Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to retired and active law enforcement personnel at a Fraternal Order of Police lodge during a campaign stop in Statesville, N.C. on Aug. 18, 2016.
Photo by Gerald Herbert/AP

Trump’s fickle support for law enforcement comes with an asterisk

Updated

This morning, Donald Trump presented himself as a champion of law enforcement.

“The people of our Country want and demand Safety and Security, while the Democrats are more interested in ripping apart and demeaning … our great Law Enforcement!”

In April, Trump presented himself as a vociferous critic of law enforcement.

“You look at the corruption at the top of the FBI, it’s a disgrace.”

Among the most unusual aspects of this presidency is Trump’s willingness to, borrowing his phrasing, rip apart and demean law enforcement. The Republican has, for example, referred to the “Department of ‘Justice’ ” – as if he believes the DOJ’s commitment to justice is in doubt – as “an embarrassment to our country!”

Earlier this year, the president insisted that the FBI’s reputation is “in Tatters” and is now the “worst in History.” Soon after, he added, “The top Leadership and Investigators of the FBI and the Justice Department have politicized the sacred investigative process.”

A month later, Trump went after the bureau again, calling it “disgraceful” that Attorney General Jeff Sessions hasn’t done more to investigate the FBI.

It’s the same president who fired dozens of U.S. attorneys under unusual circumstances. And then fired an FBI director. And a deputy FBI director. And an acting attorney general.

There’s no modern precedent for anything like this. The Washington Post  noted a few months ago that much of the Republican leadership has “become an adversary of federal law enforcement,” with the FBI and the Justice Department “under concerted assault” by GOP officials. Politico  added that the right has “learned to hate the FBI,” which in turn has “upended the longstanding norms of Washington.”

And yet, there was Trump this morning, attacking Democrats for being insufficiently deferential toward law enforcement. What is he talking about?

The answer almost certainly relates to the fact that the president is the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation, which in Trump’s mind, necessarily makes the Justice Department his enemy. If the FBI is scrutinizing his political operation, and the Justice Department has already indicted many in his orbit, then Trump believes federal law enforcement deserves to be “ripped apart and demeaned.”

His perspective on immigration law enforcement officials, of course, is entirely different, in part because they’re not interested in the president’s alleged misdeeds in the Russia scandal, and in part because they’re a key element of his political agenda.

In other words, when Trump defends “our great law enforcement,” his support comes with a caveat: he’s not including the law enforcement officials and agencies that are investigating him.