Tuesday, May 22, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He hid behind the President of South Korea to avoid answering a question about his own Justice Department.

The main agenda at today's joint press appearance with President Moon Jae-in of South Korea was giving Trump a chance to belatedly affect indifference about the prospect of a failed summit meeting with North Korea. (In an attempt to gin up political support back home, Trump had already made major concessions to North Korea: not only did he dignify the Kim regime by agreeing to a peer-to-peer summit meeting, he called Kim Jong-un, the perpetrator of some of the world's worst human rights crimes, "very honorable." Trump also cancelled joint military exercises with South Korea after North Korea demanded it.) But American reporters also asked questions about Trump's latest domestic political firestorm, which led to this exchange:
Q: Mr. President, do you have confidence in Rod Rosenstein? 
PRESIDENT TRUMP: What’s your next question, please? 
Q: I’m a reporter from — 
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Excuse me, I have the President of South Korea here, okay? 
Q: Yes, I have a question on — 
PRESIDENT TRUMP: He doesn’t want to hear these questions, if you don’t mind.
Trump has made no secret of the fact that he believes that the Department of Justice's job is to personally protect the president, politically and criminally. (In fact, even the President of the United States is subject to the law, although Trump is not the first president to openly claim otherwise.) By that logic, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Robert Mueller as a special counsel to investigate Russia's sabotage of the 2016 elections, is a traitor--although not one Trump can easily fire. Lately, though, Trump seems to have concluded that the Russia investigation is more dangerous to him than any political fallout from interfering with it.

Rosenstein, for his part, appears to be slow-walking Trump's demand that the FBI itself be recast as the villain in the Trump-Russia story, which may explain why Trump was unable to even pretend to answer the question.

Who cares?

  • Presidents are subject to the rule of law whether they like it or not.
  • It's bad--and before Trump, pretty much unheard of--for presidents to repeatedly defame their own government.
  • Avoiding a question doesn't solve the problem the question was about.