Matthew T. Mangino: The government tinkers on verge of constitutional crisis
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The nation is on the verge of a constitutional crisis. The White House authorized the release of an Intelligence Committee memo written by Republican committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes.
Norman Eisen, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, Caroline Fredrickson of the American Constitution Society and Noah Bookbinder of the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington described President Donald Trump’s action in Politico Magazine as “(A) Saturday Night Massacre in slow motion.”
The original Saturday Night Massacre came during the Watergate investigation. Special prosecutor Archibald Cox was canned after refusing President Richard Nixon’s offer to turn over some of the White House tape recordings requested by Cox. Nixon ordered — through his chief of staff Alexander Haig — Attorney General Elliot Richardson fire Cox.
Richardson refused, and resigned. Haig then ordered Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus to fire Cox. Ruckelshaus also refused, and resigned.
Haig finally convinced Solicitor General Robert Bork to fire Cox.
FBI agents were sent to Cox’s office to prevent his staff from removing files. After his firing, Cox said, “Whether ours shall continue to be a government of laws and not of men is now for Congress and ultimately the American people.”
The current Congress, because of the reckless conduct of the GOP members of the Intelligence Committee, has compromised its influence in this matter of constitutional importance.
It appears that Trump supporters in Congress have launched an all-out assault on the FBI and Department of Justice. The end game appears to be to discredit the FBI, fire the Deputy Attorney General overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller and install a new deputy attorney general who will fire Mueller.
In December, Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee chose to protect President Trump — as columnist Dana Milbank suggested —“ at the cost of Americans’ faith in the justice system and the rule of law.”
When FBI Director Christopher A. Wray — appointed by Trump after firing James Comey — appeared before the judiciary committee, where according to the Washington Post, members charged that “Mueller’s probe and the Clinton email probe have been tainted by ‘bias.’”
Committee members insisted that the FBI and Mueller have a anti-Trump bias. Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis speculated that bias led the FBI to conclude that Russia interfered in the U.S. election, and he went so far as to threaten Wray, “I think you’re walking into contempt of Congress.”
The whole idea of bias by Mueller is baseless. According to the Post, Mueller is a longtime Republican who was appointed FBI director by President George W. Bush. He was named special counsel by Rosenstein, who was appointed by Trump to be deputy attorney general. Comey, is a Republican who served in Bush’s Justice Department, made political contributions to John McCain, Mitt Romney and other Republicans. Wray is also a Republican who has contributed to GOP candidates.
This struggle between the president, FBI and Department of Justice is not a partisan political fight. It is about discrediting important democratic institutions. The attacks are focused on planting seeds of distrust in traditionally strong, apolitical government entities.
The last line of defense is FBI Director Wray. This week, he told the White House he opposes release of the classified Nunes memo. A person familiar with the matter told Bloomberg that Wray said the memo contains inaccurate information and paints a false narrative. The FBI released a statement that said, in part, the FBI has “grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.”
Thursday, sources close to the President’s Chief of Staff John Kelly told CNN that Kelly believes (Wray’s resignation) is a real possibility and has been working on a way to avoid another departure from the Trump administration.
Wray has a duty to his colleagues in the FBI and the American people to walk away from an administration that defies his admonishment and uses an ill-advised and politically motivated memo to discredit a legitimate and much needed investigation by the special counsel and his staff.
— Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book The Executioner’s Toll, 2010 was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter @MatthewTMangino.