TRUMP’S LAST-DITCH TO OBSTRUCT JUSTICE IS ALREADY IN MOTION: THE FIRING OF JEFF SESSIONS AND ROBERT MUELLER

The nation seems transfixed by the recent revelations in the book Fire and Fury about President Trump’s lack of mental competence and fitness to serve as President, but other than a few juicy tidbits – such as the fact that Trump likes to dine at MacDonalds because the food is pre-prepared and therefore less likely to be poisoned – there is really nothing new here. The fact that Trump is monumentally unfit and unprepared to carry out the duties of the Presidency has been plainly apparent to even the most casual of observers since Inauguration Day, when he gave his bizarre “American Carnage” speech and declared that the crowd size was “the largest ever.”

This is all very entertaining, but not terribly newsworthy. What does qualify as news, however, is the fact that amid this “witches brew” of chaos and controversy, the embattled White House appears to be starting a roll-out of its “nuclear option,” which is to try to stop the Special Counsel’s Russia investigation in its tracks by firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Deputy Attorney General Rob Rosenstein, and then Special Counsel Robert Mueller himself.

Trump may be crazy like a fox. Realizing that Muller has him in his cross-hairs, with Flynn and Papadopoulos cooperating with him, and Muller now having conclusive evidence that Trump himself drafted the fake story while returning from Europe on Air Force 1 about Don Jr.’s meeting with the Russians in Trump Tower on June 9, 2016, The Trump Team must be now painfully aware that the jig is up. Mueller now has enough evidence to make an Obstruction of Justice case against Trump, and probably also has enough to establish that senior members of the Trump team –if not Trump himself – colluded with the Russians to successfully interfere with the 2016 presidential election. We know this because there is now sufficient public evidence of this in press reports, and it can be safely assumed that about 70% of what Mueller knows about Trump’s collusion and obstruction efforts has not yet been made public.

The only way to stop the Mueller investigation and the additional indictments and plea agreements that are expected to be rolled out over the next couple of months is for Trump to try to blow up the entire process, just as embattled President Nixon tried to do with the October 1973 “Saturday Night Massacre” firing of Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox and the resignations of Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus.

To be sure, Trump and his remaining close advisors must realize that this is a longshot “Hail Mary” pass, which marked the beginning of the end for the Nixon Presidency, but he is rapidly running out of options. We know by now that he is temperamentally and emotionally incapable of just patiently waiting for the next shoe to drop from Mueller’s office, which could be an indictment of Jared Kushner, Don Jr. or other senior staff members or close family members, or he could just decide to roll the dice and either stop the Russia investigation in its tracks or go up in flames trying.

The expression “going nuclear” may not be a euphemism, now that Trump is in a name-calling contest with the equally unstable leader of North Korea over who has the biggest nuclear button. There has always been a persistent “Wag the Dog” theory that when the going gets tough for a President, then the best option is to start a war to distract the public’s attention from other issues, such as scandal at the White House. However, never before has anyone hinted or even considered that a President would literally use the nuclear option to get himself out of a jam. With Trump, however, everything has changed. Who can say with confidence that Trump will never push the “nuclear button” just to create a distraction from the Mueller investigation? No one, you say? I thought so.

 

But first the “political nuclear option.” On Thursday, two top House conservatives —  Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, and Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, who sits on the House Judiciary Committee – called for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign. The Republican drumbeat for Sessions to step aside will undoubtedly intensify over the next several days, with the White House no doubt issuing statements to the effect that Sessions should never have accepted the job in the first place if he knew that he would have to recuse himself from supervision over the Russia investigation. Fox News and Devin Nunes, or some other White House loyalist, can also be counted on to make seemingly high-minded statements about the Justice Department being in “chaos” and that there is an urgent need for change in leadership so that an new Attorney General can “take back control” of the Department and make sure that the Special Counsel’s investigation does not “go off the rails” by investigating matters that were never intended to be investigated (such as the Trump Organization’s finances and massive Russian funding).

Even though watching the Trump White House’s attempt to undermine and then terminate Mueller’s Russia investigation will be much like watching a massive car wreck unfold in slow motion, the country must prepare itself as best as possible, just as we would if a huge tsunami were approaching. To paraphrase a recent statement by Rep. Elijah Cummings, this is truly a battle for the soul of our democracy. When the dust settles, there will be no innocent bystanders. Every citizen must now choose a side, and your children and grandchildren will be asking: “Which side were you on?”

