By Lena Williams
President Trump has repeatedly referred to the federal investigation into possible collusion between his campaign and Russia as a witch hunt. In a tweet posted on May 11, Trump dubbed the ongoing Russia probe as “the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!”
Trump has tried to undermine, derail, and stop the multiple investigations into the 2016 presidential election despite the unanimous conclusion of the intelligence community that Russia sought to influence the outcome of the race.
The president believes he is being persecuted by political adversaries and the media. He apparently believes the whole “Russia thing,” as he has called it, is tantamount to the notorious Salem witch trials that took place in 1692 and 1693. The trials resulted in the executions of 20 people, 14 of them women, and the imprisonment of hundreds based on the accusations of a group of teenage girls.
If you want to witness a real, 21st century witch hunt, you need look no further than the numerous leak investigations currently being conducted by the Justice Department.
Under the direction of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the DOJ has created a new counterintelligence unit to hunt down the sources of leaks that have plagued the Trump administration and bring criminal charges against the perpetrators.
Sessions has also opened a review of Justice Department rules governing when investigators can issue subpoenas related to the news media and leaks.
The department’s current rules require investigators to exhaust all other ways to obtain information they are seeking before examining reporters’ phone logs or subpoenaing journalists for notes or testimony that would help identify confidential sources, or face imprisonment.
“We respect the important role that the press plays and will give them respect, but it is not unlimited,” Sessions said during an Aug. 4 press conference. “They cannot place lives at risk with impunity.”
According to Sessions, the leaks undermine “the ability of the government to protect this country.” But make no mistake: he is doing the president’s bidding: If government officials can’t find the leakers, it will try to punish those who publish or broadcast the leaks.
The Trump administration seems to view the media as a kind of witches’ coven, spreading poisonous potions of misinformation to an unsuspecting public while hiding behind the First Amendment.
And yet the DOJ is hiding behind claims of executive privilege and threats to national security to go after the press. [I don’t recall the administration asserting any claims of executive privilege. I would delete the reference.]
Ironically, the president himself was the source of one of the biggest leaks to come out of the White House. On May 10, Trump revealed highly sensitive information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador during a meeting in the Oval Office about an ISIS terrorist threat. Trump’s disclosure was said to have jeopardized a critical Israeli intelligence source.
And on Aug. 8, when Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, denounced leaks of classified information in a Fox News interview, her boss seemed to confirm the information in a tweet.
The Fox story cited anonymous U.S. defense officials as saying that North Korea is not showing any evidence it plans to halt its missile tests. Trump appeared to confirm the authenticity of the report by retweeting the story, adding in a subsequent tweet: “After many years of failure, countries are coming together to finally address the dangers posed by North Korea. We must be tough & decisive!”
Trump wants to have it both ways. He reveals top secret information when it suits his purpose, but criminalizes others who leak material he deems damaging and those who publicize it.
He thinks it’s okay to ban immigrants from Muslim-majority countries because they could pose a threat to the security of the United States, but believes it is a miscarriage of justice for the special prosecutor to investigate his family, friends and political allies for possible wrongdoing.
Trump calls journalists “the enemy of the American people.” He seems to believe the media has bewitched members of his inner circle and the intelligence community to divulge information that may prove damaging or embarrassing to his administration. He and his Justice Department are determined to stop the revelations.
Sounds like a witch hunt to me.