Barack Obama is turning into the reverse Oracle of Delphi. He sometimes gets it right for the wrong reasons.
Sensing the populist mood in 2008, he intoned about people “who get bitter, they cling to guns or religion.” Missed in translation was that these “people” thought elites like him were the ones who had separated culturally and politically from mainstream Americans.
Now he says the Justice Department’s decision to drop the case against Mike Flynn because of multiple prosecutorial violations of rules protecting defendants’ rights means “the rule of law is at risk.” Right subject, wrong lecture.
Herewith a tutorial. Back in the 1980s, writers for the Journal’s editorial page coined the phrase “inside the Beltway” to describe the moatlike highway around the nation’s capital, whose inhabitants had become politically and psychologically isolated from the rest of the country.
Many Americans then came to believe presidential elections were the one way they could send the Beltway a message. In 2016, we had an Earth-to-Beltway election, whose message was about more than Donald Trump.
Next year or 4½ years from now, Mr. Trump’s presidency will pass into history. Left behind, though, will be a permanent Washington establishment in which many Americans today have no trust. None.
In early 2017, the Flynn case wandered in and out of the news, but it always had a bad odor. What looked like a low-grade mistake by Mr. Flynn got built into a high-stakes prosecution, with special counsel Robert Mueller’s lawyers pressuring him with family and financial ruin unless he took a plea and helped them fry bigger fish in a Beltway-wide project—Donald Trump and Russian collusion.
Last week, after U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Jensen examined the Flynn record at the request of Attorney General William Barr, the Justice Department concluded that the abuse of Mr. Flynn’s rights was so egregious that it dropped the case.
What are Americans supposed to conclude when this event comes in the wake of Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s embarrassing report of how senior officials at the FBI and Justice used foreign intelligence warrants to crush Carter Page, a Trump campaign functionary?
Before that, the public dutifully read endless newspaper column inches about the pursuit by James Comey’s FBI of the manifestly preposterous Steele dossier (if this wasn’t a conspiracy theory, the phrase has no meaning), followed by Mr. Mueller’s team of Beltway lawyers ransacking lives to output a thick volume of unproven collusion suspicions, then handing it off to Adam Schiff’s House Intelligence Committee for more iterations of dragnet subpoenas, culminating in the wasted weeks of a Senate impeachment trial.
It has been quite a display of raw institutional firepower by the Beltway’s best and brightest. One may ask: What didn’t they know about the rule of law, and when did they stop knowing it? They became what they thought Mr. Trump was—subverters of the American system.
Brains snapped everywhere when Trump the Awful became the Republican Party’s presidential nominee. But Trump-driven derangement isn’t sufficient explanation for what happened. The deeper reason for these excesses is that the people who administer the American system lost faith in the American system. So they debauched the institutions they were charged with protecting for all of us.
The system they so distrusted has held. Lawsuits were filed against Mr. Trump’s policy initiatives, and courts at every federal level wrestled with competing interpretations of the law. Midterm elections returned political control to Democrats in the House and multiple governorships.
For three years the economy and employment boomed, for which Mr. Trump rightly took credit. Then the coronavirus pandemic put his leadership skills to a severe test, and again the American people will pass judgment on that this fall.
After all this, what’s striking is the lack of remorse across the Washington establishment. Unapologetic arrogance on this scale suggests that unmaskings, intelligence abuses and leaks are likely to return as off-the-books weapons against individuals disliked by the permanent bureaucracies. In a telling comment on Justice’s dismissal of the Flynn case, Mr. Comey tweeted: “Career people: please stay because America needs you.” Comeyist careerism was the problem.
Attorney General Barr—now being carpet-bombed by the Beltway—deserves credit and support for pushing back against the idea that institutions with such enormous investigative and prosecutorial power can become instruments of not much more than political self-righteousness. Whether Mr. Barr’s pushback is enough to clean up the place is another matter.
U.S. Attorney John Durham’s investigation of the origins of these events, while the Obama administration was still in office, changed last October from an administrative review to a criminal inquiry. Indictments and prosecutions would be a crude tool to right this ship, but maybe that’s what it takes.
As to the inconsolable haters of the 45th president: Keep hating if you want. That’s anyone’s right. But think about rejoining the system that protected the individual rights of every American before this presidency and will do so after he’s gone.
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