Tackling a question
Perhaps William Barr has inadvertently figured out a path for Donald Trump to explain his behavior to the public. In comments, Barr criticized the “praetorians” among member of the press and security services who see their roles as being self-appointed protectors of the republic. Barr’s use of the praetorian term intrigued me because I have used that term myself to characterize a portion of Trump’s opposition.
What Barr is referring to is that some anti-Trumpers are trying to criminalize a policy disagreement. Indeed, their opposition to Trump was linked to his campaign ties to the Russian Federation. The very fact that Trump wanted to bring Vladimir Putin in from the cold was enough to convince some in the CIA and FBI to actively seek a quick termination of his presidency. So because of some clumsy back-channel contacts by Trump’s representatives and the unwillingness by the president to make them known –the charge of obstruction of justice arose as a result.
That it was a policy debate was obscured and the role of security agencies in making any alternatives to existing approaches well nye criminal was also hidden. Watergate had a similar dimension where an attempt to plug “leaks” coming from the White House expanded out of control. But, another aspect was the attempts by the CIA and even the Joint Chiefs of Staff to stifle Henry Kissinger’s efforts at detente with the Soviet Union and People’s Republic of China. In 1971, the Joint Chiefs instructed a Naval officer to filch materials from Kissinger’s packet — much of it concerned with opening a door to China.
This was not an effort to save the republic from a prodigious scheme, but to sabotage policy. When the desire to protect the secrecy of the White House gave too much in the break in at the Watergate a result. Richard Nixon began to dig a hole he could not get out of. But the roots were not criminal but because the “praetorians” desired to scuttle the initiatives toward Moscow and Beijing.
Which leads us back to Barr’s comments. He is spot on to identify some officials as seeing themselves as swords covering a throne. If emperors require removal these guardians feel no compunction at replacing the head of state.
Indeed, impeachment as a tool has increased since the 1970s. Until Richard Nixon was threatened by a trial which he avoided by resigning, it was over 100 hears after the impeachment of Andrew Johnson.
In 1987, Ronald Reagan was threatened by an investigation over a policy decision — the Iran-Contra affair. Bill Clinton was impeached for a personal offense and then exonerated by the Senate. Trump’s problem concerns some change he would like to make in foreign policy.
Barr has shown Trump the way to tackle a political question using political methods.
But, it is disturbing that agencies can regard themselves as a search committee for what is an elected office.
Trump needs to blow the whistle loudly and frequently on these officials who arrogantly seek to disrupt the republic all the while believing they are serving the best interest of the United States.