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A one-man assault on the rule of law

Ruth Marcus on

WASHINGTON -- Scary question of the day: If this is how President Trump reacts to news of a federal grand jury being employed in the Russia investigation, what happens if things turn really serious?

Reports that special counsel Robert Mueller is using a grand jury to collect evidence reaffirmed what was already obvious to legal observers: This probe -- and for the president, this problem -- is not going away anytime soon.

Mueller is beefing up his staff, bringing in former federal prosecutors with experience in complex financial investigations. Of course there is a grand jury.

That's how prosecutors do their work, unless they have come to the quick conclusion that the subject is a dry hole. This was never likely in Mueller's case, and every week seems to open a new and potentially productive avenue for him to follow.

So White House special counsel Ty Cobb had the right response to the grand jury news. "The White House favors anything that accelerates the conclusion of his work fairly," he said in a statement. "The White House is committed to fully cooperating with Mr. Mueller."

Restrained. Appropriate. Normal.

Not so the president.

Once again, he diminished the significance of Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 election and demeaned the findings of the U.S. intelligence community: "The Russia story is a total fabrication. It is just an excuse for the greatest loss in the history of American politics."

Once again -- as the West Virginia crowd chanted "Lock her up!" -- he said the focus should be on his vanquished opponent, not him: "What the prosecutor should be looking at are Hillary Clinton's 33,000 deleted emails. And they should be looking at the paid Russian speeches. And the owned Russian companies. Or let them look at the uranium she sold that is now in the hands of very angry Russians."

Even leaving aside the factual flimsiness of Trump's accusations, the inappropriateness of a sitting president making this argument is impossible to overstate. As his still-Attorney General Jeff Sessions told the Senate Judiciary Committee in January, "This country does not punish its political enemies."

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