January 30, 2018


Big Lies, Law Enforcement, and the Defense of Rod Rosenstein (Benjamin Wittes  Monday, January 29, 2018, LawFare)

 I refer to "Mein Kampf" because Hitler was extremely insightful in a pure-evil kind of way on the subject of lies. I'm quoting him, in other words, not as an analogy but as an authority.

The "Big Lie" passage from "Mein Kampf" is one of the turgid tome's most famous passages. It reads:

All this was inspired by the principle--which is quite true in itself--that in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying.

Donald Trump lies more blatantly and outrageously than any other American politician who has attained the presidency. As David Frum puts it in his excellent new book, "Trumpocracy,"

No American president in history--no national political figure of any kind since at least Senator Joe McCarthy--has trafficked more in untruths that Donald Trump. He owed the start of his political career to the Birther hoax. He falsely insisted that he lost the popular vote only because of somewhere between three and five million ballots cast by illegal aliens. He repeated false stories about New Jersey Muslims cheering the 9/11 attacks. He recited false statistics about the majors of terrorists since 9/11 entering the United States from foreign countries. He falsely denied that his campaign communicated with Russia about hacking the Hillary Clinton campaign. He falsely boasted that he enacted more bills in his first one hundred days and first six months than any previous president. He even told a false anecdote about an imaginary friend named "Jim" who never visits Paris anymore because "Paris is no longer Paris."

The Washington Post keeps a running tally of Trump's lies since entering office. As of Monday, Jan. 19, it documents 2,140 false or misleading claims.

Not all of Trump's lies are big lies. But some certainly are. And among the biggest, most audacious, most "colossal" or "grossly impudent" is the way he talks about federal law enforcement. To understand why the defense of Rosenstein has become so critical, let's take a step back and consider this big lie. And let's consider it beyond the almost-comical point that Rosenstein, a lifelong Republican appointed to Senate-confirmed positions by two Republican administrations, is being tarred as a "Democrat from Baltimore" with a vendetta against the president.

Trump wants to politicize law enforcement. He announces this himself. He talks openly about the job of the attorney general as protecting him and going after his political enemies. He says he admires Eric Holder's protection of Barack Obama--a supposed corruption that represents yet another conspiracy theory, but one that sheds enormous light on his thinking about how an attorney general should behave. Trump is many things, but on this point he is no hypocrite. He has said exactly what he thinks law enforcement should be: his political plaything, his tool for the crude form of justice Polemarchus describes in Plato's Republic: "rewarding friends and punishing enemies."

The trouble was that when Trump confronted the law enforcement apparatus of the United States, he discovered that it did not conform to his vision. He became aware, to his shock, that federal law enforcement actually had integrity. It included a set of institutions that did not work as simple arms of political power. There is no need to take my word for this: It was he who demanded loyalty of Comey. It was he who asked Comey to drop the case against former national security adviser Michael Flynn and who has publicly expressed his anger at Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia investigation--as Sessions was certainly bound to do. It was Trump who has expressed surprise that he couldn't order up an investigation of his political opponent. Trump started discovering quickly that the FBI and the intelligence communities are not the janissaries of the powerful. And he didn't like it.

His response? First, try to change this reality quietly. Try to corrupt Comey and get a pledge of loyalty from him. Install an attorney general he expected to behave as he imagined Holder had for Obama. It was as that effort failed that the big lie emerged.

That big lie is the notion that federal law enforcement is already behaving as corruptly as the president aspires for it to.

Posted by at January 30, 2018 4:03 PM