EDITOR’S NOTE: House Republicans released the disputed memo alleging FBI and Justice Department abuses on Friday, February 2.
With the imminent release of the jury-rigged “Nunes memo” and the resignation of FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who had been under fire from the president, Donald Trump and his Republican allies in Congress have expanded their all-out assault on the American system of justice, including the FBI, the Justice Department, the US intelligence community, and the Office of the Special Counsel. It’s an unprecedented attack on what Team Trump refers to as an imagined “Deep State,” a “secret society” within the FBI, and a conspiracy of judges, courts, and intelligence officials who have allegedly banded together to bring down his presidency.
There is of course a reality-based way to look at these events—namely, that the White House and the Trump campaign are under investigation by seasoned prosecutors and several congressional committees over plausible allegations that the president’s 2016 campaign colluded with or encouraged a Russian effort to influence the election’s outcome, and that since his inauguration Trump has engaged in a systematic effort to obstruct justice.
Over the past month or so, however, Trump’s obstruction efforts—as the president sees it, “you fight back, oh, it’s obstruction”—has kicked into high gear. At its center is a sustained White House–led attack on both special counsel Robert Mueller and the FBI, including several top FBI officials. Supporting Trump’s attack are the Republicans on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI), who put together and then, on Monday, voted to release to the public a memorandum apparently designed to show that the FBI is partisan, pro-Democratic, and engaged in a broad conspiracy to undermine Trump’s presidency.
This is part of a broader pattern. Since taking office, Trump has targeted investigators, and other law-enforcement officials. He fired Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, who had informed him of Gen. Mike Flynn’s vulnerability to potential Russian blackmail. He ousted US Attorney Preet Bharara in New York (along with all the other Obama-appointed US Attorneys), who had overseen New York real-estate fraud and money-laundering investigations. He demanded FBI Director James Comey’s political loyalty, asked Comey to go easy on Flynn, and then fired Comey over, as Trump famously said on national television, “this Russia thing with Trump and Russia.” He made inappropriate requests of CIA Director Mike Pompeo, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, and NSA Director Mike Rogers, seeking their help in winding down the FBI investigation. He pressured his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions, not to recuse himself from the Russia inquiry, sharply criticized Sessions when he did, and then repeatedly slammed Sessions via Twitter and in media interviews, at one point indicating that he wanted Sessions gone. He repeatedly attacked Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who has overseen the Russia inquiry since Sessions’s recusal. Last week, reports surfaced that Trump wants to get rid of Rosenstein, too. And Trump has explicitly attacked the entire FBI, saying that it’s “in tatters”—which received strong pushback from the man Trump himself appointed to lead the bureau, Director Christopher Wray. Wray himself threatened to resign over Trump’s uncalled-for attacks against the now-departed Deputy Director McCabe.