so.
"The President casting a human intelligence source as a 'spy' is pure politics," former FBI special agent Josh Campbell told CNN's Chris Cillizza on Monday. "Although informants and spies both technically gather information covertly, the word "informant" is generally reserved for someone righteously operating on behalf of law enforcement, whereas 'spy' conjures up a more sinister mental picture of someone skulking in the shadows with questionable intentions."
In other words: The FBI used a legitimate method to acquire information about a presidential campaign that had been potentially compromised by a foreign power, and the president is now trying to discredit the investigation by complaining about it.
Just as he did when he claimed Trump Tower had been wiretapped. And as he did when he cooked up the bogus "unmasking" scandal. And as he did when he argued that the investigation had been entirely based on a dossier that had been partially paid for by the Democratic Party. And as he does when he says that there is a "deep state" conspiracy out to thwart his presidency.
This pattern — of the president saying something, anything at all, to get people to stop investigating alleged crimes involving himself and his cronies — is becoming impossible to ignore.
"There are some examples of this kind of interference and they are quite lamentable episodes of American history," Allan Lichtman, a distinguished professor at American University's Department of History, told Salon. "Certainly nothing any president would want to emulate in any way."
Lichtman then provided two examples of situations comparable to the one involving Trump today.
"During the second term of Ulysses S. Grant, the government was embroiled in a host of scandals sometimes known as The Great Barbecue (because in effect government offices of power were being sold for money)," Lichtman told Salon. "One of the scandals of the Grant Administration was the so-called Whiskey Ring scandal, in which officials were being bribed so that whiskey distillers could avoid paying the federal tax. A special prosecutor was appointed to deal with the Whiskey Ring scandal, which apparently implicated a very close associate of President Grant, Orville Babcock (like the president's chief of staff today), and the president interfered in the investigation ostensibly to protect Mr. Babcock. He fired the special prosecutor. He intervened in the investigation to order them not to give immunity to lower level persons in order to get to the higher-ups. And he even gave a deposition in support of Mr. Babcock, who was ultimately acquitted."
Lichtman then described the most infamous of America's scandal-ridden presidents.
"Much more famous, of course, is Richard Nixon, who had an article of impeachment against him voted by the Judiciary Committee of the US House of Representatives with respect to obstruction of justice," Lichtman told Salon. "It was one of the three articles voted against Nixon that led him to resign his office rather than face certain impeachment by the full House and conviction by the Senate. And it directly implicated Nixon in trying to impede the federal investigation of the Watergate break-in and other matters and involved actions very similar to what we see Donald Trump doing: Making false or misleading statements designed to impede the investigation. Counseling witnesses. Interfering with the conduct of the investigation by the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Claiming falsely that the matter had been thoroughly investigated and there was no wrongdoing of any kind."
He added, "And, of course, Bill Clinton had an article of impeachment voted against him on obstruction of justice, which was much less serious than anything that Donald Trump is doing with respect to, I'll call it the scandal of Russian interference, although we know it's much broader than that."
As Lichtman also noted during our interview, however, the scandals involving Trump are much graver than those in which Grant, Nixon and Clinton were swept up for one simple reason — They involve an attempt by a foreign power to influence our democratic process. More importantly, America's intelligence agencies are convinced that that foreign power is going to try to corrupt our elections again, and Trump has made it clear that he doesn't care so long as the investigation into alleged collusion with that power by his campaign doesn't wind up implicating him.
As a result of these things, the fate of America's democracy is itself at stake.
In such a situation, men and women of good will in both parties should unite in protecting our democratic institutions. They should recognize that no one person, no matter how powerful, is anywhere near as important as the structures that allow free government to flourish in our society. For Republicans, anything other than a full denunciation of Trump's tactics, and an effort to protect the law enforcement officials who are responsible for holding him accountable, counts as an abdication of their solemn duties as public servants.
Yet this is where we are today.