Opinion: Trump shrugs off constitutional shackles

Robert Mueller and Donald Trump
Robert Mueller and Donald Trump

In an interview this week with the Daily Caller, President Trump was asked who he might nominate to replace Jeff Sessions as attorney general. Trump didn’t answer, instead using the question to laud acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker as “a very respected man.”

Whitaker is not a very respected man. He spouts bizarre legal theories, he has careened from one failure to another in his professional and business career, and he served on the board of directors of a scam company in Florida now under criminal investigation for fraud. Even in a GOP-controlled Senate, he could not be confirmed to head the Department of Justice.

But it’s what Trump said next in that interview that tells us everything:

"I knew (Whitaker) only as he pertained, you know, as he was (chief of staff) with Jeff Sessions. And, um, you know, look, as far as I'm concerned this is an investigation that should have never been brought … . It's an illegal investigation."

To that point in the interview, nobody had said a single word about Robert Mueller or his investigation. It was Trump who brought it up; it was Trump who directly, unequivocally linked his firing of Sessions and his appointment of Whitaker to his deep desire to stop the Mueller probe. It was practically a confession.

And if Trump impugns himself like this to friendly reporters for a conservative outlet, I can only imagine what he might say under examination from federal prosecutors.

In fact, the very next day, Trump took to Twitter to launch a barrage against Mueller, claiming that the investigation is “a total mess,” that they “have gone absolutely nuts,” that “they are a disgrace to this nation” and that “they won’t even look at all the bad acts and crimes on the other side.”

There is no public indication of disarray in the Mueller investigation, which continues to show every sign of being a highly professional, disciplined operation. If anything, Trump’s hyperbolic tweets work best as a description of his own White House. They also communicate Trump’s frustration that he has not yet been able to seize control of the Justice Department and turn it into a full-fledged tool of his own paranoia, prosecuting his enemies while protecting those who support him. But he clearly hasn’t given up the effort.

The same can be said about his efforts to control the media and dictate what they can and cannot say about him. In court this week, Trump lawyers tried to defend the decision to strip CNN reporter Jim Acosta of his White House press credentials. Tellingly, they had to acknowledge in court that they are no longer claiming that Acosta deserved banishment because he had “laid hands” on a White House staffer. He did not, and lawyers didn’t dare press that lie before a judge when clear video evidence contradicted them.

Instead, they argued that as president, Trump can ban any reporter he pleases from covering the White House, for any reason or for no reason. And not just anybody, but everybody, and not just from the White House, but from any federal facility.

“If the president wants to exclude all reporters from the White House grounds, he has the authority to do that,” lawyers told the judge. “There doesn’t need to be a reason because there’s no First Amendment protection and the president has broad discretion.”

That’s the America that Trump wants to create, the America that would be “great again.” It’s an America in which the checks and balances on his power have been dismantled, an America totally at odds with our history and traditions.

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