Trump’s Enablers Would End Our System of Checks and Balances

To get a handle on the ridiculous arguments we’ve been hearing from the president and his enablers about the Trump-Russia investigation, it might be helpful to do a little thought experiment about how they would have handled things if they’d been in charge starting back in 2016.

The first thing they would have encountered is warnings from the intelligence services of our allies about multiple interactions between members of the Trump campaign and known Russian agents. As the campaign brought on people like Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, and Carter Page—all of whom had deep ties to Russia—Australian intelligence reported that one of Trump’s foreign policy advisors was bragging about the campaign being aware that Russia had dirt on Hillary Clinton, just as hacked emails were being released.

Trump and his enablers continue to insist that the investigation was simply the result of the Steele dossier, which they now claim was actually a Russian disinformation campaign. That allows them to completely ignore all of the evidence that was mounting prior to the election and claim that the entire investigation was a hoax.

Instead of responding to the intelligence being gathered, they would have focused on continuing to investigate “corrupt Hillary,” based on conspiracy theories being spun by Peter Schwizer’s book, Clinton Cash.

We can now end the thought experiment because, starting in January 2017, we know what their response to the investigation would be, because it actually happened: the president fired the FBI director for lack of loyalty.

At that point, the deputy director of the FBI appointed a special prosecutor. While the president attempted to come up with a justification for firing him too, they relied on the White House office of legal counsel (OLC) memo stating that the president cannot be indicted while in office, so they launched a smear campaign against the FBI and the team of investigators assembled by the special counsel.

As Christian Vanderbrouk argues, given the OLC guidance, “any investigation into a president’s criminality is, by definition, a kind of impeachment probe.” Trump’s enablers had a problem with that.

That Mueller was effectively conducting an impeachment inquiry from within the executive branch represented a significant distortion of our system. It should be up to Congress, not an inferior executive branch official who’s the functional equivalent of a U.S. attorney, to launch such an inquiry.

While they claim that it is a distortion of our system for a special prosecutor to conduct an investigation of the president, apparently they think it is fine for another member of the executive branch to exonerate the president, which the attorney general did when he announced that the president did not obstruct justice.

The leaves us with the argument that “it should be up to congress…to launch such a inquiry.” But according to the current White House counsel, congress can only investigate matters that serve a legislative purpose. As Vanderbrouk concludes, “We’ve gone from ‘a president cannot be indicted’ to ‘a president cannot be investigated by the executive branch’ to ‘the president cannot be investigated by Congress.’”

But of course, it doesn’t end there. While the president accuses those who launched the investigation of treason, his attorney general opened an investigation into their activities and has been given the authority to selectively declassify any information he can find to make a case for their guilt. So the Justice Department has now become a tool for revenge by the president.

The upshot is that our entire system of checks and balances is being turned on its head in order to protect Donald Trump. Willing collaborators in that process include members of the executive branch (especially the attorney general), the Republican-controlled Senate, and right-wing pundits.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.