The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

Why the FBI Kept Having to Clean Up Our Political Messes

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 Representative 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 attorneys general 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 IRS 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?

Senator Larry Craig and his “wide stance”? Representative Mark Foley? When Representative 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.

Yes, It’s a Mess

A roundup of very grim assessments of Trump’s decision to fire Comey…

The Washington Post:

The private accounts of more than 30 officials at the White House, the Justice Department, the FBI and on Capitol Hill, as well as Trump confidants and other senior Republicans, paint a conflicting narrative centered on the president’s brewing personal animus toward Comey. Many of those interviewed spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to candidly discuss internal deliberations.

Trump was angry that Comey would not support his baseless claim that President Barack Obama had his campaign offices wiretapped. Trump was frustrated when Comey revealed in Senate testimony the breadth of the counterintelligence investigation into Russia’s effort to sway the 2016 U.S. presidential election. And he fumed that Comey was giving too much attention to the Russia probe and not enough to investigating leaks to journalists.

Then there’s this unnerving detail:

Rosenstein threatened to resign after the narrative emerging from the White House on Tuesday evening cast him as a prime mover of the decision to fire Comey and that the president acted only on his recommendation, said the person close to the White House, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Mike Allen at Axios:

“It is a debacle,” said one Republican in constant touch with the West Wing. “They got everything — timing, rationale, reaction — completely wrong.”

As one Republican put it to me: “The team are rank amateurs who picked a fight with the intelligence agencies and the FBI. Hard to unite those historically competitive organizations. And they have the ability to find out almost anything!”

Josh Dawsey at Politico:

But senior aides and other associates who know the president say the firing was triggered not by any one event but rather by the president’s growing frustration with the Russia investigation, negative media coverage and the growing feeling that he couldn’t control Comey, who was a near-constant presence on television in recent days.

Trump did not appreciate that Comey declared his campaign to be under investigation on live TV, said two people who know the president well. He didn’t like that Comey contradicted his unsubstantiated accusation that President Barack Obama tapped his phone line at Trump Tower. And Trump was displeased that the FBI seemed uninterested in pursuing investigations into the leaks he believes are weakening his administration.

One way you dispel a narrative that is bad for you is by putting out a solid, detailed, well-thought-out, and verifiable narrative that is good for you. For example, the Trump administration could have pointed to Comey’s error in testimony last week. They could have pointed to the number of times the FBI had a terror suspect on a “watch list” but didn’t do anything until it was too late. The FBI employed a translator who went on to marry an ISIS terrorist. Trump could have objected to sending $1.3 million to an unspecified third party in exchange for software to hack into the phone of the San Bernardino terrorist. Trump could even have argued that the perception that Comey was “his guy” was hurting the reputation of the Bureau. Finally, the Trump administration could have had a respected figure as a replacement ready to go.

Instead, we got a brief statement from Trump during a photo-op in the Oval Office: “He wasn’t doing a good job. Very simple. He wasn’t doing a good job.”

Why D.C. Sports Fans Can’t Bring Themselves to Believe

Yesterday morning, Washington Post sports columnist Thomas Boswell wrote about the city’s continued pessimism, the lingering sense of inevitable doom that hangs over every D.C. sports team, even in good years.

These are tough days for the Troll of Washington, who for many years has lurked under the bridges of the city, scaring sports fans with his ominous warnings, defeatist insults and screaming taunts about their luckless, or not-quite-good-enough, or downright choking-dog pro teams.

The Troll has had things his own way for a quarter of a century. Washington’s football, baseball, basketball and hockey teams are 1 for 86 in reaching the semifinal round in their sports since 1992. None has won a title. But now the ugly old soul is worried. Even trolls have nightmares, and his are coming true.

Sometimes he’ll hide under the Memorial Bridge, where nobody can see his psychological warts and twisted soul, and use his deepest, scariest voice to intone, “The Capitals will always lose in the playoffs. The Penguins own them. Game 7 at home is bad, not good. There is no hope for Alex Ovechkin or Nick Backstrom to lift Lord Stanley’s Cup. The whole franchise is cursed forever.”

Then the old Troll will curl up under the Woodrow Wilson Bridge at rush hour, when nobody in the jam-up can get away from his tormenting sound, and bellow, “You can change their name from Bullets to Wizards, but you can’t fool me. They’ll never get past the second round, just like they haven’t since ‘79.” …

The Troll of Washington sports is on the ropes. But you need to knock him out.

Last night, the Washington Capitals continued their tradition of excelling in the regular season and collapsing in the playoffs, and the Washington Wizards were blown out against the Boston Celtics, pushing them to the brink of elimination.

The Troll wins!

ADDENDA: What a week, at least so far. At least Twin Peaks comes back a week from Sunday!