Editorials of The Times
Posted May 21, 2018 10:07 p.m. EDT
Trump v. the Department of Justice
As the old saying goes, if the facts are against you, argue the law. If the law is against you, argue the facts. If both the facts and the law are against you, pound the table and yell.
Welcome to the central organizing principle of the Trump White House. As the Russia investigation burrows closer to the Oval Office, the president, his staff, his collaborators in Congress and his defenders in the right-wing media are sparing no institution in their quest to undermine it. Look, a mole!
President Donald Trump sank to a new low on Sunday, tweeting, “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!”
Putting aside the cartoonish language (“I hereby demand”? Really?), consider the seriousness of the threat posed by a president ordering federal law enforcement officials to investigate the people who are investigating him.
On Monday, Trump persuaded the Justice Department to ask its inspector general to look into his accusations, hoping that these countercharges make the public forget the broader context of the Russia investigation. So let’s look at what we already know.
First the facts: There was a sophisticated, multiyear conspiracy by Russian government officials and agents, working under direct orders from President Vladimir Putin, to interfere in the 2016 presidential election in support of Donald Trump. The American law enforcement and intelligence communities warned the Trump campaign and asked it to report anything suspicious. The campaign didn’t do this. To the contrary, at least seven Trump campaign officials met with Russians or people linked to Russia, and several seemed eager to accept their help. As the FBI became aware of these contacts, it began to investigate. And yet the bureau went to great lengths to shield this investigation from becoming public before the election, even as James Comey, then the FBI director, spoke openly about the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server.
These facts aren’t disputed. The intelligence community confirmed Russia’s efforts on Trump’s behalf in January 2017, and last week Richard Burr, the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he saw “no reason to dispute” those findings.
Do these sound like the actions of government officials intent on bringing down a presidential candidate?
What about the law? It is a federal crime to lie to federal authorities, obstruct justice, launder money, fail to register as a foreign agent and conspire with a foreign power to influence the outcome of an election. Top officials in Trump’s campaign and administration have already been indicted on or pleaded guilty to some of these charges. This is just the start; the special counsel, Robert Mueller, appears to have gathered a great deal more evidence with the help of cooperating witnesses. And we haven’t even talked about Michael Cohen yet.
Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress compound their shame daily, either by standing by in silence or by working actively with the White House and conservative media to help expose the identity of an FBI informant. Was it just a year ago that these same people professed outrage at the supposed “unmasking” of American citizens caught up in duly-authorized surveillance?
This self-interested assault is doing incalculable damage to the integrity of American law enforcement. It’s up to those people who have devoted their lives to the nation and to the rule of law, like Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and the FBI director, Christopher Wray — both Republicans and Trump appointees, don’t forget — to stand up to the president and defend these institutions.
One doesn’t have to agree with the particulars of every investigation to see the fundamental difference here: The members of our law enforcement and intelligence communities are trying to protect the country. Donald Trump and his supporters are simply trying to protect Donald Trump.
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