“Today, at the request and recommendation of the Attorney General of the United States, President Donald J. Trump directed the intelligence community to quickly and fully cooperate with the Attorney General’s investigation into surveillance activities during the 2016 Presidential election,” President Donald J. Trump, who likes to refer to himself in the third person, announced via twitter on Thursday. ‘The Attorney General has also been delegated full and complete authority to declassify information pertaining to this investigation. . . Today’s action will help ensure that all Americans learn the truth about the events that occurred, and the actions that were taken, during the last Presidential election and will restore confidence in our public institutions.” Translation: the clear fiction of a deep state conspiracy hell-bent on spying on the Trump campaign has been dignified with its own official investigation, even though no less an expert than FBI Director Christopher Wray said earlier this month that there is no evidence that the FBI illegally monitored Trump’s campaign during the last election. But who cares about a profound lack of evidence when your aim is to divert attention from the legitimate conclusions of the Mueller report? (May we remind you that almost 1000 former prosecutors have signed a letter asserting that Trump would surely be indicted for obstruction of justice were he not currently serving as president?)
The lack of even the flimsiest justification for this inquiry has not deterred the president, who, it seems, has finally found his “Roy Cohen”—an AG ready to function as his personal attack dog. If you have any doubt that this has quickly become Barr’s role, think back a few weeks to Barr’s deliberately misleading discription of the Mueller report, a mischaracterization so brazen it annoyed Mueller himself.
This was hardly the only really bad news of the week. There was also a chilling threat to freedom of the press: on Thursday, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, currently in jail in London, was indicted by the Justice Department on 17 counts of violating the Espionage Act for his role in publishing secret military documents in 2010. The New York Times called this “a novel case that raises profound First Amendment issues,” then tolled this warning bell: “On its face, the Espionage Act could also be used to prosecute reporters who publish government secrets. But many legal scholars believe that prosecuting people for acts related to receiving and publishing information would violate the First Amendment. That notion has never been tested in court, however, because until now the government has never brought such charges.”
Well a lot of things have never happened until now. On Tuesday, former White House counsel Don McGahn, who is at the center of many revelations in the Mueller report—chief among them, that Trump on two occasions demanded he fire Mueller—defied a congressional subpoena on orders from the White House. This made some already fed-up Democrats so furious they ramped up their calls for impeachment. But the Democratic leadership is in no hurry to abandon its current “slow and steady wins the race” strategy and begin impeachment hearings—at least not yet. The House Judiciary Committee chairman, Jerry Nadler, said he was ready to hold McGahn in contempt, and he promised that congress would eventually hear McGahn’s testimony, “even if we have to go to court.”
In other news, last weekend a single Republican member of congress finally broke with his party and called for President Trump’s impeachment. Michigan Republican congressman Justin Amash tweeted on Monday, “Contrary to Barr’s portrayal, Mueller’s report reveals that President Trump engaged in specific actions and a pattern of behavior that meet the threshold for impeachment. . . People who say there were no underlying crimes and therefore the president could not have intended to illegally obstruct the investigation—and therefore cannot be impeached—are resting their argument on several falsehoods.”
And further to falsehoods: on Wednesday, the president held a news conference in the Rose Garden that was meant to seem impromptu but was clearly orchestrated. It took place moments after the president walked in, and then out, of a meeting with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to discuss infrastructure. Trump was reportedly livid that Pelosi had accused him earlier that day of a cover-up, and he told the hastily assembled press corps that he would not work with the Dems on infrastructure—or anything else—unless they dropped their inquiries into his behavior.
As the week wore on, the taunts escalated. Pelosi said she prayed for the president and suggested his family stage an intervention; Trump retorted that he was a stable genius and that she was crazy Nancy, “a mess” who had “lost it.” The back-and-forth descended to a new low when a number of doctored tapes of Pelosi, which seemed to show her confused and slurring her words, began circulating, and one was aired on Fox Business. Millions of people subsequently viewed it; the president retweeted it. The spectacle was as mesmerizing as it was ugly—or should we should say “grotesque,” the word Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttegieg employed at his Fox News town hall last Sunday. Explaining why he thought people didn’t just ignore Trump’s tweets, he said, “It is the nature of grotesque things that you can’t look away.”
Originally Appeared on Vogue