The Corner

Law & the Courts

Why the FBI Kept Having to Clean Up Our Political Messes

In today’s Jolt, a reminder for everyone shocked, horrified, and exasperated by the latest Washington scandal that this is simply the latest stop on a long, winding road with many warning signs and “guardrails” that have needed repair for a long time…

Why the FBI Kept Having to Clean Up Our Political Messes

Last March, David Frum argued that democracy had seven guardrails, and the candidacy of Donald Trump had smashed through all of them.

I agree that those guardrails are in rough shape, but if Trump careened through them so easily, it was because a lot of trucks driven by other political leaders had smashed against them in preceding years. Those guardrails were coming off the hinges when the 2016 cycle began.

There’s plenty of blame to go around. You say partisan loyalty is driving political leaders to turn a blind eye to criminal behavior by members of their own party? Gee, do you think Bill Clinton’s perjury in the Lewinsky scandal was a key turning point? How about when Treasury Secretary nominee Tim Geithner and Rep. Charlie Rangel discussed the need for more IRS enforcement at Geithner’s confirmation hearing, when both men ran into trouble with the IRS for failing to report income?

We now hear cries that President Trump has no respect for independent law enforcement. Those cries may very well be accurate, and they should be deeply troubling. But we didn’t get here overnight.

Eric Holder was held in contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over requested documents. Holder’s Department of Justice sued Louisiana over its school choice program.

It’s totally normal to see state attorney generals announcing an effort to sue private companies for what the prosecutors define as fraudulent statements about climate change, right? That’s not politicizing law enforcement at all, right?

Right, right. It’s not like we’ve seen the Internal Revenue Service apologize for targeting ordinary Americans for their political beliefs. Where would Trump get the idea that law enforcement is supposed to put his interests first?

Again, it’s not just one party at fault. Trump isn’t the first Republican to walk through life with an enormous sense of entitlement or a difficulty distinguishing his personal interest from the interests of the people he’s supposed to represent.

For some reason, Bob McDonnell didn’t think there was anything wrong with a rich guy with business before the state showering him with expensive gifts. I wonder if he had ever heard of Bob Torricelli.

You say Donald Trump sometimes sounds like he’s nuts? If he is, he’s not even in the top five nuttiest figures to get elected recently. Remember Congressman David Wu dressing up in a tiger suit and campaigning at the airport? His staff did everything they could to assure his reelection even though they could see he was losing his marbles. Remember Congressman Eric Massa, the “tickling Congressman”? How about Anthony Weiner, does his behavior seem all that sane to you?

Sen. Larry Craig and his “wide stance”? Rep. Mark Foley? When Rep. Hank Johnson speculated that Guam could capsize, was he crazy or just spectacularly ignorant about islands, land masses, and physics?

Is the average outburst from Trump more crazy or less than Sheila Jackson Lee’s claims that the Constitution is 400 years old or her wondering if the Mars Pathfinder rover would visit where the astronauts had planted the flag?

Is the average implausible assurance from Trump that something is going to be “terrific” “fantastic” or “yuge!” better or worse than Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano declaring, “the system worked” after the underwear bomber got on a flight to the U.S. in 2009?

Again, we didn’t get here overnight. Every time a political party united in defense of the screw-ups and failures of one of their own, they made it easier for the opposition to do the same.

For the past few years, in the middle of all this insanity, this narcissism, this selfishness, this reckless disregard for traditions, laws, and ethics, there’s been FBI Director James Comey. One issue after another kept ending up on his desk because so few people in politics have anything resembling reasonable good judgment and so few people around those political leaders are willing to say “no.” If Hillary Clinton, Loretta Lynch, or Michael Flynn had just a bit more good judgment and common sense, Comey wouldn’t have had the politically-charged workload he did.