Friday, November 3, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He ranted that he wasn't allowed to personally direct federal prosecutions or dictate criminal sentences.

Responding this afternoon to the relatively lenient sentencing of Bowe Bergdahl, who deserted from his post in Afghanistan and was captured by the Taliban, Trump tweeted that "[t]he decision on Sergeant Bergdahl is a complete and total disgrace to our Country and to our Military." Bergdahl received a reduction in rank, a fine, and a dishonorable discharge, but was not sentenced to jail time.

Col. Jeffrey Nance, the military judge who imposed the sentence, said last week that Trump's apparent efforts to influence the verdict would be a mitigating factor. In other words, Bergdahl appears to have escaped prison time precisely because Trump, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, tried to weigh in on an independent judicial proceeding. 

Trump seems unable or unwilling to accept that he cannot use the federal judicial system to directly attack his chosen political targets. He declared himself "very frustrated" by that limitation on a radio interview last night. This morning, he decided to ignore it altogether, once again publicly demanding that the Justice Department and FBI turn their sights on a list of Democratic politicians. He also once again mused about the possibility of firing his own attorney general, Jefferson Sessions, a move which would allow him in turn to engineer the firing of the prosecutor he is most worried about--special counsel Robert Mueller.

Why does this matter?

  • Using the trappings of law to punish political opponents is what authoritarians do.
  • A president who is "very frustrated" that he can't use the courts as political weapons isn't fit to be president.
  • It's bad if the president cannot control his outbursts even when it works against his own interests.
  • In the United States, judges, not presidents, determine criminal punishments.