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Did Trump press the Justice Dept to push back against comedians?

The latest reporting on Trump pressing federal agencies to go after comedy shows is very easy to believe.


The revelations last week were jarring: materials brought to public light from the House Oversight Committee showed Donald Trump and his White House team, leaning on the Justice Department late last year to help undermine the 2020 presidential election. The revelations served as a reminder that the former president saw federal agencies as extensions of his political machine, to be used against perceived enemies.

But related revelations continue to come to the fore. The Daily Beast reported yesterday:

According to two people familiar with the matter, Trump asked advisers and lawyers in early 2019 about what the Federal Communications Commission, the court system, and -- most confusingly to some Trump lieutenants -- the Department of Justice could do to probe or mitigate SNL, Jimmy Kimmel, and other late-night comedy mischief-makers.

As unsettling as a report like this is, it's not the least bit surprising.

As regular readers may recall, during his presidential transition period, Trump lashed out at "Saturday Night Live," condemning it as "biased," and suggesting he and his team should be given "equal time." In 2018, the Republican did it again, blasting the NBC comedy show as a "spin machine," and suggesting that the broadcasts may not be "legal."

In February 2019, Trump upped the ante, raising the prospect of "retribution" against comedy shows. A month later, the then-president started referring to specific levers of federal power he'd consider using to punish comedy programs that hurt his feelings.

It's what makes this new reporting so easy to believe: it suggests Trump was doing in private exactly what he was doing in public.

Yesterday, the former president went to the trouble of denying The Daily Beast report -- though as the outlet added, Trump also confirmed, in the same statement, "that he believes the show was engaging in ‘illegal’ activity by making fun of him."

Several years ago, when the Morsi government went after Bassem Youssef because the authoritarian leader felt insulted by the satirist, the Egyptian president's crackdown had the opposite of the intended effect: Morsi looked weak for wilting in the face of unflattering comedy.

Perhaps Trump heard about the events and learned the wrong lesson.