by Mark Penn, opinion contributor · April 14, 2018
They were among the most powerful men of the last decade. They commanded armies of armed agents, had the ability to bug and wiretap almost anyone, and had virtually unlimited budgets. They were the leadership of the FBI, the CIA and the director of national intelligence under President Obama. Each day, it becomes clearer that they are the real abusers of power in this drama.
The book by former FBI Director James Comey and the daily hyperbolic John Brennan sound bites are perhaps the final reveal of just how much hubris and vitriol they had. Comey’s book, according to reports, contains nothing new of legal consequence to Trump (while suggesting that former Attorney General Loretta Lynch has something to worry about), but it unmasks the hatred that Comey had for Donald Trump from the beginning. It impeaches Comey’s fitness to have ever held high, nonpartisan office.
Whether you are a Democrat who can’t stand Trump, a Hillary Clinton supporter who feels robbed by Comey, or a Trump supporter, any use of wiretapping and vast prosecutorial machinery against our political campaigns and sitting presidents always has to be viewed skeptically and should meet the highest standards of conduct and impartiality. The post-election actions of these former officials makes suspect their actions as officials.
It was, after all, Comey who went to the president during the transition seeking a one-on-one meeting to tell him about the inflammatory dossier, but who critically omitted telling the president that the dossier was a product of the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. These facts, he knew, if revealed at that moment in January, would have ended further inquiry. This was no effort to inform the president and douse the fires of unverified and salacious information, but one to inflame the president and spread the stories everywhere.
Unlike a murder or a robbery that has a specific trail of facts that can be investigated, Russia collusion is an allegation that could never be disproved. The accusation allowed special counsel Robert Mueller to investigate the entirety of the Trump campaign, every aspect of the presidential transition, and even interview 27 White House aides.
When that did not bear fruit, the special counsel could start looking at every business transaction with Russians or foreigners who knew Russians. After all, collusion could be hiding anywhere — in a speech given years ago, a condo bought a decade ago by an oligarch — so he could search for it everywhere.
The Mueller investigation bears all of the hallmarks of prosecutorial overreach: pre-dawn raids, denial of reasonable bail, threats to prosecute family members, investigations of unrelated business matters. He didn’t appropriately subpoena selected transition emails but collected every email in the entire transition without notice, prying them from holdover employees at the General Services Administration.
Even Attorney General Jeff Sessions himself was secretly investigated. This is everything our Constitution and the Bill of Rights were set up to prevent. It’s the very reason the independent counsel statute was eliminated. Never again, we said, after wasting a year on the Monica Lewinsky prosecution.
This investigation has now devolved into a full-blown repeat of that 1998 investigation by bleeding over to the personal life of the president. It was wrong then, and it’s wrong now. President Clinton was guilty of trying to conceal his affair. John Edwards was guilty of trying to conceal his affair. Donald Trump might well be guilty of the same. The 1998 impeachment verdict and Edwards trial established that trying to criminalize this behavior through perjury traps and strained election-law readings renders a mockery of our justice system, and we rejected it twice.
Moreover, the double standards being applied here are undermining the rule of law. The payments to Fusion GPS and Christopher Steele, the former British spy hired to compile the Trump dossier, were concealed as payments to their attorneys, Perkins Coie, in what experts believe is a clear violation of campaign reporting rules on the use of “cut-outs.”
While the Federal Election Commission complaint over millions of dollars of these concealed payments is making its way through administrative channels, the $130,000 payment to a porn star by Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, prompted very public search-and-seizure raids. Either both instances should be administrative matters or both should receive raids on their attorneys.
The bank fraud and wire fraud charges being tossed around on Cohen are just prosecutor’s tricks. We are talking about Cohen’s home equity loan, not the laundering of Panamanian drug money. By the same logic, the undisclosed Perkins Coie payments to Fusion GPS would be money laundering and wire fraud since the payments became illegal when not reported properly.
Perhaps the last straw was the report in the New York Times that Mueller is investigating a $150,000 contribution to the Trump Foundation in exchange for a private video speech given by Trump in 2015, showing just how grasping this investigation has become. This is the same Ukrainian businessman who gave the Clinton Foundation $13 million. Nope, no double standard here.
In addition, many of the moves of the prosecutors have been to generate publicity, not fight crime. Mueller indicted 13 Russians knowing there would never be any trials or questioning of their findings that were little more than a press release. The raid on Cohen was not geared just to get information. It was also a publicity stunt, exactly the opposite of how the Justice Department is supposed to carry out investigations in ways that protect the confidentiality of those under investigation.
The first report from the inspector general of the Justice Department came out Friday and it documents in meticulous detail how the FBI’s former deputy director, Andrew McCabe, lied — on audio tape and under oath — denying a role in a self-serving leak that he, in fact, personally managed. His response? He may sue Trump for defamation.
As these deep staters turn into paid talking heads profiting through books, speeches and clicks, they undermine any notion that they acted professionally instead of politically while in office, and the evidence continues to mount that the foundation for turning the country upside down for the last year was most likely two parts politically tinged hubris and one part sketchy evidence.
Mark Penn served as pollster and adviser to President Clinton from 1995 to 2000, including during his impeachment. He is chairman of the Harris Poll and author of the recently released book, “Microtrends Squared.”
The Hill · by Mark Penn, opinion contributor · April 14, 2018