In a sane world, if the Justice Department’s internal watchdog discovered that the FBI official who began a counterintelligence investigation into an opposition party’s presidential candidate texted his lover a few days later that “we’ll stop” the candidate’s election, it would cause immediate action.
At a minimum, the counterintelligence investigation – now in the hands of a special prosecutor – would be suspended pending further review of its reasons and sources, the entire sordid enterprise suddenly appearing to be the fruit of a very poisonous tree.
Washington, unfortunately, is not a sane world.
A few weeks ago, facing severe criticism by the House of Representatives for his failure to cooperate in their investigation that the FBI disrupted first the candidacy and then the presidency of Donald Trump, Rod Rosenstein declared that he would not be “extorted.”
Which apparently is the word the second in command at the Justice Department chooses to describe his purposeful refusal to disclose damning evidence to a branch of the federal government hot on the trail of his shenanigans.
Last week it was learned that he threatened House staffers with criminal prosecution for asking legitimate questions.
That a career insider like Rosenstein is abusing his office to thwart the president America sent to Washington to reform should surprise nobody.
It is, after all, Rosenstein’s world – an unreal world where James Comey gets to cast his smurfiness as courageous and China gets to do whatever it wants on trade – that Trump promised to destroy.
The surprise is that Rosenstein is in the position to cause such damage. The confounding head-scratcher is that he was put there by Trump.
In the epics of antiquity, the greatest threats are usually from the hero’s momentary distraction from his mission.
Odysseus had his sailors plug their ears with beeswax and tie him to the ship’s mast as they passed the island of the Sirens. When he heard their seductive song, he begged to be released, but his sailors tied him tighter.
One can imagine Trump at the end of the election cycle, in which he scratched, clawed, and crawled to an epic triumph, just wanting to take a break.
Every newspaper was saying he had to staff government with experienced insiders. He yawned and said okay because staffing was not a priority, he would be making the decisions.
The president who ran against Washington did not reach into Ohio to find accomplished professionals to lead his departments. Instead, he listened to the Siren song and appointed the usual suspects to top posts.
Rosenstein came to Trump ready packaged from the Republican establishment: “He’s your man, Mr. President.” Trump said okay, not giving it a second thought, probably, because he would be under Jeff Sessions anyway.
Sessions, though, had himself marinated in Washington’s swamp for 30 years. At the first sign of trouble he abdicated his fundamental responsibility, ceding Trump’s police power to Rosenstein.
There is historical precedent for what happens when democratic movements are on the verge of transforming society, but police power remains in the hands of hostile parties.
At Yalta, President Roosevelt and Soviet Premier Stalin negotiated the aftermath of World War II. Stalin’s armies occupied Eastern Europe and most of Germany.
The talks were supposed to facilitate free and fair elections in the occupied areas that would permit the withdrawal of troops and their return home.
Stalin played along. He claimed that he, too, wanted elections and the withdrawal of Russian troops. He insisted, though, that those troops would need full police powers to keep the peace and avert insurrection.
Roosevelt conceded the point.
Eastern Europe fell to Soviet domination by the brutal exercise of this police power. Hungary’s communist leader Mátyás Rákosi colorfully described how he destroyed political opponents by accusing them of fascism and “cutting them off like slices of salami.”
The lesson of Yalta was that there could not be free and fair elections if hostile forces intent on an outcome are able to throw political opponents in jail.
Trump won the presidential election upon his promise to drain the swamp. To those watching behind the marble facades of the nation’s capital, the footage of his romp through the heartland must have caused some hard swallowing.
If you’re a guy like Robert Mueller, or Peter Strzok, or James Comey – let’s throw in Rod Rosenstein – and your wealth and self-regard are connected to your stature among the swamp critters, the last thing you want to hear is an unruly mob chanting “lock her up.”
Thus came the big lie: Trump cannot have the levers of police power at the Justice Department until it is through investigating him for stealing the election with Russian help. The Swamp would use salami tactics against a Trump presidency.
Trump’s mistake was to appoint Washington insiders to transform Washington. He has probably figured that out, and his recent staffing decisions have generally avoided this mistake.
As Trump adjusts, count on the Swamp to use the discredited counterintelligence investigation to try to cut him off like a slice of salami.
The Russia investigation should end upon the Inspector General’s disclosure of its instigator’s animus. But it won’t.