Not long ago, the standoff now consuming Washington would have been unthinkable. The Trump White House and Justice Department are sharply at odds over releasing a memo prepared by Representative Devin Nunes, alleging misconduct by the FBI and Justice Department. The president seems poised to approve the release of the document in order to seek his own vindication. The House Intelligence Committee is engaged in an increasingly bitter civil war. And Republicans and Democrats alike are questioning the integrity of federal law enforcement.
Most remarkable of all is the all-out assault by Trump and his allies on the independence of the Department of Justice and the FBI. On Tuesday, House Speaker Paul Ryan joined the chorus of critics calling for the release of the Nunes memo. “Let it all out, get it all out there. Cleanse the organization,” he told Fox News.
This crisis may have arrived suddenly, but the conditions that allow for this moment have been building for some time. While there’s great concern about Donald Trump destroying longstanding norms, this is the latest example of how the Trump presidency has hastened the demolition of norms that began eroding long ago.
Consider the Nunes memo. Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, prepared the memo along with staffers. The four-page document reportedly suggests that DOJ and FBI officials relied upon information from Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence official who investigated Trump on the Democratic Party’s dime, in applying for a warrant to surveil Carter Page, a former Trump foreign-policy adviser. The committee voted along party lines Monday to release the memo to the public, but the White House must first review it and sign off.