​​Vol. XVII, No. 198, June 2018​​

President Trump Is Abusing His
Authority. Are There No Republicans
With Spine Who Can Stop Him?

By M. P. Prabhakaran



Donald Trump is known for spreading canards and making outlandish claims. Remember the lie he said and repeated ad nauseam, when Barack Obama announced his candidacy for president, that he was born in Kenya and so ineligible to be president? And who can forget the baseless charge he made, when he entered the presidential race himself, that the Trump Tower in New York City, where he has his primary residence and which doubled as his campaign headquarters, was wiretapped on orders from the Obama administration?​​

Did he apologize when both claims were proved wrong? No. Apologizing is a gentlemanly quality which he doesn’t have. Did he at least blush when, after spending large sums of taxpayer money, it was definitively established that his charges were based on lies? No. To blush, one must have shame.

Because he has earned a reputation as a pathological liar – according to the latest fact-checking done by The Washington Post, he utters an average of 5.5 lies a day – most people have learned to laugh his lies away. But they are not willing to do so with regard to the lie he spread last week, because it undermines the integrity of the highest law enforcement agency in the country, the Justice Department.
Citing no evidence to substantiate it, Mr. Trump made the appalling claim that one of the sources the Federal Bureau of Investigation (F.B.I.) used in its probe into his 2016 campaign was a spy planted in it by the Obama administration. The F.B.I. investigation was initiated when all intelligence agencies in the country confirmed that Russia had meddled in the 2016 presidential election in order to sway its outcome in Mr. Trump’s favor, against Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party candidate. As part of the investigation, the F.B.I. was also looking into the allegation that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to facilitate the meddling.
Mr. Trump has been panicking ever since he came to know about the investigation and trying to do everything he could to block it, while proclaiming at every turn that his campaign had no collusion with Russia. The first controversial (stupid?) step he took to stop the investigation was to fire the then-F.B.I. director James Comey who was heading it. On Mr. Trump’s own admission, he did the firing because he wanted “the Russia thing” to go away.
It did not go away. In fact, it caused an uproar around the country, including among the Democrats in Congress. The uproar made it necessary for the Justice Department to appoint a special counsel to continue the investigation. In normal circumstances, the responsibility for doing it would be that of the attorney general. But attorney general Jeff Sessions had recused himself from all Russia-related investigations because of the contacts he had with Russian officials. (It may be pointed out that he had lied about those contacts during the Senate confirmation hearing for attorney general.) So, the task of appointing a special counsel, in this case, fell on deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein. Rosenstein named Robert S. Mueller III, a Vietnam veteran, a decorated soldier, and a highly respected former F.B.I. director who had served under both Republican and Democratic administrations -- under the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations.
Mr. Trump was very upset by Mr. Sessions's recusal decision. On several occasions he pressed him to reverse it. When Sessions refused to do it, he tried to get him to resign. When that didn't work, he issued veiled threats to fire him. That didn't work either, and Mr. Sessions continued on the job. Mr. Trump was so frustrated that he told The New York Times, in last July, that had he known that Mr. Sessions would not oversee the Russia investigation, he wouldn’t have nominated him for attorney general.
Meanwhile, Robert Mueller has been doing a thorough job of examining the entire gamut of Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether the Trump campaign enabled that interference in any way. And Mr. Trump persisted in his efforts to discredit the investigation. He repeatedly called it a “witch hunt”. Branding an F.B.I. informant a spy is his latest attempt at undermining the investigation.

He did not stop at that. In his capacity as president, he ordered the Justice Department – “I hereby demand” were the words used by him – to investigate the F.B.I.’s use of a spy in its investigation. In other words, he demanded that the F.B.I. investigation be investigated. It may sound bizarre, but that's what his demand amounted to. The F.B.I., it may be added, comes under the Justice Department, which in turn comes under the Executive Branch, of which the president is the ultimate boss.

