Two journalists — one on CNN, one on Fox — stumped Mike Pence and Kellyanne Conway with the same basic question: How can Trump justify opening a federal investigation into an anonymous op-ed writer who is accused of no crimes?
Trump has been desperate to find and punish an anonymous senior administration official who penned a scathing opinion article about him — so desperate that he literally wants to make a federal case of it by calling on the Department of Justice to investigate the author's identity.
But when two of Trump's right-hand people tried to defend this plainly authoritarian move on Sunday, two prominent journalists — one on CNN, and one on Fox News — refused to let them get away with it.
In separate interviews on separate networks, Vice President Mike Pence and White House counselor Kellyanne Conway were grilled on the same subject: What crime did the op-ed writer commit that would justify opening a federal investigation?
Neither Pence nor Conway could come up with a straight answer — and instead, both offered chilling defenses of Trump's zeal for political persecution.
Interviewing Pence on "Fox News Sunday," host Chris Wallace pushed back hard against Trump's desire to sic the Justice Department on his anonymous critic.
"What are the national security grounds to investigate that article? What law did the writer break?" Wallace asked.
"Well, we'll — we'll find out if there was criminal activity involved," Pence stammered.
"So what criminal activity?" Wallace interrupted. "There was no classified information."
Pence struggled again to answer, vaguely citing Trump's "concern" that the writer "may have responsibilities in the area of national security."
Then Wallace pointed out, for the third time, that the official had broken no laws by criticizing Trump in an op-ed.
"Political disloyalty, it's certainly troubling. It's not illegal," Wallace said.
Similarly, on Sunday morning's edition of CNN's "State of the Union," host Jake Tapper pressed Conway to explain what possible rationale Trump could have to call for an investigation.
"There can be investigation if there is criminal activity," Conway said.
"There doesn't appear to be any," Tapper interrupted.
"I don't think you know that," Conway replied.
"What would the criminal activity be?" Tapper asked. "There was nothing criminal, there's nothing — there are no national secrets."
Then Conway tried to argue that it doesn't matter whether the administration has evidence of a crime. The mere act of criticizing Trump in print, she suggested, is suspicious enough that the feds should go fishing for some other crime this person may or may not have committed.
"Anybody who would do this, you don't know what else they're saying," Conway said.
Tapper was taken aback by this reply.
"But that's not how investigations are done," he pointed out. "You don't look at somebody's behavior and say, 'If somebody did this, which is not illegal, maybe he or she also did something illegal.'"
The op-ed piece in question, authored by an anonymous senior Trump administration official who claims to be "part of the resistance" inside the administration, reveals that "many of the senior officials in [Trump’s] own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations."
Trump has suggested on Twitter that the anonymous official is a threat to national security, and told reporters on Friday that Attorney General Jeff Sessions should investigate the author's identity.
But the official's description tracked closely with excerpts from a bombshell new Bob Woodward book, which features stories of senior Trump aides ignoring or subverting Trump’s orders to, among other things, assassinate Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. Former senior economic adviser Gary Cohn is also said to have twice stolen documents to prevent Trump from making disastrous trade moves.
And just a few weeks ago, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) bragged that he has privately helped stop Trump from creating "tragedy" — yet in public, he has consistently refused to either criticize Trump or act to stop him.
As Wallace and Tapper each pointed out, there is absolutely no reason to believe the author of this piece committed a crime.
The one offense the author is guilty of? Helping to prop up the Trump regime — just like Pence and Conway, not to mention almost every other elected Republican.
The bind that Pence and Conway find themselves in is a familiar one to Trump loyalists and sycophants, because they are defending something that is indefensible.
Given Trump's consistently abhorrent behavior in public during his presidency, Americans have every reason to believe the disturbing revelations about how he acts in private.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.