For months, Donald Trump, with varying degrees of subtlety, has targeted the FBI and the Justice Department with public rebukes. This morning, with the president under investigation and feeling increasingly anxious, he abandoned any pretense of rhetorical limits.
President Donald Trump – poised to approve the release of a classified memo about the Russia investigation – on Friday ripped the ongoing probe, accusing top law enforcement officials of favoring Democrats.
“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 – something which would have been unthinkable just a short time ago,” Trump tweeted. “Rank & File are great people!” he added.
When a sitting president launches a public broadside against the heads of the FBI and the Justice Department, it’s no small development. Indeed, Americans have arguably never seen anything like this – and with any luck, will never see these kinds of attacks again.
It’s hard to know where to start, but I’d recommend keeping a few key details in mind:
1. As Trump attacks the FBI’s and the Justice Department’s “top leadership,” it’s worth remembering that Trump himself chose the FBI’s and the Justice Department’s top leadership. FBI Director Christopher Wray and Attorney General Jeff Sessions are both in their current positions because the current president put them there.
2. The group of people Trump believes are “against Republicans” appear to be Republicans. James Comey, for example, is a lifelong Republican. So is Robert Mueller. So is Jeff Sessions. Christopher Wray is a registered Republican. In 2016, Andrew McCabe voted in a Republican primary. Rod Rosenstein was appointed as a U.S. Attorney by a Republican administration. If Trump expects Americans to see this group as a bunch of DNC donors, it’s a tough sell.
3. Given the overwhelming evidence that Trump obstructed justice, to see the president whining that others “politicized the sacred investigative process” is hopelessly bonkers.
4. Every congressional Republican who’s said he or she feels no need to protect Mueller from the White House should be asked if they still believe this.
5. Technically, when Trump fired Comey, Americans were told it was because the former FBI director wasn’t fair to Hillary Clinton. I get the sense the president has forgotten this detail, since he’s now effectively arguing the opposite.
6. In the American tradition, we’ve never seen a sitting president launch a political war like this against federal law enforcement. H.W. Brands, a University of Texas history professor, said this week, in reference to the burgeoning conflict, “I can’t think of a single time any president has done anything like this. Harry Truman privately worried that the CIA would become an American Gestapo. And several presidents muttered against J. Edgar Hoover. But no one went public the way Trump has.”
7. In November 2016, before she became White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders declared, “When you’re attacking FBI agents because you’re under criminal investigation, you’re losing.” Lately, I’ve found myself thinking about this on a daily basis.