WASHINGTON – To paraphrase English author Charles Dickens, we are on the brink of “the worst of times” in our national government.
Dickens wrote about France’s Reign of Terror in the 18th century when the regime was beheading its supposed enemies at will.
The FBI and the federal prosecution team in Manhattan – once headed by James Comey and Preet Bharara, respectively – have been decapitated by President Trump.
Last week, Trump gave a rambling and unlikely interview to one of Trump’s “enemies of the people,” the New York Times, in which he appeared to many to lay the groundwork for firing special counsel Robert Mueller III and the man who appointed Mueller to probe Comey’s firing and other things, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
Trump called Rosenstein a Democrat, saying he was from Baltimore.
Rosenstein is a Republican and is from Philadelphia.
In the same wild interview, Trump made grossly disrespectful comments about his attorney general, Jeff Sessions. Republican Sessions was first senator to endorse Trump’s bid for president. Trump said he would not have appointed Sessions attorney general had the president known Sessions would recuse himself from any decisions involving his Justice Department’s probe into possible 2016 Trump campaign links to Russia.
The president’s remarks were an open invitation to Sessions, his one-time close friend, to go home to Alabama.
Surprisingly, the first House Republican to endorse Trump in 2016, Rep. Chris Collins of Clarence, readily leaped to Sessions’ defense. Collins, a strong Trump loyalist, told TheHill.com: “I think Jeff Sessions has been and will continue to be an excellent attorney general. … I don’t expect Jeff Sessions to resign and I don’t want him to resign.”
For his part, Sessions released a weak statement in which he said he would continue running the Justice Department as long as “it is appropriate.” But how long will Sessions continue knowing everyone working for him sees the boss as red meat on the hook?
Some respected commentators, such as CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin, an attorney, think it is inevitable now that Trump will try to fire Mueller, defying a wide range of senior Republicans such as House Speaker Paul Ryan and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who have urged Trump to let Mueller’s investigation play out.
Is it chaos yet? With the sudden resignations Friday of White House press secretary Sean Spicer and Mark Corallo, the spokesman for the president’s private legal team, the White House is seeing turbulence not experienced since 1973-74 under President Richard Nixon during Watergate.
But today’s cultural situation bears little resemblance to Watergate.
Then, both houses were under strong Democratic Party dominance. Now the Senate and House are in Republican hands, although marginally in the Senate.
And the media environment is totally different today. During Watergate, whatever the Washington Post and New York Times said that undermined President Nixon went largely unchallenged by broadcast properties. No other newspapers carried the clout of the two national dailies.
Today, the mainline print media, which lean liberal and are highly skeptical of Trump, have economic issues of their own. And conservative talk radio and TV, driven by massive right-wing combines such as Sinclair Broadcasting, are forging a defensive wall around Trump.
But there are limits to everything, one would hope. And Chris Collins’ strong and spontaneous support of Sessions could be one sign of this.