This week, President Trump felt the full brunt of legal investigations into his campaign, as his personal fixer Michael Cohen turned on him and testified that Trump had told him to violate campaign finance law; we found out that his former friend, National Enquirer CEO David Pecker, was granted immunity; and we learned that his Trump Organization CFO, Allen Weisselberg, was similarly granted immunity. Trump’s closest allies have been turned against Michael Cohen, at the very least, and Cohen has turned against Trump.
All of this has prompted rage from the president at Attorney General Jeff Sessions. In particular, he’s outraged that Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation, which ended with Robert Mueller referring Michael Cohen issues to the Southern District of New York office. Trump believes that the Attorney General should protect him from such investigations, and also believes that the Department of Justice has unfairly exonerated members of the Left.
He’s right that the DOJ was heavily politicized under President Obama. Eric Holder, Obama’s first attorney general, described himself as a “wingman” for Obama. Obama used executive privilege to shield Holder from questions about the “Fast and Furious” gunwalking scandal. Holder never initiated investigations into possible criminal activity regarding the IRS, the HHS, DOJ targeting of reporters, the EPA, and the NSA, among others. The same held true for Loretta Lynch, Obama’s second attorney general, who infamously met Bill Clinton on a tarmac in the midst of the Hillary Clinton investigation — and who made rather obvious that she wasn’t interested in prosecuting Hillary Clinton.
Kimberly Strassel points out the current double standard in investigations regarding Democratic malfeasance:
If there is only “one set of rules,” where is Mr. Mueller’s referral of a case against Hillary for America? Federal law requires campaigns to disclose the recipient and purpose of any payments. The Clinton campaign paid Fusion GPS to compile a dossier against Mr. Trump, a document that became the basis of the Russia narrative Mr. Mueller now investigates. But the campaign funneled the money to law firm Perkins Coie, which in turn paid Fusion. The campaign falsely described the money as payment for “legal services.” The Democratic National Committee did the same. A Perkins Coie spokesperson has claimed that neither the Clinton campaign nor the DNC was aware that Fusion GPS had been hired to conduct the research, and maybe so. But a lot of lawyers here seemed to have been ignoring a clear statute, presumably with the intent of influencing an election.
All of this has prompted Trump to tweet his anger at Attorney General Jeff Sessions:
Some of this is true, some of it isn’t. We only know about Strzok’s malfeasance because Mueller fired him, and because of a Department of Justice Inspector General Report. Mueller’s supposed “conflicts” are incredibly weak. The DOJ IG is already in the middle of an investigation into McCabe, Page, Ohr, and all the rest — that’s part of the upcoming IG report on the Russian collusion investigation. And as for Trump’s call for Sessions to “open up the papers & documents without redaction,” Trump is the head of the executive branch and can simply declassify that material whenever he wants (as I’ve been calling for him to do for months). Is there a case to be made for prosecution? Trump can simply order Sessions to investigate. Is his suggestion that Sessions, his first senatorial supporter, is now a lackey to the Left? That’s one hell of an accusation.
But the real underlying complaint here isn’t that Sessions isn’t investigating Democrats — it’s that the DOJ is investigating people associated with the Trump team. And here we reach the moral crux of the issue: should Republicans seek to bastardize the DOJ and FBI in the same way the Democrats did?
There are those on the right who say yes. They argue that the Democrats haven’t played by the rules — why should the Republicans? This sort of logic is often used to justify President Trump’s excesses and absurdities, and as a quasi-loyalty test for conservatives who refuse to play along. “What are you,” the question goes, “some coward afraid to fight fire with fire?”
The countervailing moral position is that Democratic winking at criminality doesn’t justify Republican winking at criminality. One of the reasons Republicans should be running the government is because of that very point. And moreover, the argument that Democrats don’t pay a price for their corruption is simply wrong. Republicans control every branch of government and most state governments too. Barack Obama won two terms. His party lost all power. Part of the reason Trump is president is because Obama destroyed American faith in institutions of power, so we welcomed in an outsider who promised to “drain the swamp.”
That means Republicans should be eager to drain the swamp, not to complain about the unfairness of swamp-draining when it affects Republicans. Trump may have a case that the DOJ should look harder at Democrats — but I don’t have the information Sessions does, and neither do you. Trump presumably does, yet he’s not declassifying any of it or ordering Sessions to open investigations. All of which suggests that he’s mostly angry not at the injustice of an unfair distribution of investigations, but that he’s being targeted at all.