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Targeting federal law enforcement, Trump turns things up a notch

To hear Trump tell it, federal officials investigating the Russia scandal aren't just part of a conspiracy, he also believes they "ought to be in jail."
A US Department of Justice seal is displayed on a podium during a news conference on Dec. 11, 2012 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Ramin Talaie/Getty)
A US Department of Justice seal is displayed on a podium during a news conference on Dec. 11, 2012 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.

Apropos of nothing, Donald Trump published a tweet yesterday about Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team of federal investigators.

"These guys, the investigators, ought to be in jail. What they have done, working with the Obama intelligence agencies, is simply unprecedented. This is one of the greatest political hoaxes ever perpetrated on the people of this Country, and Mueller is a coverup." Rush Limbaugh

For the record, I have no idea if Limbaugh actually said this. The president occasionally misquotes people -- even his allies -- to advance his own purposes, and it would probably be a mistake to assume this reflects the far-right radio host's exact words.

What matters, however, is the underlying sentiment that Trump was eager to endorse: the president believes federal law enforcement officials, examining a foreign adversary's attack on our elections, aren't just part of some elaborate, partisan conspiracy, he apparently also believes they "ought to be in jail."

That strikes me as a notable rhetorical escalation for the embattled president.

Trump went on to reiterate his belief that the special counsel's investigation is "illegal," before publishing a couple of additional missives about former FBI Deputy Director and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein targeting him with "a very illegal act," which the president believes may be "treasonous."

Given the context, I'm assuming Trump is referring to the alleged 2017 conversation about the 25th Amendment.

Regardless of the context, let's not forget that, as of right now, Rod Rosenstein remains one of the nation's top law enforcement officials. He's also, evidently, someone Trump considers a criminal.

Occasionally, the Republican president likes to assure the public that he's a champion of law enforcement, which is what makes outbursts like these so bizarre. Indeed, as regular readers know, Trump's attacks on federal law enforcement are strikingly common.

This is, after all, the same president who said last fall that he sees his conflict with the FBI as one of his “crowning achievements.” Trump added at the time that he sees some leaders who’ve served in federal law enforcement as “a cancer in our country.”

The president has also 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!”

Last year, the president also insisted that the FBI’s reputation was “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 then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions hadn’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. And an attorney general. And dozens of federal prosecutors.

Trump has attacked federal law enforcement with conspiracy theories. He’s attacked common law-enforcement tools. He’s even urged law enforcement to enforce his political vendettas and help Republicans win elections.

And yet, despite all of this, suggesting federal investigators "ought to be in jail" still seems like a new one.