Russian asset and unindicted co-conspirator Donald Trump’s tweet over the holiday weekend chastising Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, for the Justice Department’s recent indictments of two Republican congressmen because it could cost the party seats in November crossed lines that even he had not yet breached, asserting that specific continuing criminal prosecutions should be decided on the basis of partisan advantage. In Chastising Sessions Over Indictments of Two Republicans, Trump Crosses a Line:
Shocking as many legal and political figures found it — one Republican senator compared it to “banana republic” thinking — the message by itself might not rise to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors required for impeachment because it could be construed as commentary rather than an order. But legal scholars and some lawmakers said it could be one more exhibit in trying to prove a pattern of obstruction or reckless disregard for the rule of law in a future impeachment proceeding.
* * *
Over nearly 20 months in office, Mr. Trump has repeatedly castigated the Justice Department and the F.B.I. for investigating his associates and not investigating his enemies. He has threatened time and again to fire Mr. Sessions because his recusal from the Russia investigation meant that he could not protect the president from the inquiry.
* * *
The post Mr. Trump wrote on Monday took his criticism of the Justice Department to the next step, suggesting that defending the Republican majority in the House should determine whether two members are prosecuted.
“Two long running, Obama era, investigations of two very popular Republican Congressmen were brought to a well publicized charge, just ahead of the Mid-Terms, by the Jeff Sessions Justice Department,” he wrote. “Two easy wins now in doubt because there is not enough time. Good job Jeff.”
* * *
Mr. Trump’s suggestion would have been a major scandal under any other president, veterans of past administrations said. “His interference in an ongoing criminal investigation may be the single most shocking thing he’s done as president,” said Walter E. Dellinger, a former acting solicitor general under President Bill Clinton.
Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, a Republican who has been among the president’s most outspoken critics in his own party, had the same reaction. “Those who study this kind of thing say it’s a lot more evidence for abuse of power or obstruction,” he said. “I just know it’s not healthy for the institutions of government to have the president want to use the Department of Justice that way.”
The Washington Post editorializes, Trump’s tweets criticizing Jeff Sessions mark a grotesque new low:
PRESIDENT TRUMP’S scorn for the rule of law has — by now — been pretty well established. He has denigrated the FBI, impugned the motives of judges, attacked the investigation into his campaign’s involvement with a foreign adversary, repeatedly ridiculed his attorney general and called for political rivals to be imprisoned. But his latest tweeted tirade over the Justice Department’s decision to bring criminal charges against two Republican congressmen represents a grotesque new low that should alarm anyone who cares about our democracy.
* * *
Here is the president of the United States — responsible for the execution and enforcement of laws — openly putting party before justice, caring not about wrongdoing but rather about losing votes and maybe congressional seats. A justice system that is used to protect allies and punish enemies may be the norm of authoritarian governments. But, as Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said in a pointed statement, “The United States is not some banana republic with a two-tiered system of justice — one for the majority and one for the minority party. These two men have been charged with crimes because of evidence, not because of who the President was when the investigations began.” Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) also joined in rebuking the president, tweeting, “This is not the conduct of a President committed to defending and upholding the Constitution, but rather a President looking to use the Department of Justice to settle political scores.”
Credit to Mr. Sasse and Mr. Flake for speaking out — but where is the rest of the Republican Party?
* * *
The continuing failure of Republicans to provide a check on this president makes the upcoming midterm elections all the more important. Congress needs leaders who will resist Mr. Trump’s assaults on the rule of law.
The New York Times editorializes Sorry, Mr. Trump, the Attorney General Is America’s Lawyer:
By now, few might lift an eyebrow at President Trump’s crusade to delegitimize his own Justice Department and, specifically, his attorney general, Jeff Sessions. It long ago became clear that Mr. Trump regards federal law enforcement — as he sees all of government — as a political tool to advance the interests of himself and of his party (assuming those interests align, of course; if not, the party is on its own).
Yet even by that debased standard, Mr. Trump’s latest Twitter tantrumagainst Mr. Sessions, on Monday, set a new low, providing a kind of anti-civics lesson for the nation he’s supposed to lead.
* * *
With this latest outburst, the president has again laid bare his contempt for the rule of law. Mr. Trump does not even pretend to care about the allegations of corruption against the two lawmakers in question. His concern is only that they are “very popular” members who would have scored “easy wins” in November, if only Mr. Sessions had kept his fat mouth shut until after the midterms — or better yet, buried the allegations permanently.
* * *
Mr. Trump’s beef is not with Jeff Sessions or the Justice Department. He has a problem with the law — or at least with the idea that it should apply to him and those who do his bidding. Republicans, especially Republican lawmakers, are by their silence complicit in this perversion of justice.
Tom Nichols writes at the Washington Post, Want to save the GOP, Republicans? Vote for every Democrat on this year’s ballot.
Our model [of government] forces the legislative and executive branches to seek separate mandates from the electorate. In our system, voters can separate the party from its leader. They can split their tickets regionally, nationally and by party. They can even vote for divided government, and choose to place the executive and legislative power in opposing hands.
