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EDITORIAL: A president ordering up political investigations attacks rule of law

U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein | (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

When President Donald Trump calls a dog a cat, over and over again, a scary number of people start seeing a cat.

That’s the only good explanation for why an increasing number of right-wing Americans, according to a recent poll, are buying the paranoid argument that Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller is running a bogus investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties with Russia.

Because, you know, Hillary Clinton and the “deep state” are out to get the very best president we’ve ever had.

Now, in a ratcheting up of such nonsense, President Trump is moving ever so close to a full-blown assault on the rule of law, insisting that the Department of Justice investigate whether, under former President Barack Obama, the FBI or Justice Department spied on his campaign for political reasons.

EDITORIAL

Just as there is mounting evidence that the Mueller probe is entirely justified, there is zero evidence that the FBI deviated from standard procedure when it tapped an informant to probe the Russian ties of two Trump campaign officials.

For a sitting American president to order up a Justice Department investigation based on nothing but pure political self-interest is the stuff of lawless dictators — those fellows Trump admires so much. His game is to shut down legitimate investigations that threaten him and order up illegitimate investigations that he can sell to the gullible.

And so far it’s kind of working.

Republicans in the U.S. House have caved and given up on doing a serious investigation of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. A majority of Republican voters are now skeptical of Mueller’s investigation, according to a Quinnipiac University poll. And Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein rolled over on Sunday and asked the Justice Department’s inspector general to investigate Trump’s inappropriate claims.

That actually might have been a deft move on Rosenstein’s part, buying time and forestalling a constitutional crisis. An inspector general is not a prosecutor and cannot bring charges.

It is disturbing, all the same, that the president has successfully obtained an investigation on the basis of nothing.

However this turns out for Trump, his abuse of the presidential powers will do long-term damage to the credibility of our nation’s intelligence and law enforcement agencies. He is eroding the public’s trust in fundamental institutions.

Trump also is making it far less likely that we will ever reach a national consensus on what happened behind scenes during the 2016 election, regardless of what the facts show.

And a nation that can’t tell dogs from cats will have lost its way.

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