On Monday afternoon, President Donald Trump tweeted this:
"Two long running, Obama era, investigations of two very popular Republican Congressmen were brought to a well publicized charge, just ahead of the Mid-Terms, by the Jeff Sessions Justice Department. Two easy wins now in doubt because there is not enough time. Good job Jeff......"
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Trump is referring to the indictments of New York Rep. Chris Collins and California Rep. Duncan Hunter by the Justice Department on charges of insider trading and misuse of campaign funds, respectively.
Let's count all the ways this is wrong.
1. The Collins indictment deals with advice he allegedly gave to his son to sell off a stock in June 2017, and the Collins indictment came down in August 2018. That is not the in the "Obama era." (The investigation into Hunter began in April 2016 -- at the tail end of the "Obama era"; but the actual indictment came in August 2018.)
2. Trump is alleging the Justice Department -- which is run by his handpicked Attorney General Jeff Sessions -- purposely brought these indictments in the middle of the midterm elections to jeopardize the GOP's chances. (Reminder: The Justice Department is run by Republican appointees.)
3. Trump takes issue with criminal charges because they take "two easy wins" in two GOP-leaning districts and turn them into potentially competitive seats. (Collins retired amid the hubbub over his charges; Hunter has vowed to continue running.)
4. The President of the United States snarkily attacks his own attorney general for doing a "good job."
It's hard -- amid all of the norm-busting that Trump has done since he announced for president in June 2015 -- to register any real shock over anything he says or tweets these days. He's adjusted expectations downward so drastically that everything he says or does produces a sigh and a shrug from most of the public.
But just by way of context, let me take you back to the summer of 2009, when, following the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis "Skip" Gates at his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a new-on-the-job President Barack Obama said that the Cambridge police had "acted stupidly" in arresting a man who had clear evidence he was trying to enter his own home.
Obama was castigated by Republicans for turning the episode into a racial one (Gates is black) and for questioning the police for simply doing their job. Within 48 hours, Obama was apologizing -- saying he wished he had "calibrated" his words differently. Within days after that, Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Gates and the arresting officer (who was white) were sitting at the White House -- the so-called "Beer Summit."
All of that happened because the President of the United States said a local police force had "acted stupidly" in arresting a guy trying to get into his own house.
Now, fast-forward to the present. What we have here -- regardless of your party affiliation -- is this: The President of the United States is openly questioning the indictments of two sitting Republican members of Congress by a Republican-led Justice Department. He is doing so potentially because those two members of Congress were the first two members of Congress to support Trump's presidential bid but definitely because the indictments jeopardize his party's chances in the fall election.
That -- THAT -- is how far we have come in the space of less than a decade. And what is even more remarkable is that while a handful of congressional Republicans voiced their disapproval with Trump's views -- the usual suspects like Sens. Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska) and Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) -- most tried to ignore the tweet, which CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said Tuesday "may be an impeachable offense."
Whether or not Republicans acknowledge what is right in front of their faces, this much is plain: The current President of the United States sees the Justice Department as an appendage of his own political operation. His public statements suggest he believes the job of the attorney general is twofold: 1) punish the President's political enemies and b) go easy on the President's friends. The Monday tweet makes this reality inarguable. (As do the legion of tweets Trump has directed at Sessions, insisting that the special counsel probe into Russia interference is "illegal" -- it's not -- and demanding the Justice Department look into alleged crimes committed by Hillary Clinton.)
"Will DJT never learn that an attorney general's job is not to play goalie for a president or his party, or any party for that matter?" tweeted conservative commentator Brit Hume, hitting the nail on the head.
The answer to that question is, of course, a resounding "no."
Which means that in the space of a decade, we have gone from Republicans castigating a Democratic president for suggesting the local police had acted wrongly in arresting a man trying to enter his home to Republicans largely sitting in silence while a Republican President bashes his own Justice Department for charging GOP congressmen for allegedly breaking the law because doing so is politically inconvenient. And possibly because the two members of Congress facing indictments have been long and loyal supporters of his.
That's a hell of a long way to travel.