The other day, Judge Andrew Napolitano – Fox News’ legal commentator, and a longtime friend and supporter of President Trump – speaking on Fox News, declared something quite important.
Having read and understood the Mueller report, Judge Napolitano ticked off a list of occasions where Trump told his aides and allies (K.T. McFarland, Corey Lewandowski, Don McGahn) to hinder or to kill the Mueller investigation and to lie about it. About each of Trump’s actions, Napolitano said, “That’s obstruction of justice.”
Then Judge Napolitano – still on Fox News – concluded about Trump’s “ordering them to break federal law to save him from the consequences of his own behavior.” – “that is immoral, that is criminal, that is defenseless, and that is condemnable.”
That same week, a poll indicated that roughly 80% of Republican voters believe that Trump did not obstruct justice, and nearly two-thirds of Republicans believe that the Mueller report “cleared Trump of all wrongdoing.”
That the Republican rank-and-file might misunderstand what the Mueller report shows can be partially explained by the way Trump’s handpicked attorney general (William Barr), over several weeks before he released the (redacted) Mueller report, consistently misrepresented the contents of that report. Barr helped Trump’s supporters give credence to Trump’s bogus claim that he’d been “totally exonerated.”
But at this point, when it comes to the question of Trump’s lawlessness, we don’t even need the Mueller report. Even apart from that report’s extensive documentation of the crime of obstruction of justice, any reasonably attentive citizen should know this unsettling truth:
The current president of the United States shows a contempt for the Constitution and rule of law never seen before in an American president.
In just the past few weeks, Trump has shown that contempt in spades.
First, Trump has ordered his people to defy a century-old law that unambiguously authorizes certain House committees to demand the IRS provide them with any tax returns they demand. No wiggle room: the statute says the IRS “shall” hand over whatever returns those committees request.
Never before has this law been defied — until Trump, whose desire to hide his finances gives him reason enough to sweep aside the unambiguous requirements of the law.
But then Trump escalated his assault on the rule of law, making a naked attack upon a basic component of the constitutional system of checks and balances when he declared an across-the-board defiance of Congress’s constitutional fundamental authority (and responsibility) to oversee the executive branch.
Not just refusing to provide some specific witness or specific documents – and not backed up by any legal argument about executive privilege – but a refusal rather to honor any lawful congressional subpoena.
As the headline on the Los Angeles Times put it: “Trump just declared himself immune to congressional oversight.” An unprecedented denial of Congress’s constitutional powers.
While previous presidents have argued with Congress over the proper boundaries of Congress’s oversight, never before has a president ever just nakedly refused in this way to submit to the constitutional checks-and-balances our founders fashioned to maintain our liberty under the law.
What do you call a president who insists on his own powers but shows contempt for the rightful powers of the other branches of government?
A violator of his oath of office to “protect and defend the Constitution” and to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”
A would-be dictator.
Precisely the menace our founders set up the American system to defend against.
But we should not be surprised even by these stunningly unprecedented acts of contempt for the rule of law. Because Trump had already demonstrated his determination to act like a dictator.
He twisted the law to move toward strong-man rule when he declared a “national emergency” at the border – even though even he admitted there was no real emergency. The Constitution gives Congress the fundamental power to appropriate funds for purposes of its choosing. But rather than respect Congress’s right to refuse to fund his wall, Trump lied about an “emergency” to get his way.
Likewise on tariffs, which the Constitution gives Congress the power to decide. To usurp that power, too, Trump abused another law that empowers a president to act where American “national security” is threatened. He just declared the ludicrous fiction that Canada – Canada! — posed such a threat so he could proceed in yet another act of autocratic lawlessness.
That we are “a nation of laws, not of men” (John Adams) is the very heart of the American system. For the person entrusted with the great powers of the American presidency to demonstrate such unprecedented, wanton lawlessness poses a constitutional crisis of historic magnitude.
It remains to be seen whether our constitutional order will survive intact, or lawlessness will prevail. That depends on how many Americans fulfill their patriotic duty to know what’s happening, and to care that the order our founders gave us – based on the rule of law — is preserved.