WASHINGTON – President Trump’s outrageous tweets are testing, once again, our capacity for outrage. They are not harmless venting. Rather, they pose a threat to the rule of law.
Consider: Trump unhinged, Wednesday edition. He launched another unfounded attack against special counsel Robert S. Mueller III as being “totally conflicted.” He slandered the prosecutors – “17 Angry Democrats” – doing Mueller’s “dirty work” as a “disgrace to USA.”
And, most alarmingly, Trump called on his attorney general to “stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now, before it continues to stain our country any further.” A measure of how alarming was the scrambling by Trump’s team of enablers to explain that the president was not, in fact, ordering Attorney General Jeff Sessions to kill the investigation. Rather, in this soft-core retelling, Trump was merely expressing his opinion about what should happen – as if that is much better, when the opinionizer is the president.
Note to the president: “Our country” is doing just fine with the Mueller probe. Actually, the United States is benefiting from it. The country being stained by the investigation is the one that tried to interfere with our election on Trump’s behalf. One of the indictments that Mueller has produced alleged that Russian individuals and companies engaged in a sophisticated social-media campaign to help swing the election to Trump. Another accused Russian military intelligence agents of hacking into the emails of Democratic campaigns and operatives.
Someone needs to ask – or would ask, if the president ever took more than a few shouted questions from a few favored reporters – how bringing such cases is a “stain” on the United States. Rather, it is a defense of the country and its electoral system, which is more than we have seen from the Trump administration.
Leave aside the matter of whether Trump’s attacks on the Russia “hoax” represent potential evidence in an obstruction case against him. That is worth considering, but the focus on his tweets as obstruction in plain sight has obscured the even more concerning fact that the tweets offer incontrovertible evidence of a president who cares nothing about the well-being of his country and the integrity of its elections.
A president who cared about this would be insisting that Mueller get to the bottom of what happened, not doing his best to undermine the special counsel’s legitimacy. He would not be ordering, or even suggesting, that his attorney general – his properly recused attorney general – shut it all down.
The same is true of the just-begun trial of Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, who is accused of bank and tax fraud charges involving laundering more than $30 million in income. A responsible president would allow the Manafort case to proceed without comment, for fear of tainting it, but would privately seethe over the alleged misconduct of a man who once sat at the helm of his campaign.
Not Trump. He managed, simultaneously, to vouch for Manafort’s political bona fides – “worked for Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole and many other highly prominent and respected political leaders”; distance himself from Manafort – “he worked for me for a very short time”; and portray himself as the victim of government malfeasance – “Why didn’t government tell me that he was under investigation.”
Then came even worse – a tweet suggesting that, far from wanting to see Manafort brought to justice, we should somehow feel pity for him. “Looking back on history, who was treated worse, Alfonse Capone, legendary mob boss, killer and ‘Public Enemy Number One,’ or Paul Manafort, political operative & Reagan/Dole darling, now serving solitary confinement – although convicted of nothing?” Trump wrote, misspelling the first name (Alphonse) of the notorious Chicago mobster.
How nice that Trump, channeling his previously hidden civil libertarian, cares so much about due process for those not convicted of crimes. Maybe there are some detained families and separated children he could worry about instead of Manafort? Recall, Manafort was jailed before trial only after prosecutors accused him of trying to tamper with the witnesses in the case against him. A federal judge agreed, telling Manafort, “You’ve abused the trust placed in you six months ago.”
In fact, the Capone-Manafort comparison doesn’t exactly benefit Manafort. Capone was convicted of failing to pay taxes on his illicit income, a case federal prosecutors made by showing evidence of Capone’s copious spending. Manafort is similarly accused of filing false tax returns, and as the indictment put it, “used his hidden overseas wealth to enjoy a lavish lifestyle in the United States, without paying taxes on that income.”
Future generations looking back on history, to use Trump’s phrase, are not likely to feel pity for either Capone or Manafort. Or anything but contempt for Trump and the way he besmirched his office daily.