Conservative foreign policy expert Max Boot has a column in the Washington Post looking at the important political norms, like separation of powers and the rule of law, that Donald Trump is rapidly destroying. The column looks at examples from just last week alone:
Revealing intelligence sources. Trump‘s henchman, Rep. Devin Nunes (R.-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, found out that the FBI had a source gathering information on Russian contacts with the Trump campaign. With Trump’s support, he demanded that the FBI name its informant. The FBI refused, but by persisting, Nunes has gotten his way — the apparent informant has been named by several news organizations. This flies in the face of the long-standing revulsion, codified in a 1982 law, against revealing intelligence sources — the reason that the outing of Valerie Plame and of sundry CIA agents in the 1970s (one of whom was subsequently assassinated) caused such indignation. “The day that we can’t protect human sources is the day the American people start becoming less safe,” says FBI Director Christopher Wray. It’s safe to say that lickspittle Republicans such as Nunes care more about protecting Trump than they do the American people.
Here’s what I find fascinating about this particular one. Historically, the FBI and our intelligence services have been more strongly supported by Republicans than Democrats and most agents from those agencies have tended to be conservative rather than liberal. That’s true of law enforcement in general, in the case of the FBI, but it’s also the result of the Democrats — some of them, at least — trying to hold them accountable for decades of horrific crimes, from J. Edgar Hoover to the Church Committee to the installation of brutal dictators by the CIA.
And yet we have now seen two instances in the last 15 years of the outing of FBI and CIA informants, case workers or assets, Valerie Plame and now Stefan Halper. Both were done by Republicans, not Democrats. So while the Democrats (some of them, certainly not all) have tried to prevent those agencies from doing horrible things, Republicans have supported those crimes for the most part but intentionally damage them to retaliate against being held accountable for their own crimes.
Politically motivated prosecutions. Continuing Operation Save My Skin, Trump demanded on Sunday “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!” There is zero evidence of any political surveillance. The FBI was not trying to help the Democrats but to protect the country from Russian subversion — something that Republicans evidently couldn’t care less about. If this had been a Democratic operation, why would it have been kept a secret until after the election? Trump is demanding that the Justice Department investigate these spurious allegations to distract from the serious charges against him. He is thereby traducing a fundamental — impeachable — norm against presidents using the Justice Department for political purposes. Let’s hope that the department can get away with simply referring this dangerous “demand” to the inspector general, because “investigating the investigators” is a tried-and-true authoritarian tactic to escape accountability.
Indeed, it is. The whole thing makes no sense at all. Their claim is that the same FBI that actively, if unintentionally, helped him get elected with that last-minute letter to Congress about the Clinton emails, which turned out to be nothing at all, just days before the election was also “infiltrating” his campaign to undermine it with “spies” to keep him from getting elected. And to do that, they kept the whole thing secret so it didn’t affect the election at all. Who could possibly believe such a thing? Those who really want it to be true, of course.
Boot has three more example from just last week of important norms that Trump is violating with impunity, including mixing private and government business, allowing foreign interference in American elections, and undermining the First Amendment. We can add to that: using the power of the presidency to punish those he regards as his political enemies (Jeff Bezos, CNN, etc). This is very, very dangerous. Those norms exist for a reason, to prevent corruption and tyranny.