For most of the last 48 hours, the nation has been reeling from the Justice Department effectively throwing its own prosecutors under the bus. After helping unmask longtime Republican political operative and Donald Trump confidant Roger Stone’s effort to deceive Congress about his work with WikiLeaks, federal prosecutors recommended that Stone get seven to nine years in prison.
But on Tuesday, senior Justice Department officials pulled the original recommendation, prompting all four career prosecutors who worked on the case to withdraw. A Justice Department spokesman told CNN that this decision was made prior to a series of angry tweets from Trump decrying the sentence.
Nonetheless, given Stone’s closeness to Trump, there is still a rank odor surrounding this decision. Indeed, David Laufman, the former head of the DOJ’s counterintelligence unit, told NPR’s “Morning Edition” that this reversal had the potential to cause “a chilling effect” on politically-loaded investigations of people close to the White House.
But believe it or not, Tuesday saw an attack on the rule of law that was at least as egregious as the Justice Department’s abrupt reversal on the Stone sentence, if not more so. For at least the second time that we know about, Trump joined in on the deplorables’ attempt to unmask and harass the whistleblower in the Ukraine scandal. In so doing, the president of the United States tacitly endorsed witness intimidation of the worst type.
On Tuesday morning, just before Trump went on a series of 280-character tirades on Stone, he retweeted a Newsmax column from former DOJ inspector general Joseph Schmitz calling for the managers in the Trump impeachment case to be sued for civil rights violations. Schmitz also demanded that the impeachment process should be declared a “nullity.” Why, you ask? Well, Schmitz claims that the entire impeachment push was rooted in an abuse of power on the part of House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff that had the effect of trampling on Trump’s rights.
But Schmitz’ tweet went far beyond standard Trumpkin agitprop. Schmitz saw fit to quote a tweet from Ryan Fournier, the co-chairman of Students for Trump, in which Fournier purported to name the alleged whistleblower. You’ll have to take my word for it, folks–for obvious reasons, I’m not linking or embedding either tweet.
Remember, when you are president, a retweet is an endorsement. Therefore, it cannot be repeated enough–the president of the United States is endorsing behavior that certainly meets the real-world definition of witness intimidation, even if it doesn’t meet the legal one. While there is no explicit statutory protection of a whistleblower’s identity, national security experts agree that attempting to unmask the whistleblower could put him in grave danger and cause a chilling effect on future whistleblowing.
It is simply inconceivable that Trump didn’t know exactly what he was doing when he hit the retweet button. He’s done it at least once before. In late December, he retweeted one of his followers who published the whistleblower’s alleged name. When veteran national security analyst Irwin McCullough saw this tweet roll across his feed, he hit the ceiling. He was still perturbed by it by the time he stopped by MSNBC’s “Hardball” on the night of December 27. Watch here.
McCullough told guest host Steve Kornacki that it was “wholly irresponsible” for Trump to try to unmask the whistleblower, given that the whistleblower is “suffering death threats” and is under federal protection.
Now how is this as, if not more, egregious than the DOJ’s reversal on Stone? Well, unlike Stone, the whistleblower is a private person. Specifically, he is a private person who exercised one of the most sacrosanct rights that is not enumerated in the Constitution–the right to go to the authorities and demand the righting of a wrong. This cuts to the very foundation of our justice system.
Moreover, Trump has been told in no uncertain terms that these efforts could put the whistleblower in harm’s way–and that he could be held responsible for said harm. In a November letter to White House counsel Pat Cipollone, the whistleblower’s lawyer warned that Trump was putting himself in “legal and ethical peril” should any harm come to his client. But apparently Trump sees such considerations as things in his way.
When the president of the United States sees fit to use the power of his office to bully and intimidate a private citizen, it should send a chill down the spine of every fair-minded American. Of the many outrageous things Trump has done since coming down the escalator of Trump Tower in 2015, this has to stand as one of the worst. And it is yet another reason why he is not worthy of any respect.
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