WASHINGTON — It was only a matter of time. Now we have “spygate.”
Or, so declares Donald Trump, who is outraged, really outraged, that after the FBI was told by the Australian ambassador that a Trump campaign official was boasting about his contacts with Russia, a “human source” was asked to find out what was going on.
The FBI says that this is standard practice if national security is involved. As it turned out, national security definitely was involved. All America’s intelligence agencies agreed that Russia tried to influence the 2016 election to make Trump president. That is indisputable. In the old days, we called that a “fact.”
More to the point, special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s meddling in 2016 to undermine our democracy, repeatedly called a “witch hunt” by Trump, has resulted in 22 indictments or guilty pleas and a sentencing. Yet 53 percent of Americans say they now believe Mueller’s investigation is politically motivated, according to a CBS poll.
Trump admitted he did not have any evidence when he started talking about a “spy” embedded by the FBI in his campaign but it “might” be the worst spy scandal in U.S. history. (You’d expect that from somebody who seems to know very little about our history, such as thinking Frederick Douglass was still alive, not knowing that Andrew Jackson died long before the Civil War, not knowing the Republican Party was called the party of Lincoln and, well, the list is just too long.)
Intelligence officials are horrified that the White House has sanctioned the naming of the supposed informant, an American who teaches history in England, saying this will make it much harder to get information about threats to national security. Many think that this is another part of Trump’s public relations war on the Justice Department for continuing the Russia investigation and his deeply felt conviction that he is above the law.
Trump now openly disdains his own deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, a Republican with the power to fire Mueller. Trump demanded the investigation be investigated — a frightening precedent. Trying to placate Trump and keep his job, Rosenstein turned the FBI’s handling of the Russia investigation over to an inspector general to probe. Meanwhile, the White House handed out classified information on the professor to Republican political leaders even while decrying the “politicization” of intelligence.
James Clapper, former national intelligence director known for his apolitical nature and dedication to public service, recently broke his silence to say America has elected a president who twists and distorts truth to his advantage and uses the presidency to generate financial gain for himself and his family.
Clapper says Trump has set a “new low bar” for ethics and morality and has caused “societal damage” that will take years to repair. Most hurtful personally, Clapper said, Trump has “besmirched” the intelligence community and the FBI and caused Americans to lose faith in institutions they must rely on to keep them safe.
Clapper is upset.
What becomes increasingly worrisome is Republicans’ collective willingness not to call out Trump, no matter how egregious his behavior. Moderate Republicans were distressed that Trump politicized intelligence by holding classified briefings that excluded Democrats. They did nothing. They were worried that Trump refused to divest himself of his businesses or release his tax returns or health information. They did nothing. They were angered by his refusal to say anything negative about Russian leader Vladimir Putin. They did nothing. They do not dispute that Trump flat-out lied more than 3,000 times in his first year in office. They said nothing.
Everyone who works in the Trump administration gets tarnished. The secretary for homeland security, Kirstjen Nielsen, having been yelled at during a Cabinet meeting by Trump angry his wall hasn’t been built, was so intimidated that she said publicly she was unaware the entire intelligence community agreed the Russians worked illegally to elect Trump. Her office then quietly corrected the record. Yes, she knew.
Listening to Trump drone on repeatedly that Mueller’s investigation of Russia’s efforts to discredit democracy is a “witch hunt,” the biggest in history — forget Salem, millions of Americans tell pollsters the “witch hunt” in Washington must end. Even if there was treason and criminality.
In Trump’s world, our world now, the only one who wins is Trump.
Ann McFeatters is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. Readers may send her email at [email protected].