Tensions between the Department of Justice and President Donald Trump increased even more over the past week as revelations surfaced of FBI spying on the president’s 2016 campaign team. Most observers seem to agree that the government is fast approaching what many call a constitutional crisis. The nature of that crisis depends on which side of the political divide one sits. However, one thing is certain: The DOJ is heading for an unprecedented showdown with congressional Republicans and Trump, and the outcome may determine the future of Robert Mueller’s investigation.
There is an old saying that a week is a long time in politics, and it seems such a long time ago that the president’s opponents ridiculed him for suggesting Obama’s administration spied on his campaign team. Now that it has been confirmed that the FBI was, indeed, running a supposed counterintelligence operation that involved one or more informants interacting with Trump’s team, the story continues to evolve. When media reports of this operation first came out, there were denials. Then came the suggestion that the operation to infiltrate the Trump campaign was for the future president’s protection.
The Tactics of a Third World Dictatorship
Running parallel to that ridiculous narrative was the argument that the FBI was concerned for national security and that the Trump team’s collusion constituted a threat. Both of these stories are nonsense, of course. If either were true, then the Bureau and the DOJ should have informed then-candidate Trump of their concerns. The fact that they did not is the most concerning facet of this entire scandal.
There is no legal or operational justification for the FBI to mount a covert intelligence-gathering operation against a presidential candidate. This is the stuff of third-world dictatorships. It is now clear why the DOJ resisted attempts by House Republicans to obtain documents and communications about the origins of the Russia investigation. One cannot fail to see the irony of those who accused the president of colluding with Russia themselves employing the tactics of Vladimir Putin against that president.
Trump took to his favorite social media platform Sunday to demand the DOJ investigate the FBI’s operation against his campaign. This, of course, ignited outrage from Democratic Party leaders and their lackeys in the media.
The Question of Accountability
It is as if the president’s political opponents believe – as they have never before believed – that the Justice Department is now, somehow, a separate and co-equal branch of government and not accountable to any other branch. Congress created this department, and they have oversight authority. The president appoints both the heads of the FBI and the DOJ, and they serve at his pleasure. It has always been held sacred that the DOJ and it’s law enforcement branch, the FBI, can carry out its criminal investigation and prosecution duties without interference from the executive branch. However, the moment the FBI began to investigate a presidential candidate from what was, at the time, the opposition party, the political establishment entered unchartered territory.
Following Trump’s demand, Rosenstein asked the department’s inspector general to expand his ongoing investigation to include an examination of the FBI’s conduct in this matter. After meeting with the president, the deputy attorney general and FBI Director Christopher Wray agreed to show the president and Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee the documents relating to the creation of the operation to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election. What is revealed to them when they see these documents may decide the fate of Mueller’s investigation and may, potentially, also decide the fate of certain serving and former federal government officials.
Why Americans Should Be Cheering
Politicians and journalists often refer to the checks and balances built into the structure of the federal government. In reality, many of those same politicians respect those checks and balances only when it suits them. President Trump was exactly right to call for an investigation into this matter, although this is special counsel territory; neither the FBI nor the Justice Department should ever be allowed to operate in the political world unrestrained by oversight nor should they be allowed to investigate themselves.
The nation has been shocked because the events currently unfolding have seldom been seen before in American history; unelected officials have investigated a presidential candidate who they neither wanted nor expected to become president of the United States. Now that he is president, he and his party demand accountability from those officials and, perhaps, from their erstwhile political bosses. All Americans who truly believe in government transparency and in the idea that no single department of the federal government should operate without restraint should be cheering.