WASHINGTON — The president has the greatest self-pity. The best!
“No politician in history, and I say this with great surety, has been treated worse or more unfairly,” Donald Trump said this week as he heard the special prosecutor’s footsteps.
Thus did our assured head of state, equal parts narcissistic and uninformed, rank his treatment worse than that of Benito Mussolini (executed corpse beaten and hung upside down in public square), Oliver Cromwell (body disinterred, drawn and quartered, hanged and head hung on spike), Leon Trotsky (exiled and killed with icepick to the skull), and the headless Louis XVI, Mary Queen of Scots and Charles I.
Trump hasn’t been treated badly. He has been treated exactly as he deserved, a reaction commensurate with the action. He took on the institution of a free press — and it fought back. Trump came to office after intimidating publishers, barring journalists from covering him and threatening to rewrite press laws, and he has sought to discredit the “fake news” media at every chance. Instead, he wound up inspiring a new golden age in American journalism.
Trump provoked the extraordinary work of reporters who blew wide open the Russia election scandal, the contacts between Russia and top Trump officials, and interference by Trump in the FBI investigation. This week’s appointment of a special prosecutor is a direct result of their work.
I suspect they won’t be getting Presidential Medals of Freedom anytime soon, so let’s celebrate some of them here. At The Washington Post: Adam Entous, Greg Miller, Ellen Nakashima, Matt Zapotosky, Devlin Barrett, Sari Horwitz, Greg Jaffe and Julie Tate, along with columnist David Ignatius. At the New York Times: Michael Schmidt, Matthew Rosenberg, Adam Goldman, Matt Apuzzo and Scott Shane. The two rivals, combined, have produced one breathtaking scoop after another, including:
The Post’s Feb. 9 report that national security adviser Michael Flynn, contrary to the Trump administration’s claims, talked with the Russian ambassador about U.S. sanctions before Trump took office. Flynn was out soon thereafter.
The Post’s March 1 report that Jeff Sessions also spoke with the Russian ambassador but did not disclose the contacts when asked about possible contacts during his confirmation as attorney general. He was forced to recuse himself from the Russia investigation.
The Post’s March 28 report that the Trump administration tried to block former acting attorney general Sally Yates from testifying on the Trump campaign’s possible Russia ties. She later testified about the White House’s failure to act on warnings about Flynn.
The Times’s March 30 report that two White House officials helped provide Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, with intelligence that Nunes made public. Nunes was forced to recuse himself from the committee’s probe.
The Post’s report this week that Trump shared highly classified intelligence with Russian officials, jeopardizing the cooperation of allies.
And the final blow: The Times’s report this week that Trump asked FBI Director James B. Comey to shut down the FBI’s Flynn investigation, according to a contemporaneous memo Comey wrote before Trump fired him.
There were many more, and other outlets have flourished, too. On one day this week, the United States awoke to a report from Reuters that the Trump campaign had at least 18 undisclosed contacts with Russians; a McClatchy report that Flynn, who had been paid as a Turkish representative, stopped a military plan that Turkey opposed; a Times report that the Trump team knew Flynn was under investigation before he started work at the White House; and a Post report that the House majority leader told colleagues last year that he thought Russian President Vladimir Putin was paying Trump.
This journalistic triumph, made possible by nameless government officials who risked their jobs and their freedom to get the truth out, is all the more satisfying because it came as a corrective after one of the sorriest episodes in modern journalism: the uncritical, unfiltered and unending coverage of Trump — particularly by cable news — that propelled him to the Republican nomination and onward to the presidency.
It’s a great relief to have special prosecutor Robert S. Mueller III now keeping his eyes on the executive — a regent, if you will, to protect against future abuses. This doesn’t mean Trump won’t nuke Denmark tomorrow. But those racked by anxiety for the past four months can exhale: Grown-ups within the government have restored some order.
Trump may feel as if he’s been drawn and quartered, but what he’s experienced is the power of a free press in a free country. That is entirely fair, and fitting.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group