Donald Trump is not subtle. Donald Trump does not like “rules” or conventions or niceties or norms or traditions. Fools follow those. Losers follow those. He is neither so doesn’t follow those at all. He won’t be politically correct. He won’t be courteous. He will, in fact, do what no one else will do, and everyone saw that in the last presidential debate:
Donald Trump on Sunday night issued a remarkable threat against Hillary Clinton, telling the Democratic presidential nominee he would seek to imprison her if he was elected next month.
“If I win, I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your (missing email) situation,” Trump said, “because there has never been so many lies, so much deception.”
Of course he had been saying that for months:
“I will say this, Hillary Clinton has got to go to jail,” Trump told supporters here as he slammed Clinton’s foreign policy speech earlier in the day in which Clinton called Trump dangerous and “temperamentally unfit” to be president.
“Folks, honestly, she’s guilty as hell,” Trump said of the Clinton’s use of a private email server during her time as secretary of state.
So that led to this at that last debate:
Clinton responded first by calling Trump’s comments about her emails false and then said, “It’s just awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country.”
Trump, as if continuing her sentence, added: “Because you’d be in jail.”
After the debate, Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta dismissed the remark, telling CNN’s Brianna Keilar that Trump would never get the chance to follow through.
John Podesta was wrong about that, but Trump did not follow through. He didn’t direct Jeff Sessions to get a special prosecutor to begin the process that would end with her in jail for life, or executed for treason, or whatever else Trump’s base thought that they’d heard him say. He let that slide. Perhaps he wanted to appear magnanimous. Perhaps it was an insult – she wasn’t worth the effort – or perhaps he got wind of all the words written about this. Banana republics work that way – despots retain power by jailing their political rivals – and reporters too (he had suggested that too) – and America is not a banana republic. Here, so far, we argue. We disagree. Then we vote, to settle things, and then we do it all again. Our leaders don’t remove those who oppose them. Our leaders convince voters that they have better ideas than that other person. No one goes to jail. No one is “disappeared” like all those pesky people in Chili long ago.
Trump asked why not? At the nomination convention, Michael Flynn led the chants – Lock her up! That was chanted at every rally. It still is – and Flynn is now the convicted felon going to jail. So are Trump’s campaign manager, and that manager’s assistant, and Trump’s personal lawyer, and so on. Trump named Flynn his national security advisor. Flynn lasted twenty-four days. But none of that seems to matter. The core idea here is that you don’t stop when you win. You wipe out those who had challenged you. You punish them for challenging you. Democracy may thrive on the lively or even nasty clash of competing ideas, but there’s a way to bypass that tedious nonsense. Jail those who oppose you. That ends all future argument. Even a credible threat of jail (or worse) does the job. They’ll shut up. You win.
The message is clear. Don’t go up against this guy. If you win he’ll make sure you pay for that – he’ll never forget and he’ll never forgive anything, ever. And if he wins he’ll destroy you anyway, for daring to challenge him in the first place. It’s a message he likes to send to the rest of the world. Raise an issue and your life as you know it is over.
Hillary Clinton is safe. She really doesn’t matter at all now. Something else matters more now. Robert Mueller and all the rest investigated President Trump. Attorney General Barr reviewed their findings. The president is fine – no issues, really – so now it’s time for all of those investigating the president to pay, big time, but not for clearing him of course. They’ll pay for looking into things:
Attorney General William Barr suggested to lawmakers Wednesday that Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was spied on, saying he will be looking into the “genesis” of the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation that began in 2016 of potential ties between the campaign and the Russian government.
“I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal,” Barr said, echoing some of the more inflammatory claims lobbed by the President for months, but declining to elaborate on his concerns. “I think spying did occur.”
He did not provide evidence for his claims.
That wasn’t necessary:
The news will likely be viewed as a welcome development to the President, who has regularly called for an investigation and, as recently as last week, told reporters more should be done to examine the origins of the Russia probe.
That was not welcome elsewhere:
Congressional Democrats fumed Wednesday over Barr’s statements, accusing the attorney general of mischaracterizing the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation in an effort to please Trump.
“I’m amazed that the AG would make that kind of statement, I think it’s in many ways disrespectful to the men and women who work in the DOJ, and it shows, I think, either a lack of understanding or willful ignorance on what goes into a counterintelligence investigation,” Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told CNN.
“These comments directly contradict what DOJ previously told us,” tweeted House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, who authorized the subpoena for the Mueller report. “I’ve asked DOJ to brief us immediately.”
Barr got it and started the walk-back:
“For the same reason we’re worried about foreign influence in elections, I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal,” Barr said. “I’m not suggesting those rules were violated but I think it’s important to look at… I think it’s my obligation.”
He added that he’s not launching a full blown investigation into the FBI and does not view it as a problem that is “endemic” to the FBI, but has in mind some colleagues to help him “pull all this information together, and letting me know if there are some areas that should be looked at.”
So this was a legitimate investigation with a few flaws, but that’s not how Barr’s boss sees it:
Trump said Wednesday morning that Barr was doing a “great job” and “getting started on going back to the origins on where exactly this all started because it was an illegal witch hunt.”
“This was an attempted coup, this was an attempted takedown of a president,” Trump said.
