The FBI executed lawful search warrants at the office, home, and hotel room of Michael D. Cohen, the personal attorney for Donald Trump, on Monday. Even Cohen himself said the FBI special agents were professional and respectful in the execution of these search warrants. Unable to help himself, Trump asserted by way of an impromptu rant that the FBI broke into his lawyer’s office and characterized the FBI’s lawful actions as an attack on our country.
The mood at the White House was described by insiders as dark, with a definite uptick in talk of firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller, along with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is supervising the special counsel. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is always on the hook for correctly recusing himself in matters before the special counsel.
The FBI was looking for records concerning the pre-election payoff made by Cohen to Stormy Daniels, who needs no introduction, along with records in other matters. The probable cause standard was met with Department of Justice attorneys signing off and the required judicial review completed. The Cohen matter is being handled by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, not Special Counsel Mueller, who referred the matter to the Southern District.
Yet the enraged Trump has Mueller in his sights for firing. As usual, our reality TV–minded occupant of the Oval Office wants to frame the dire legal situation he finds himself in as a “mano a mano” battle between himself and Mueller — a battle that simplifies the issues and entertains his base. Of course, in this zero-sum winner-take-all clash created by Trump, he will prevail with his battle cry of “witch hunt,” and his base will see him as the victorious fearless autocrat who will hand them an America made great again by trampling the rule of law.
Many times during the 24/7 news cycle we hear how we are in uncharted territory with our incompetent, unbalanced narcissist of a president. We certainly are, because never in the history of our country has the rule of law been in such jeopardy. This isn’t a battle between two men. It is a fight to preserve the rule of law and the United States of America. We will not be made great again; we will be destroyed if Trump succeeds.
Trump also finds himself in uncharted territory. He has lived his life in the bubble of Trump World, where men and women are bought and sold with money and power. Everyone in Trump World, like Donald Trump, sees people only as winners and losers, and one must be a winner at all costs. Money and power are what makes a winner, and in this world Donald J. Trump must be the biggest winner of all. Trump does not understand that the FBI and the Department of Justice are motivated by doing good and the belief that the rule of law is paramount above any individual, including him.
Trump is up against a team of talented attorneys and investigators he cannot comprehend. All his raving, ranting, tweeting, and threatening cannot stop them as they proceed relentlessly to find the truth about collusion with Russia, obstruction of justice, and the violation of campaign finance laws. Mueller leads them now, but Paul Manafort has been indicted in the District of Columbia and the Eastern District of Virginia. The Cohen matter is now in the Southern District of New York. All will proceed no matter what Trump does about Mueller.
Fifty years ago, it seemed as if our republic was being torn apart. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated as they both attempted to bring a fractured nation together. Riots, civil unrest, and rapid cultural change threatened to further divide the nation. The rule of law held fast though, and our country came through.
Watergate began June 17, 1972, with the break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters and ended August 9, 1974, when Richard M. Nixon resigned the presidency after losing the support of congressional Republicans. Watergate seemed at the time to be the ultimate test of the rule of law in America. However, Nixon respected the rule of law and stepped down.
Donald Trump appears willing to tear the rule of law apart at the seams to protect himself. Congressional Republicans are derelict in their constitutional duties to defend are institutions and are inexplicably cowed by the belligerent president. The FBI and the DOJ made a bold and brave move in the defense of the rule of law through the execution of the Cohen search warrants, and they are now at Trump’s door. They deserve our support. For those of us with more years behind us than in front of us, the preservation of the rule of law is the most important thing we can do for generations who follow us. For those of us with more years ahead of us than behind us, the defense of the rule of law is also imperative, since another Trump — one less stupid and more competent — could be waiting in the wings.
SUSAN SURFTONE is a musician who previously served as an FBI agent. Her latest EP is Making Waves Again.