Loading...

Trump’s Assault on the Rule of Law
COMMENTARY

November 26, 2018 by Robert B. Reich
President Donald Trump.

The “rule of law” distinguishes democracies from dictatorships. It’s based on three fundamental principles. Trump is violating every one of them.

The first is that no person is above the law, not even a president. Which means a president cannot stop an investigation into his alleged illegal acts.

Yet in recent weeks, Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who at least had possessed enough integrity to recuse himself from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Trump’s possible collusion with Russia in the 2016 election.

Trump replaced Sessions with an inexperienced loyalist hack, Matthew Whitaker, whose only distinction to date has been loud and public condemnation of that investigation. As a conservative legal commentator on CNN, Whitaker even suggested that a clever attorney general could secretly starve the investigation of funds.

There’s no question why Trump appointed Whitaker. When asked by the Daily Caller, Trump made it clear: “As far as I’m concerned this is an investigation that should have never been brought. It should have never been had. … It’s an illegal investigation.”

The second principle of the rule of law is that a president cannot prosecute political opponents or critics. Decisions about whom to prosecute for alleged criminal wrongdoing must be made by prosecutors who are independent of politics.

Yet Trump has repeatedly pushed the Justice Department to bring charges against Hillary Clinton, his 2016 rival, for using a private email server when she was secretary of state, in alleged violation of the Presidential Records Act.

During his campaign, Trump led crowds in chanting “lock her up,” called Clinton “crooked Hillary,” and threatened to prosecute her if he was elected president.

After taking office, according to the New York Times, Trump told White House counsel Donald McGahn he wanted the Justice Department to prosecute Clinton. McGahn responded that Trump didn’t have the authority to do so, and such action might even lead to impeachment.

Yet Trump has continued to press Justice Department officials — including Whitaker when he served as Sessions’ chief of staff — about the status of Clinton-related investigations.

Never mind that Trump’s senior adviser and daughter, Ivanka Trump, sent hundreds messages on her private email server to government employees and aides that detailed government business, policies and proposals. Or that other Trump officials have used their private email to conduct official business as well.

Breaking the rule of law doesn’t require consistency. It requires only a thirst for power at whatever cost.

The third principle of the rule of law is that a president must be respectful of the independence of the judiciary.

Yet Trump has done the opposite, openly ridiculing judges who disagree with him in order to fuel public distrust of them — as he did when he called the judge who issued the first federal ruling against his travel ban a “so-called” judge.

Last week, Trump referred derisively to the judge who put a hold on Trump’s plan for refusing to consider asylum applications an “Obama judge,” and railed against the entire 9th circuit. “You go the 9th Circuit and it’s a disgrace,” he said. He also issued a subtle threat: “It’s not going to happen like this anymore.”

In an unprecedented public rebuke of a sitting president, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts condemned Trump’s attack. “We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges,” Roberts said. “What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them. That independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for.”

Trump immediately shot back: “Sorry Chief Justice John Roberts, but you do indeed have ‘Obama judges,’ and they have a much different point of view than the people who are charged with the safety of our country.”

This was followed by another Trump threat on Twitter: “Much talk over dividing up the 9th Circuit into 2 or 3 Circuits. Too big!”

Almost a half-century ago, another president violated these three basic principles of the rule of law, although not as blatantly as Trump. Richard Nixon tried to obstruct the Watergate investigation, pushed the Justice Department to prosecute his political enemies and took on the judiciary.

But America wouldn’t allow it. The nation rose up in outrage. Nixon resigned before Congress impeached him.

The question is whether this generation of Americans will have the strength and wisdom to do the same.

Robert Reich’s latest book is “The Common Good,” and his newest documentary is “Saving Capitalism.”

© 2018 By Robert Reich; Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

A+
a-

Opinions

December 2, 2021
by Leonard Pitts
'True Compassion is More Than Flinging a Coin to a Beggar'

Abraham could have asked for anything. The Make-A-Wish folks stood ready to make a dream come true for the 13-year-old... Read More

Abraham could have asked for anything. The Make-A-Wish folks stood ready to make a dream come true for the 13-year-old boy, who has aplastic anemia, a life-threatening blood disorder. But Adeola “Abraham” Olagbegi didn’t ask for a PS5 or a day with LeBron James. No, he... Read More

A 19-State Coalition Urges Congress to Pass the PFAS Action Act

On Nov. 15, 2021, California Attorney General Rob Bonta joined a coalition of 19 attorneys in urging Congress to enact the PFAS... Read More

On Nov. 15, 2021, California Attorney General Rob Bonta joined a coalition of 19 attorneys in urging Congress to enact the PFAS Action Act, legislation amending federal environmental laws to address PFAS contamination and provide funding for cleanup. In recent years, the family of manufactured chemicals called per-... Read More

Community Foundations in Time for Celebration and Reflection

This week, our nation comes together to recognize the more than 750 community foundations that operate in communities spanning the... Read More

This week, our nation comes together to recognize the more than 750 community foundations that operate in communities spanning the U.S. In many communities, organizations like mine have played a central role in fostering local collaboration and innovation to address persistent civic and economic challenges for... Read More

November 11, 2021
by Leonard Pitts
How Young is Too Young to Teach White Kids About Race?

Isabella Tichenor killed herself a few days ago. She was 10 years old. Her mother, Brittany Tichenor-Cox, said last week... Read More

Isabella Tichenor killed herself a few days ago. She was 10 years old. Her mother, Brittany Tichenor-Cox, said last week that her daughter — she called her “Izzy” — had been the target of ongoing racist abuse from classmates at her school in North Salt Lake,... Read More

Vexatious Trade Secret Litigation Shouldn’t Hamstring Innovation

When real estate title company Amrock sued data analytics firm HouseCanary in 2016, few foresaw how that seemingly straightforward $5... Read More

When real estate title company Amrock sued data analytics firm HouseCanary in 2016, few foresaw how that seemingly straightforward $5 million breach of contract lawsuit would trigger such significant constitutional and public policy concerns, or devolve into a years-long legal quagmire with three-quarters of a billion... Read More

November 9, 2021
by Mary Sanchez
Two Missouri Inmates, Two Tales of Justice Delayed

Once an innocent person is entangled in the criminal justice system, it’s damningly difficult to wrench them free. The public... Read More

Once an innocent person is entangled in the criminal justice system, it’s damningly difficult to wrench them free. The public is only vaguely aware of this. After all, that’s the point. Someone sentenced to prison is out of the public eye. Out of sight, out of... Read More

News From The Well
Exit mobile version