(CNN) — New revelations suggesting that the Trump administration abused the powers of the Department of Justice to persecute his political enemies, they underscore how far the former president went to destroy the treasured principles of the Republican government of the United States.They show that the true extent of Donald Trump’s attacks on democracy is still coming to light and it is probably not fully known yet.
But this is not just a drama about the alleged misbehavior of a former president. Along with the Republican Party’s refusal to hold Trump, who remains the dominant figure in the Republican Party, responsible for the Capitol uprising and its nationwide efforts to restrict votingThe new indictments also indicate that the fundamental freedoms and values that have sustained the American way of life for two and a half centuries remain in almost unprecedented danger.
In one of the most chilling revelations yet of Trump’s autocratic tendencies, the newspaper The New York Times He uncovered a secret plan by prosecutors late Thursday against members of Congress conducting the presidential audit.
The Justice Department, seeking leaks of classified information about contacts between Trump associates and Russia, cited Apple for data on the accounts of the Democrats of the House Intelligence Committee, their staff and even from their families, including a minor. In a sinister twist in history, prosecutors also secured a gag order against Apple, preventing it from informing customers that its metadata had been seized.
The story has shocked Washington, and lawmakers are now struggling to understand the scope of what appears to be one of the gravest scandals of a previous administration steeped in political corruption. If the new drama is what it seems, it would validate the fears of those who maintained that Trump, or his staff, used the Justice Department as a personal political enforcement mechanism rather than as a guarantor of the rule of law. It would also add fuel to the arguments of those who warned that a second Trump term would have further jeopardized the survival of America’s democracy.
In this case, prosecutors were not investigating the disastrous exposure of a secret weapons system or secret war plans. According to the newspaper’s reports, they were investigating members of Congress, including Californian Representative Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and the Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell, also from California.
“You had the president calling for his opponents to be investigated,” Schiff said on CNN’s “Cuomo Prime Time” on Thursday. “One retaining wall after another just ripped apart by this unethical ex-president.”
Swalwell, who told CNN Thursday night that he had been notified that his data had been seized, told CNN’s Jim Sciutto on Friday morning that he had never leaked classified information and laid out why citizens should be concerned.
“This is about ordinary Americans who don’t want to see their government arms law enforcement against them because of their political beliefs,” Swalwell said.
Why is it so important
The reason this latest episode is so important is that it seems to show the executive branch of government exercising presidential power to attack the legislature, and the president’s personal political enemies. It would be difficult to find a clearer and more blatant abuse of presidential power. This behavior would not only imply a perversion of the fundamental role of the Department of Justice in guaranteeing the neutral and apolitical application of justice, a key requirement for a democratic society. It would also be a reflection of the actions of autocrats around the world, many of whom Trump openly admires.
Furthermore, all of this was occurring at a time when Trump was ranting against a “deep state” of intelligence professionals and officials and while repeatedly lying. And the only reason the disclosures come up now is that the silence orders on this and other investigations started by the previous administration are expiring and are not being renewed by Biden’s Justice Department.
In the Biden administration’s first reaction to the cameras on Friday, White House communications director Kate Bedingfield called the reports “egregious.”
During an appearance on MSNBC from Cornwall, England, Bedingfield suggested that President Joe Biden has a “very different relationship” with the Justice Department than his predecessor, pointing to the Trump administration’s “abuse of power” with the department, and adding that the Justice Department from the Biden administration is “run very, very differently.”
The new revelations raise the question of whether there are more alarming abuses of power by Trump that have yet to be discovered, an issue that will increase pressure on new Attorney General Merrick Garland to account. Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco asked the inspector general of the Department of Justice to analyze the department’s handling of the investigation, a Justice Department official briefed on the matter told CNN on Friday.
At first glance, the new scandal appears to deserve a place in the pantheon of the most off-limits uses of governmental power for political purposes in modern American history, including the Watergate scandal that toppled President Richard Nixon and the extensive Trump’s own list of transgressions.
The latter category includes an impeachment trial for trying to get a foreign power, Ukraine, to interfere in the US elections and another for inciting a crowd insurrection on the US Capitol that broke the tradition of transfers. peaceful power. Trump tried to intimidate GOP officials in Georgia into canceling a fair election in 2020, as part of a campaign of lies about fraud that has left millions of his supporters disgusted by the US political system. And he fired FBI Director James Comey and said he did it because of the Russia investigation.
The new reports are not just new examples of attacks on America’s guardians of democracy by the Trump White House. They come at a time when the same goal is being pursued by state legislators from the Republican Party, making it difficult to vote and facilitating the theft of elections, and by deniers of the former president’s insurrection on Capitol Hill.
More revelations about Trump’s autocratic instincts
In what is another display of the depth of the attack on democratic values in the United States, it emerged this week that Trump’s Justice Department obtained a gag order to prevent CNN from revealing another secret leak investigation that affected its reporter. of the Pentagon Barbara Starr. Journalists working for The Washington Post and The New York Times have also recently been informed that the Trump Justice Department searched their email records and metadata without informing them.
Governments have the right to investigate national security leaks. And leakers, whose reporting may be necessary for accountability in a democratic society, know they face possible prosecution for breaking the law.
But it is not clear that this was the case, and the rationale for the Justice Department investigation is obscure.
This fact alone will renew scrutiny on former Attorney General William Barr, whose initial appointment was greeted with relief in Washington given Trump’s previous anarchy, but who often seemed to act primarily as Trump’s personal attorney. In the most famous example of this, he publicly misrepresented Robert Mueller’s report on the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia and the Kremlin’s election meddling effort in 2016.
The current storm of leaks is another Trump abuse of power that appears to be motivated by a desire to cover up what remain mysterious links between the former president’s orbit and Moscow, which meddled in elections five years ago in an attempt to help. Trump to win.
The key to understanding the new case is to know if it is justified by some demonstrable evidence of a leak by top Democratic officials or if, on the contrary, it was a vengeful effort by a president who constantly pressured the Justice Department to investigate his enemies.
The notion that the investigation was justified appears to be undermined by the overwhelming scope of the subpoenas, which even extend to relatives of the congressmen. It also appears that the investigation has not revealed any violations.
The most concrete result of another Trump abuse of power scandal may be to underscore the truth about American democracy revealed time and again by one of the most corrupt administrations in history. The structures of the United States government are fragile, and the walls that separate a president from exercising absolute, almost monarchical power, are usually as strong as the commander-in-chief’s respect for democracy itself. When an aberrational president is in office, those restrictions become much less effective.
New reports of abuses of power will once again test the Republican Party’s consistent choice to defend the outlandish behavior of its former president rather than uphold the traditional principles of America’s democracy.
If recent history is any guide, there is only one way to react for most members of a party that has given itself over to the cult of Trump’s personality.