WASHINGTON — President Trump told the White House counsel in the spring that he wanted to order the Justice Department to prosecute two of his political adversaries: his 2016 challenger, Hillary Clinton, and the former F.B.I. director James B. Comey, according to two people familiar with the conversation.
The lawyer, Donald F. McGahn II, rebuffed the president, saying that he had no authority to order a prosecution. Mr. McGahn said that while he could request an investigation, that too could prompt accusations of abuse of power. To underscore his point, Mr. McGahn had White House lawyers write a memo for Mr. Trump warning that if he asked law enforcement to investigate his rivals, he could face a range of consequences, including possible impeachment.
The encounter was one of the most blatant examples yet of how Mr. Trump views the typically independent Justice Department as a tool to be wielded against his political enemies. It took on additional significance in recent weeks when Mr. McGahn left the White House and Mr. Trump appointed a relatively inexperienced political loyalist, Matthew G. Whitaker, as the acting attorney general.
I've been thinking about this story since it broke last night.
It is shocking and troubling because, to use a phrase that is sadly becoming all too familiar, this is some serious banana republic shit.
At the same time, why are we surprised? Trump said multiple times during the 2016 campaign that he was going to do this kind of stuff.
I feel like these stories capture one of the most frustrating and exhausting aspects of our current politics. It is bad enough that we have a corrupt goon in the White House that is only restrained by the thinnest threads—i.e., crooks and sycophants who are only a bit less boldly ignorant than he is—from tin-pot dictators like using the state to pursue his political opponents. On top of that, we have journalists and a pundit-class that mostly brushed off Trump's rhetoric as entertainment during the campaign and pooh-poohed anyone ringing the alarm bells . Now this same bunch is all a-twitter with “Can you believe he's doing this?!”
Yes, we believe it, and we tried to warn you.