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Washington Monthly | Byron York Makes a Weak Case for Presidential Harassment

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In his post at the Washington Examiner, Byron York has taken it upon himself to become the thinking man’s defender of Donald Trump on anything related to the Russia probe. During Trump’s first two years in office, there was unmistakable synchronicity between the storylines that York developed and the talking points adopted by congressional Republicans, especially in the House where Rep. Devin Nunes used his post as chairman of the Intelligence Committee to run interference for the president. Mr. York generally doesn’t make things up out of whole cloth, however, and instead carefully picks and chooses which facts to emphasize or ignore.

As the president’s problems have expanded to include massive scrutiny of criminal behavior that is unrelated to Russia or specific to the 2016 campaign, York is adapting. On Friday, he borrowed the president’s term “presidential harassment” to describe all the probes Trump is now facing. His basic thesis is that no previous president has come under a similar assault.

We can of course call to mind the Whitewater saga that dogged President Clinton and somehow morphed into an investigation of his marital fidelity. But it’s true that Trump is under siege from all corners, and this is indeed unprecedented. The real tell in York’s piece comes at the end. After going through all the inquiries, from Mueller to the SDNY to the district attorneys of Maryland, DC, and Manhattan, York is willing to concede that the Democrats might have an argument that it’s not a campaign of harassment but a response to rampant criminality. But then he just says that this is not the case, and this is all being done out of pure petulance.

The point is, the scrutiny directed at the president from all sides, not oversight of his administration or even investigations into his election, so far exceeds anything in the past that it could well qualify as presidential harassment.

Democrats would no doubt respond that Trump is singularly corrupt, or that he brought it all on himself. He did not. What has happened is that Democrats, in Congress and in some key blue states, saw investigation as a way to weaken a president they never thought would be elected and want to ensure is not re-elected in 2020. And Trump, with the most extensive business history ever brought to the presidency, presented a lot of avenues of investigation. When he complains about harassment, he has a legitimate case to make.

Those three words “he did not” don’t actually do any logical work for York’s argument. The Democrats say that Trump brought these investigations on himself and that they are legitimate. Byron York says that the president did not bring these investigations on himself and they are not legitimate. The problem is, nowhere in the piece does York make any case for why he’s right and the Democrats are wrong.

But the bigger thing that’s revealed is that York simply doesn’t care whether or not the president committed crimes. He doesn’t care about campaign finance violations involving bank and wire fraud, or insurance fraud, or the dangling of pardons to protect himself and other forms of obstruction of justice. He doesn’t care about fraudulent misuse of charities or criminal misuse of inaugural money or seeming violations of the Emoluments Clause in the Constitution. These may all be accurate accusations, but for York they are only being investigated to weaken the president. All he has to say about them is that the president “present[s] a lot of avenues of investigation.”

If the president is a crook, it’s hard to see how he hasn’t brought scrutiny on himself. You can’t just say that “he did not.”



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