Saturday, June 2, 2018

What did Donald Trump do today?

He confirmed that his official legal position is that it is impossible for him to commit obstruction of justice.

The New York Times today released an article about a memo sent by Trump's lawyers to special counsel Robert Mueller, in which they claimed that because Trump is president, it is legally impossible for him to commit the crime of obstruction of justice. The Times also printed an annotated copy of the letter.

Whether or not Trump believes himself to be beyond the reach of the law, his lawyers almost certainly had a different purpose in mind: forcing a lengthy series of legal challenges and appeals that would delay enforcement if Mueller subpoenaed Trump to testify before a grand jury. Trump's lawyers and friends have repeatedly and openly worried that he would fall into a "perjury trap" by being unable to restrain himself from lying under oath. (People who answer questions truthfully or invoke their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination cannot be charged with perjury.)

Even before the article was posted, Trump went on Twitter and blamed Mueller's office for leaking the memo "to the Fake News Media," although there is no evidence for this. (Whether or not he realized he was doing so, Trump was confirming the veracity of the memo published in the "Fake News Media.")

It's more likely that Trump ordered it to be leaked himself, or knows that one of his lawyers did so intentionally. While it doesn't look good for a president to be openly declaring himself above the law, Trump has already basically abandoned any attempt to look like he's innocent (except for pro forma shouts on Twitter). Instead, following the advice of his latest batch of lawyers, he seems to be trying to provide Republican senators with plausible grounds not to vote for his removal from office if he is impeached by the House following the midterms.

Why should I care about this?

  • Declaring yourself above the rule of law is what authoritarians do.