This is insane. It’s also legal, but a dramatic escalation of unchecked executive power. One thing I try to impress in every article I write about Trump’s abuses of power is that the natural setup of the chief executive above the Department of Justice in the organizational chart of the executive branch enables Trump to escalate his authoritarianism. In many ways, the president is quite literally above the law. Our founders were astoundingly naïve in this respect, as our constitution has no answer other than impeachment for a president (or party) who puts their interests ahead of the nation’s. Here is a perfect example of how unprepared they were for a President Trump. Again, this is all legal. Per Politico:
President Donald Trump moved on Monday to immediately release a tranche of former FBI Director James Comey’s text messages and declassify 20 pages of a surveillance application that targeted former campaign adviser Carter Page, Trump’s latest offensive against a Russia investigation that has ensnared associates and has consumed his attention for much of his presidency.
The breadth of the order came as a surprise and landed amid a full-court White House effort to shore up the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, as he defends himself against a sexual assault allegation. Trump demanded that the FBI produce 20 pages of the surveillance application — which Republicans on Capitol Hill have suggested would help show anti-Trump bias at the highest levels of the FBI.
Trump also called for the release of senior Justice Department official Bruce Ohr’s notes related to the Russia probe. Ohr was a key conduit to the FBI for information provided by Christopher Steele, a former British spy who investigated Trump’s relationship with Russia during the 2016 campaign and produced a dossier of damaging allegations — which Trump has derided as false.
The problem with doing this, other than the obvious self-serving aspects to it, is that classified information is classified for a reason. It’s not a stretch to say that Trump could get someone killed by declassifying certain information. At the very least, it will make sources hesitant to work with law enforcement knowing that they could get compromised by a president who could care less about them. The acting CIA Director under George W. Bush didn’t mince any words about this escalation by Trump.
In case you were wondering why Trump did this, his biggest useful idiot in congress, Devin Nunes, gave the game away last week.
There also doesn't seem to be much of a process behind this other than “President Mad Online issued the order, so we're carrying it out.”
Trump is quite literally putting his own interests ahead of the rule of law, and this episode will only further embolden him. Given that Paul Manafort is cooperating with the Department of Justice and Michael Flynn is ready to be sentenced (which presumably means that Mueller got everything he needed out of Flynn’s cooperation), this could just be the start of Trump’s more serious attacks on the rule of law.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.