For now, however, those days are over — at least for the Republican Party. Rather than acting like a national party, entrusted with separate but coequal branches of government, the GOP at every level and in every state has been captured by the personality cult that has congealed around President Trump, and it is now operating like a parliamentary party, utterly submissive to its erratic but powerful prime minister. Republican elected officials, from Congress to the state houses, have chosen to become little more than enablers for an out of control executive branch.
The only way to put a stop to this is to vote against the GOP in every race, at every level in 2018. It’s tough medicine. But as someone who’s voted Republican for nearly 40 years, who favors limited government and public integrity, and who believes America still needs a credible, responsible center-right party, I see no alternative.
* * *
A GOP voter in 1972 or in 1974, after Nixon’s departure, could reject Nixon’s political legacy while voting for other Republicans who felt the same way.
That option doesn’t exist for Republicans today, because the GOP, nearly from top to bottom, is in thrall to Trump, and resists any deviation from this obsessive identification. Look no further than Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) who, in 2016, called Trump a “kook,” who was “unfit for office” and said he didn’t vote for Trump because he “couldn’t go where Trump was taking the party.” Recently, though, he’s become one of Trump’s golf buddies, has saidthe president is “growing into the job” and is now running interference for him: Last year, Graham said there would be “holy hell to pay” if Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Last week, Graham gave Trump a green light to get rid of Sessions after Election Day. In July, via Twitter, Graham scolded Trump for his failure, to “hold Russia accountable for 2016 meddling” when asked about it during the president’s news conference with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, but then quickly demurred, “Meddling and collusion are not the same thing.”
Last week, Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) won her state’s GOP Senate primary with 263,734 votes to hold off Trump-supporting former state senator Kelli Ward and Trump-pardoned former county sheriff Joe Arpaio. But her challengers won 235,070 votes between them, and McSally, once seen as a never-Trumper, ended up hugging tighter to Trump to pull out the win.
* * *
This lock-step adherence to a party leader is why it’s now illogical to say: “I’m not a Trump supporter, but I’ll still vote Republican.” Every seat Republicans keep in 2018 will be a signal to the national party, and to GOP leaders in Congress, that they should continue supporting Trump, no matter how outrageous his antics, and no matter how much they privately disagree. Every vote for any GOP candidate will be a signal from the rank and file that elected Republican officials should remain supine while Trump takes a hatchet to the American political system.
By definition, a vote for any Republican candidate in 2018 is a vote for family separation, tax cuts without corresponding budget cuts, daily insult theatrics in the Oval Office and porn-star payoffs. It’s a vote to ignore Russian corruption of our elections. It’s also a vote, no matter where in the country it’s cast, for a Trump-compliant successor to Speaker Paul Ryan, who’ll preside over the continuing farce in which Trumpists like Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) remain as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, ready and willing to put party over country.
And make no mistake: It’s a vote giving Trump license to fire special counsel Robert S. Mueller III the day after Election Day.
There are Republicans who’ll try to split the difference here, and say they’re still voting for Republicans only to maintain policies they like. But, this year, that is little more than a convenient dodge. Trump’s words and deeds — you can’t really call them “policies” — aren’t conservative. They’re statist, anti-law enforcement, anti-national security and run counter to American ideals.
Conservatives who insist on voting Republican this year are, in effect, arguing that Democrats are worse than a president who has prostrated himself to Putin, started trade wars with our allies, cruelly separated families at the border, failed to deliver adequate aid to Americans in Puerto Rico and who has, as retired admiral Bill McRaven recently wrote for The Post, “embarrassed us in the eyes of our children.” They expect other conservatives to look away from all this in exchange for packing as many conservatives onto the federal bench as they can before the Trump administration implodes.
Republicans — real Republicans — must reject this deal, because conservatives — real conservatives — can’t have it both ways: Those who claim to oppose Trump and Trumpism can’t, at the last moment, back away from voting to strip power from the party enabling him.
* * *
When a political party loses its way, as the Republican Party has, and becomes the instrument of someone like Trump, divided government is the Constitution’s best remedy. And if the Democrats can’t live up to being a governing party, then they, too will have to face the judgment of the voters, especially when facing Trump’s GOP in 2020. If they fail to provide a working alternative to Trumpism, even with the support of rebel Republicans, they’ll have no one to blame but themselves.
Unless Republican voters are willing to transfer power to another party for at least a cycle, their party will sputter out over the next few years, leaving nothing but wreckage and hoping, as a last resort, that the cause of actual conservatism will be carried forward by the one branch of government that conservatives, traditionally, do not trust: unelected judges.
Republican candidates have been happy to acknowledge that they’re running in the party of Trump. A handful, at best, refuse to deny that they’re doing so. Any sensible Republicans who are left should deny them support and deliver a vote of no confidence until they run as Republicans, conservatives and most of all, as Americans, rather than as extensions of Trump’s ego and representatives of his already compromised party.