And will Barr now agree with that? Kevin Drum sees this:
What Barr is talking about is normally referred to as “investigation.” The FBI did indeed investigate various members of the Trump campaign, and there has never been the slightest evidence that it was improper. The case was precipitated by a tipsy George Papadopoulos telling an Australian diplomat that the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton. The Australians reported the meeting and the FBI began its investigation.
Donald Trump doesn’t see that. He sees an attempted coup. Paul Waldman sees this:
As we now know, in 2016, Russia mounted a comprehensive effort to help get Trump elected president of the United States. That effort included social media propagandizing, outreach to Trump campaign officials and the hacking of Democratic emails.
The FBI began its counterintelligence investigation in the early summer of 2016 when it was alerted that a Trump campaign adviser had bragged that Russia had in its possession stolen Clinton emails that could be used to embarrass her.
And then what should have been straightforward got odd:
That investigation confronted two broad questions: What was the nature of Russian meddling in the U.S. election, and was the Trump campaign involved? We can argue about how to interpret everything the investigation eventually uncovered. But the Republican position – and we have to be clear about this, because it’s utterly bonkers – has in effect been that there should never have been any FBI investigation at all into the Russian attack on the U.S. election.
A more sane group of people would say that while of course Russia’s attack on our electoral system was important to investigate, that investigation hasn’t shown criminality by the president and his associates (well, apart from the crimes Mueller found by members of Trump’s inner circle), so in the end, they were vindicated, sort of. We could argue about that conclusion, too, but that’s not the position Republicans are taking. They’re saying the entire investigation was illegitimate from the get-go.
A less ludicrous position might be that though the investigation was legitimate, the particular way it was carried out was problematic. Republicans make arguments on this score as well, but they’re not much more tethered to reality. Their theory is that there was a vast and ruthless conspiracy within the Justice Department and specifically the FBI – just for the record, probably the most politically conservative agency in the entire federal government – to destroy Trump.
And a saner and less ludicrous Republican approach would note this:
There is no genuine evidence that any actions anyone took in the course of the investigation displayed improper anti-Trump bias. Peter Strzok? Nope. Strzok, who had a key role in the counterintelligence investigation of Russian meddling, exchanged text messages in which he disparaged Trump, in what must surely have been the first case in history in which an investigator held one of his targets in low esteem.
Those texts were publicly released by the Justice Department, which is why we know they exist. What we don’t have, for instance, are text messages exchanged by the FBI agents in the New York office who were reportedly consumed with their hatred of Hillary Clinton, because they were not released.
But having established that someone working on the Russia investigation disliked Trump, Republicans spun out a story of a vast conspiracy to destroy the future president running through the government. The only trouble was that they could never find any evidence that such a conspiracy existed.
But they will keep looking, and the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent will look elsewhere:
Attorney General William P. Barr made the remarkable claim that the Trump campaign might have been the target of “spying” by law enforcement during the 2016 campaign… In an interview, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, suggested that this claim is nothing short of alarming.
“I’m shocked to hear the attorney general of the United States casually make the suggestion that the FBI or intelligence community was spying on the president’s campaign,” Schiff told me. “I’m sure it was very gratifying to Donald Trump.”
It’s unclear what “spying” Barr was pointing to, beyond the fact that law enforcement did undertake an investigation of Russian interference and possible conspiracy with it. Trump has made many extremely lurid variations of the same claim, including suggesting that President Barack Obama ordered his phone tapped.
Things had gotten out of hand, it was Democrats Gone Wild, but it was only Trump:
Schiff pointed out that the bipartisan Gang of Eight -the leaders and intelligence committee chairs in both parties – were already briefed by the Justice Department after Trump made yet another version of the assertion. At the time, the Democrats issued a joint statement saying nothing they had been told supported the notion of untoward conduct.
“It’s unclear to me what Barr was referring to,” Schiff said. He noted that he was unaware that the statement he and other Democrats put out had ever been “contested by anyone on either side of the aisle.”
“All I can make of it is that he wanted to say something pleasing to the boss, and did so at the cost of our institutions,” Schiff said.
And pleasing the boss is a serious problem in this case:
“His testimony raises profound concern that the attorney general is doing what we urge emerging democracies not to do, and that is, seek to prosecute your political opponents after you win an election,” Schiff continued, in an apparent reference to Barr’s vow to examine the beginnings of the investigation, precisely as Trump has long demanded.
This could presumably include figures such as former FBI director James B. Comey, who has emerged as a leading Trump critic. (In this context, recall that Barr had previously said the fake Uranium One Hillary Clinton scandal was more worthy of investigation than collusion with Russia was.)
“The big picture is this,” Schiff said. “The post-Watergate reforms are being dismantled, one by one. The Trump precedent after only two years is that you can fire the FBI director who is running an investigation in which you may be implicated as president.”
That’s banana republic stuff as is this:
“You can hire an attorney general who has applied for the job by telling you why he thinks the case against you is bogus,” Schiff continued. “That new attorney general can then selectively edit the work of an independent or special prosecutor, and allow the Congress and the public to see only parts of it. And that new attorney general can also initiate inquiries into the president’s political opponents.”
And then you can toss your political opponents in jail. And then you can wear the Generalissimo uniform, with all the braid and the riding crop and the high shiny boots. That might be next, but Donald Trump never was a subtle man.
And this is what the nation walked into. This really is bananas.