IN PRAISE OF THE “DEEP STATE” JUSTICE DEPARTMENT

On Tuesday, President Trump started the new year off with a bang with a Twitter attack against the “Deep State” Justice Department. In attacking his own Justice Department, Trump was using code words (“deep state”) often used by right-wing conspiracy theorists to describe the permanent liberal cabal of government employees that is entrenched deep within the federal bureaucracy, which they believe are resisting Trump’s efforts to root them out and bend all of the federal agencies to his will.

Last week, Trump went so far as to assert during a New York Times interview that he had the “absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department.” Sorry, Mr. Trump, you do not. That is not how the federal system works – at least not for the past 135 years.

The vast majority of FBI and other Justice Department employees are career law enforcement agents and attorneys who have been selected for their posts based upon merit, not on their party affiliation, connections or political ideology. Indeed, the U.S. Civil Service System dates back to 1883 and is designed to eliminate the ability of elected officials and political party operatives to decide who works for the federal government.

To be sure, the upper echelons of both the Justice Department and the FBI are White House political appointees, including FBI Director Christopher Wray, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and Deputy Attorney General Rob Rosenstein. However, beneath this upper crust, all Justice Department employees are hired based solely on their abilities and their merit, working diligently at their jobs without political interference or fear of retribution.

However, this does not mean that Justice Department employees cannot hold political opinions, vote, or make contributions to political candidates. Indeed, as Deputy AG Rosenstein recently explained to a Congressional committee, the political opinions and party affiliation of candidates for Justice Department positions are not taken into account in the hiring process. To do so would be a violation of the law. Under the 1978 Civil Service Reform Act, the “selection and advancement” for federal positions is “determined solely on the basis of relative ability, knowledge, and skills.” Nor, as Rosenstein has pointed out, can the Justice Department fire an employee for expressing personal political views, which is protected by the First Amendment, although the FBI did recently reassign FBI agent Peter Strzok from the Special Counsel’s Trump/Russia investigation to other duties when text messages by him that were disparaging of Trump were made public. Even though there is no evidence that such personal views by Agent Strzok influenced his professional work, his reassignment was entirely proper in order to avoid the appearance of impropriety or bias.

Trump appears to be persisting in his efforts to quash the Justice Department’s investigation of his team’s dealings with the Russians, even though those efforts have backfired to date. First, he tried to cajole then-FBI Director Comey into dropping the investigation of former NSA Michael Flynn’s Russia contacts during the campaign and the transition period. When Comey balked, Trump simply fired him. This strategy, however, had the unintended consequence of triggering the appointment of Robert Mueller as Special Counsel and an intensification of the investigation.

Trump has also bitterly criticized Attorney General Jeff Sessions for having recused himself on the Russia investigation, but Sessions, to his credit, has more or less stuck by his guns and refused to be pressured into resigning.

Now Trump’s allies in the press and in Congress have intensified their efforts to discredit and undermine the FBI and the Special Counsel’s office in the eyes of the public.  One of Trump’s opening salvos attacked the FBI as supposedly being in “tatters” and therefore not worthy of public respect.  By vowing to restore the FBI to its former glory, or making it “greater than ever,” it seems likely that Trump is laying the groundwork for a possible firing of Mueller or, at the very least, indelibly tainting the Russia investigation as a partisan “witch hunt.” If he succeeds in this effort, then he will be inoculated, he hopes, from the fallout of any additional indictments or plea agreements with present and former members of the Trump team, which could then be dismissed as further evidence that the “deep state” is engaged in a slow-rolling “coup ” to oust Trump from the White House.

Trump’s campaign to undermine and dishearten the FBI appears to have been at least partially successful, since FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who has been one of the specific targets of the well-orchestrated assault on the FBI’s credibility, has announced that he will be retiring soon, even though he is only 49 years old. The FBI’s top lawyer, James Baker, was also abruptly reassigned last week.

If the Trump Administration and its allies continue on this course unopposed, they will have carried out their own “coup,” which will involve the politicization of the Justice Department for the first time in modern history, and the end of the Justice Department’s proud history of professionalism and political independence. The stakes could not be any higher.