It is a familiar pattern. It has happened before. Around 10am on Memorial Day, my iPhone can be vibrating with email signals as I was driving one of my children and her friends. Soon they were coming in fast succession and then I knew: The President has tweeted out a quote. The two tweets were followed by a torrent of threats, insults, and profane suggestions involving physical acts that would have been challenging in my teens. In today’s rage-filled environment, the mere fact that Trump quotes you unleashes a tsunami of anger. It seems cathartic for people who cannot tolerate the slightest hint of agreement with Trump. The same is often true on the opposite end of the political spectrum if you challenge or question a position of Trump.
What is interesting is that people who seek out your email almost uniformly do not take the time to actually read your comments. Yet, what is most disturbing is not the endless cranks but the coverage by news sites that show the same lack of interest in the actual comments or even the tweets themselves.
President Trump tweeted two quotes from a morning interview that I gave on Fox News about the call for an investigation into allegations of FBI misconduct in the use of an informant targeting Trump officials. The interview also discussed critical comments made by former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, whom Trump fired last year.
“We now find out that the Obama Administration put the opposing campaigns presidential candidate, or his campaign, under investigation. That raises legitimate questions. I just find this really odd…this goes to the heart of our electoral system.” Jonathan Turley on
In the interview, I stated that there was a legitimate concern raised about the Obama Administration carrying out an investigation of the opposing party’s presidential campaign. I said that it is not clear that anything will come of the investigation but that the public deserves to see both the investigation of the Trump campaign and the investigation of the FBI completed. I was critical of both the efforts to derail the Russian investigation and the FBI investigation by people on both sides.
When asked about Yates, I agreed with her that Trump went about this in the wrong way.
However, I noted that I have been highly critical of her actions as acting Attorney General. I have previously discussed the ethical and professional problems surrounding Yates’ order for the Justice Department to stand down from defending the Travel Ban. As discussed in a column today in the Hill newspaper, Yates is hardly a compelling source for protecting the established lines of authority between the White House and the Justice Department.
The thrust of the discussion was Yates’ actions as Acting Attorney general: “She told an entire department to stand down and not to defend the president’s first immigration order. I said at the time that she was fired for good cause, I still believe that. I find her actions to be really quite unbelievable.”
My point is that, while Yates was complaining about the criticism of the Justice Department and FBI, her conduct has contributed to the allegations of a bias at the Justice Department against the Trump Administration: “I’m afraid that it’s a rather ironic statement because she is part of the concerns people have raised about bias in the Justice Department.”
Despite the clarity of these statements, the interview was soon twisted beyond recognition. One article proclaimed that the tweets were part of blaming Yates for “Spygate”:
The discussion of the interview focused on Yates’ actions as Attorney General in questioning whether she is credible in raising such issues of maintaining long-standing lines of authority. The tweets also clearly referred to her actions as Attorney General and, rather than relating them “Spygate”, referenced the concerns over bias at the Department. There was no blaming of Yates for Spygate.
I was also accused of repeatedly promoting “the phony theory that the Obama administration surveilled the Trump campaign ‘for political purposes.'” However, I have always stated that I have no expectations of any finding of wrongdoing in the FBI investigation. Instead, I have said that there is a legitimate concern that should be addressed with a full and independent report not only for the benefit of the public but the Justice Department itself. I believe that all of the these officials should give accounts as part of a comprehensive record from both Congress and the independent investigations by Mueller and the IG.
All of this because the President tweeted a couple of quotes. It is a reflection of the distemper that has taken over our public discourse. It is no longer possible to recognize that the President can have a legitimate concern or the value of resolving such questions in an investigation by career lawyers. There seems to be an ever shrinking space for good-faith discussions. To say anything deemed supportive of one side or another is deemed an act of duplicity or deceit. Whether it is MCNBC or CNN or Fox or countless websites, people look for echo-chambers that continually reinforce their bias.
Despite being the subject of such emails and calls from both liberals and conservatives for over a year, I am still astonished by how the most innocuous quote will trigger many readers who seem to have lower and lower tolerance for analysis that could be viewed in any way favorable to the other side. For example, last week the New York Times ran a story on the President’s call for the investigation into the informant. Peter Baker quoted me as saying:
Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, said that while the way Mr. Trump went about seeking an investigation was ‘clearly inappropriate,” the emerging facts merited an examination. ‘Where I depart from the critics is I think the president has a legitimate point here. The extent of this investigation directed against an opposition party’s presidential campaign is unprecedented, and it does raise legitimate questions.”
The response was again fast and furious. One of the least profane emails read “C’mon, Turley, cut the crap! So you’re a deep state guy now? Soon your kids will
be speaking Russian too” I am a “deep state guy” simply because I believe that there is a legitimate concern when an Administration uses national security powers to investigate officials in an presidential campaign of the opposing party. If George W. Bush’s Administration had investigated Obama figures through FISA, would the response from these people be the same? I doubt it.
My complaint is not with the angry messages. That is like complaining about the weather for commentators and columnists. Rather I am truly concerned about our chances as a nation to emerge from this environment with an semblance of unity. There is little chance that we can resolve our divisions in this increasing polarized environment. That is why it is so important that the public (or at least those still interested in the truth) to demand both investigations continue unimpeded and a full public disclosure made by the government.