Obstruction of Justice

Strictly speaking, the president’s demand is an attempt at obstructing justice, which falls within the purview of high crime and misdemeanor, which is an impeachable offense. Apart from this, according to a report in The New York Times today, the Mueller team will also be probing whether the repeated pressure Mr. Trump put on Mr. Sessions to reverse his recusal decision and the veiled threats he issued to fire him when he refused to oblige constituted another instance of obstruction of justice.
It is sickening that Mr. Trump’s outrageous claim that the F.B.I. informant is a spy sent into his campaign by the Obama administration found enthusiastic takers among Republicans in Congress. Yes, the present Congress is Republican-controlled. But none had expected some of those Republicans to stoop to the level of being cheerleaders for a lying president. On the initiative of the most obeisant among them, Congressman Devin Nunes, who is also the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, two classified meetings were held by a select few members – Gang of Eight, they were nicknamed – to review all sensitive material pertaining to the informant and to the information he provided.
The public at large is surprised that deputy attorney general Rosenstein, known for keeping his work free from political interference, yielded to Trump’s pressure and agreed to share classified information with the Gang of Eight. Trump went a step further: In total disregard for established norms, he sent his chief of staff and a lawyer representing him in the Russia investigation to the classified meetings. The declared goal of his emissaries was “to relay the president’s desire for as much openness as possible under the law.” Their actual goal was to do some snooping.

Encroachment on Legislature

Mr. Trump's cronies in Congress seem to have no problem with his interference in their area of work, which is constitutionally protected from encroachment by the Executive Branch. It is unprecedented in the history of Congress, though. Democrats were justifiably infuriated by the presence of John F. Kelly, the president’s chief of staff, and Emmet T. Flood, his lawyer, at the meetings. Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on Twitter: “For the record, the President’s Chief of Staff and his attorney in an ongoing criminal investigation into the President’s campaign have no business showing up to a classified intelligence briefing.” Legal experts have characterized their presence as an abuse of authority by the White House.
Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said on behalf of his party colleagues: “Nothing we heard today has changed our view that there is no evidence to support any allegation that the F.B.I. or any intelligence agency placed a ‘spy’ in the Trump campaign, or otherwise failed to follow appropriate procedures and protocols.”
An unfortunate consequence of Mr. Trump’s baseless allegation and his cronies’ follow-up actions is that the F.B.I. informant, who acted in good faith, has been outed. Characterizing his work as “one of the biggest political scandals in U.S. history,” Mr. Trump said on Twitter, “Large dollars were paid to the Spy, far beyond normal.” Here again, he didn’t provide any evidence to substantiate it. The outed ‘spy’ turned out to be an American academic who served in several Republican administrations and has taught more recently in Britain.
Republicans in Congress would do well to pay heed to the warning contained in the open letter on this disgusting saga, jointly written by five former top American intelligence officials who have worked for Democratic and Republican administrations, including Leon E. Panetta and Gen. Michael V. Hayden. The letter says, “When congressional oversight is overly partisan — or focused on undermining important counterintelligence investigations — we worry about inappropriate political influence on the investigators and the erosion of a bipartisan approach to intelligence and national security.”
Apolitical observers in the country are asking some very important questions, like: Are there no Republicans with spine who can stop this president from trashing the traditional norms? Are there no Republicans in Congress who have the guts to tell him that they represent a branch of the government that is coequal to the one he heads, not its handmaiden? What happened to the constitutionally safeguarded separation of powers among the three branches of the government: the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary?
(This is an expanded version of my response to the article, “Trump’s Lawyer and Chief of Staff Appear at Briefings on F.B.I.’s Russia Informant,” by Nicholas Fandos and Katie Benner, which appeared in the online version of The New York Times [nytimes.com] on May 25, 2018. All quotes are reproduced from that article. -- M.P.P.)

(Published on May 30, 2018.)

(Comments from readers are welcome. Send the comments to 
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