Saturday, August 26, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He claimed, via his press secretary, that it was "only natural" for him to have tried to interfere in the prosecution of Joe Arpaio.

The Washington Post reported today that Trump asked Attorney General Jefferson Sessions whether the Justice Department could drop its criminal contempt prosecution of Joe Arpaio, a key political ally. According to three separate sources, Sessions responded that it was inappropriate for Trump to intervene in this way. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended Trump's attempt to intervene, saying “It’s only natural the president would have a discussion with administration lawyers about legal matters. This case would be no different.”

But in fact, a president seeking the dismissal of criminal charges against a specific person--let alone a political ally--is highly "unnatural" because of the potential for corruption and the undermining of the rule of law such a discussion would present. Trump's pardon--essentially doing after the fact what the Justice Department warned him off of before--presents similar problems.

Trump has struggled to understand the concept that the president cannot subordinate the Justice Department to his political aims. His attempt to let Arpaio off the hook echoes his request to then-FBI Director James Comey to end the FBI's investigation of Michael Flynn: "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go." 

Why should I care about this?