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Don't insult Nixon by comparing him to Trump

Ruth Marcus on

WASHINGTON -- "Nixonian" is not the right word to use to describe the behavior of President Trump. In important ways, that characterization smears Richard Nixon.

It is hard to believe I am writing this. But it is also hard to believe it has come to this: The president is in open warfare with his Justice Department and FBI -- asserting flatly that its "top Leadership and Investigators ... have politicized the sacred investigative process in favor of Democrats and against Republicans -- something which would have been unthinkable just a short time ago."

This was a breathtaking gut punch to the constitutional system. The release of the House Intelligence Committee memo purporting to discredit the Russia probe was predictably followed by a White House statement bemoaning "serious concerns about the integrity of decisions" by senior law enforcement officials.

Brace yourself for more, folks. Asked whether he had confidence in Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Trump replied: "You figure that one out."

"The sacred investigative process." "Unthinkable just a short time ago. " Oh please. Nothing is sacred to Trump except protecting himself. And what is unthinkable, except that Trump has made it all too thinkable, is that a president would impugn the integrity of his own Justice Department. That a president, confronted with evidence that a hostile foreign power had tried to influence the election, would repeatedly reject those findings and fail to take action to shore up the nation's defenses against a repetition.

And, most unthinkable, that a president, confronted with evidence that his own top officials found probable cause to surveil a former campaign aide, Carter Page, for acting as the agent of a foreign power, would react with indignation -- not at the aide but at the accusation.

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Indeed, the most astonishing, unambiguous revelation in the memorandum from Trump apparatchik Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., is that four times, under a Democratic administration and a Republican one, the senior-most officials at Justice and the FBI came to the remarkable conclusion that Page was acting as a Russian agent. Four times, that evidence was compelling enough to be approved by the court overseeing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Does Nunes have a point that the FISA warrant failed to disclose that former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele was paid by the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign to dig up dirt on Trump? Perhaps, although there is so much more we don't know. Did the document fail to mention Clinton specifically, which might be explained by a general reluctance in such submissions to name so-called "U.S. persons"? Or did it fail to disclose that Trump's political opponents more generally financed Steele's dossier? The latter would be more troubling.

More important, while Nunes' memo states that the Steele dossier formed "an essential part" of the FISA warrant, the public has no way of knowing -- nor should we -- what other supporting information existed.

But that is not the point. The point, from Trump's perspective, is to undermine the legitimacy of the investigation, and perhaps set into motion the firing of yet another official for serving justice instead of Trump.

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