Two or three news cycles back, the Prevaricator in Chief made a shocking allegation. Or, that is to say, a charge that would be astonishing and unsettling coming from any president but him:
“My Campaign for President was conclusively spied on,” Trump thundered on Twitter. “Nothing like this has ever happened in American Politics. A really bad situation. TREASON means long jail sentences, and this was TREASON!”
Coming only days after Attorney General William Barr tasked a U.S. attorney with reviewing (yet again) the origins of the FBI’s Trump-Russia investigation, the allegation was nonsense on its face. As defined in Article III of the U.S. Constitution, “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.” It’s punishable by death.
But a presidential campaign is not the United States. Constitutionally speaking, it’s essentially nothing. As usual, Trump was simply blowing smoke. Even so, some of his detractors took the bait. CNN legal commentator Jeffrey Toobin called the president’s outburst a “grotesque abuse of power.”
Grotesque, yes. Also ridiculous.
Because it’s highly unlikely that anything’s going to happen. The attorney general’s various pronouncements on the topic of government “spying” appear calculated to appeal to an audience of one: Trump himself.
In media interviews, Barr is careful to include a lawyerly escape hatch, stipulating that what’s normally called “surveillance” when investigators secure legal warrants to conduct it may indeed have been justifiable.
It’s a cagey game he’s playing. But so far, only a game.
Trump was at it again at a WWE-style campaign rally in Pennsylvania the other night, accusing FBI officials of treason while an enraptured crowd chanted “Lock them up!” (Earlier, they’d jeered “Lock her up!” at the mention of Hillary Clinton’s name.) He praised Barr, asserting that the AG would soon unmask the dark conspiracy against him.
That’s never going to happen for essentially the same reason Hillary Clinton has never been prosecuted for her imagined crimes. Bringing (pardon me) “Trumped-up” charges against prominent individuals with the wherewithal to defend themselves endangers the prosecution more than the defendant.
We don’t yet have show trials in the United States.
Trump can boast all he wants about serving several terms. He did that in Pennsylvania too. But that’s not happening either.
According to believers, the linchpin of the alleged anti-Trump conspiracy is former FBI Director James Comey. You remember Comey, right? He’s the ace investigator who wrongly announced that the feds had dug up shocking new evidence in the Hillary Clinton email probe 10 days before the election — thereby costing her the presidency, many believe.
Meanwhile, the agency kept its “Crossfire Hurricane” probe of Trump staffers’ connections to Russian intelligence operatives very quiet. Which you’ve got to admit would be an odd way for anti-Trump conspirators to act.
Just days before the 2016 election, The New York Times published a front-page article headlined “Investigating Donald Trump, F.B.I. Sees No Clear Link to Russia.” Readers were assured that “even the hacking into Democratic emails, F.B.I. and intelligence officials now believe, was aimed at disrupting the presidential election rather than electing Mr. Trump.”
The Mueller Report, of course, concluded exactly the opposite. Electing Trump was Job One at the Kremlin. Meanwhile, the Trump campaign, if it didn’t necessarily participate in a criminal conspiracy, secretly played footsie with Russian intelligence. Its expectation, Mueller concluded, was “that (the campaign) would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts.”
And so it very much did.
Entirely convinced of his own integrity, Comey has mounted his high horse regarding Barr’s insinuations. “The AG should stop sliming his own Department,” he tweeted. “If there are bad facts, show us, or search for them professionally and then tell us what you found. An AG must act like the leader of the Department of Justice, an organization based on truth. Donald Trump has enough spokespeople.”
So no, none of these alleged traitors is going down easy, which means they’re not going down at all. Expect a murky report filled with legalistic quibbling. But treason? No how, no way.
Meanwhile, the latest conspiracy theory getting Trumpists all hot and bothered derives from a book by George Papadopoulos, the fired Trump aide whose barroom braggadocio started the whole fool thing. Entitled “Deep State Target,” it portrays its author as the pigeon in a dastardly plot cooked up not by Russians, but by U.S., British, Israeli and Australian intelligence.
History records that it was indeed the perfidious Aussies who tipped U.S. intelligence that a Trump aide was running his mouth in a London bar about the Russians having “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in the form of thousands of stolen emails. He also claimed to be keeping company with Vladimir Putin’s niece, and to be on a first-name basis with Benjamin Netanyahu.
Sometimes he makes stuff up, Papadopoulos.