This Is a Constitutional Crisis

Last night, Rep. Adam Schiff, the highest-ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, disclosed that Democrats had discovered the Republican Chair of the Committee, Rep. Devin Nunes, had sent to the White House an altered version of his reckless memo alleging bias at the FBI and Justice Department. Because the president has to decide whether the document will be publicly released, Nunes sending a different memo is a big deal.

In his letter to Nunes, Schiff wrote:
After reviewing both versions, it is clear that the Majority made material changes to the version it sent to the White House, which Committee Members were never apprised of, never had the opportunity to review, and never approved.

This is deeply troubling, because it means that the Committee Majority transmitted to the White House an altered version of its classified document that is materially different than the version on which the Committee voted. The White House has therefore been reviewing a document since Monday night that the Committee never approved for public release.
Not only did Nunes alter the memo before sending it to the White House; he did so after explicitly assuring Democratic Rep. Jim Himes that he would not alter it.

Schiff wrote in an op-ed for the Washington Post that Nunes' memo "crosses a dangerous line." FBI Director Christopher Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein reportedly met with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly on Monday to make "a last-ditch plea" and warn about "the dangers of publicly releasing" the memo. The Department of Justice has also warned House Republicans against releasing the memo. And the FBI issued a formal statement yesterday expressing "grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo's accuracy."

To be blunt: The minority party of the legislative branch and the intelligence community are essentially now in open war with the legislative branch majority and the executive branch.

And it is all because the president and his party are trying to stop an investigation into the subversion of our democratic process by a foreign adversary.

This is a constitutional crisis. It is not hyperbole to say that the very future of the republic is at stake.

Detailing what has led us to this point, under the troubling but accurate headline "Trump's Saturday Night Massacre Is Happening Right Before Our Eyes," Norm Eisen, Caroline Fredrickson, and Noah Bookbinder at Politico write: "All this has built steadily toward a crisis for American democracy — a Saturday Night Massacre in slow motion."

Two days ago, G. Willow Wilson published an important thread on Twitter, in which she noted that living in a dictatorship doesn't suddenly, in a single moment, feel different than what life felt like previously. "It's a mistake to think a dictatorship feels intrinsically different on a day-to-day basis than a democracy does," she wrote. "I've lived in one dictatorship and visited several others — there are still movies and work and school and shopping and memes and holidays."

A dictatorship often comes in steps, with slow erosions of public institutions, the rule of law, a free press, democratic processes, and the feeling of safety in exercising rights that still ostensibly exist.

"So if you're waiting for the grand moment when the scales tip and we are no longer a functioning democracy, you needn't bother," Wilson continued. "It'll be much more subtle than that. It'll be more of the president ignoring laws passed by congress. It'll be more demonizing of the press."

It will be — it is — the President of the United States deciding to make public a mendacious memo in direct contravention of all sage counsel and no matter the cost, because it's politically expedient for him to do so and because he refuses to be bound by the trust we have imparted in the office of the presidency and its holder, to prioritize what's best for the country over what's best for himself.

This crisis was inevitable, the moment that Donald Trump was allowed to step foot inside the Oval Office.

He did not have the nation's best interests at heart then, he does not now, and he never will.

And if his despicable party ever did, that moment has long since passed.

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