GOP Assault on Law Enforcement Was Inevitable

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- The war on U.S. law enforcement kicked up a notch this week. President Donald Trump demanded that the Justice Department share sensitive intelligence with Republicans who, like the president they seek to protect, have undermined the department's investigation of possible Trump campaign links to crime and foreign subterfuge. The president's goal of subjugating law enforcement to his personal political needs is advancing.

But Trump didn't start this war; it was well under way before he got to Washington. Indeed, Trump's assault is an inevitable consequence of Republican decisions going back many years.

After Republicans gained control of the House of Representatives in January 2011, they claimed that a series of egregious scandals and outrageous crimes ushered forth from every pore of the Barack Obama administration. According to this partisan fiction, the nation's most powerful law-enforcement agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, stood idly by as the crimes and corruption accumulated.

In 2010, even before Republicans took control of the House, Representative Darrell Issa told Rush Limbaugh that Obama was "one of the most corrupt presidents in modern times." Republican leaders rewarded Issa with the chairmanship of the powerful House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. As chairman of the committee, Issa reiterated the charge.

In justifying his charge of corruption, Issa described the $800 billion bank bailout launched in 2008 under President George W. Bush as Obama's "$800 billion worth of walking-around money with no guidelines."

It was an intriguing use of language. "Walking-around money," as points out, is also known as "street money." It's what Democratic city political machines used to hand out to entice voters -- think black voters -- to the polls. Issa’s inference was that the massive bailout for banks, by some fantastical Obamafied machination, had ended up being spread around city neighborhoods with “no guidelines.” Yet the FBI was unbothered.

Then things got worse. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was accused of dispatching Americans to their deaths in Benghazi. Years of hearings and Republican outrage resulted. Yet not one person was ever charged -- not even with a misdemeanor. The Republicans piled up mounds of accusations of malfeasance and negligence. Yet where was law enforcement?

Then there was the investigation into whether the Obama administration used the Internal Revenue Service to harass conservative groups. Using the IRS for partisan purposes is an unambiguous crime. "My question isn’t about who’s going to resign," House Speaker John Boehner bellowed in 2013, "my question is who’s going to jail over this scandal?"

The answer, again, was no one. No charges were filed. The Fast and Furious scandal that Republicans spent months and millions of dollars detailing for the public yielded similar results.

To consumers of legitimate news, and to reporters, politicos and others paid to pay attention, there was no mystery. The Obama administration was unusually ethical (or seemed so in the absence of any legitimate oversight by Republicans). The administration's Republican accusers were pushing one phony scandal after another.

But for believers of Republican rhetoric, and unskeptical consumers of Fox News, the Obama administration was a crime syndicate that operated with impunity. "Lawless," you may recall, was one of Republicans' most common epithets for Obama.

For nearly a decade, Republican politicians and conservative media have, wittingly or not, been priming conservatives for an assault on the law-enforcement agencies that allowed Obama's "lawless" behavior.

Trump's war on law enforcement is not a break from GOP practice. It's a culmination of it. The faux scandals -- remember the horror of Obama administration "czars”? -- promoted by the Republicans were complemented by even seedier conspiracies promulgated by conservative websites. (Obama's mother-in-law was paid a government pension to look after the Obama children, a reader once informed me. )

This is the swamp that Trump wishes to drain -- not the swamp of corruption but the one of evidence and rules, laws and protocols, the swamp of law-enforcement bureaucracies that resolutely decline to "lock her up" based on mob rage. 

There’s no way to square Republican allegations of scandal with law-enforcement inaction. Either Republicans have been misleading the public or law enforcement is crooked. Trump's need to discredit the Russia investigation has heightened the existing contradictions. But they were already glaring.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.