By now President Trump’s trashing of his own attorney general is old news (but not, unfortunately, fake news). But in his latest Twitter tirade against Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions, Trump has inflicted some not-so-collateral damage on another official.
Sessions’ original sin in Trump’s eyes was his decision — required, he said, by Justice Department ethics policies — to recuse himself from matters connected to the 2016 campaign in which he served as a Trump advisor. That meant the investigation of Russian meddling in the election fell to Deputy Atty. Gen. Rod Rosenstein, and it was Rosenstein who appointed special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. (Cue cries of “WITCH HUNT!”)
Sessions compounded his betrayal in Trump’s eyes by recently announcing that he would entrust to Michael Horowitz, the Justice Department’s inspector general, a potential investigation of whether the rules were followed in the surveillance of former Trump campaign advisor and man-about-Moscow Carter Page.
A review by the inspector general would look at whether the Justice Department and the FBI were forthcoming with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in seeking an order to monitor Page’s communications. The allegation that the application for the order was tainted by partisan bias is the questionable premise of the so-called Nunes memo prepared by Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee. (Trump weirdly claimed that the memo “totally vindicates” him.)
The idea of an inspector general investigation has been questioned by Rep. Adam B. Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, another frequent Trump target. One might assume that means Trump would welcome the inquiry.
Not at all. On Wednesday Trump tweeted: “Why is A.G. Jeff Sessions asking the Inspector General to investigate potentially massive FISA abuse. Will take forever, has no prosecutorial power and already late with reports on Comey etc. Isn’t the I.G. an Obama guy? Why not use Justice Department lawyers? DISGRACEFUL!”
Sessions, for once, struck back. “We have initiated the appropriate process that will ensure complaints against this department will be fully and fairly acted upon if necessary,” he said in a statement. “As long as I am the attorney general, I will continue to discharge my duties with integrity and honor, and this department will continue to do its work in a fair and impartial manner according to the law and Constitution.”
Good for Sessions, but he wasn’t the only victim of Trump’s latest Twitter tirade. Trump also besmirched Horowitz, the respected Justice Department lawyer the president dismissed as an “Obama guy.”
True, Horowitz was appointed to his current position by Barack Obama, but he is widely respected by Republicans. During the Obama administration he clashed with the Justice Department over the inspector general’s ability to have access to records necessary for him to play his watchdog role. As the Trump-friendly Wall Street Journal editorial page noted, he is also the author of a scathing report about the Obama Justice Department’s handling of the bungled “Fast and Furious” operation.
Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said that Horowitz “has been fair, fact-centric, and appropriately confidential with his work,” and added, “I have complete confidence in him.”
Trump owes Horowitz an abject apology. But the inspector general will have to get in line.