President Trump is testing the rule of law one week after his acquittal in his Senate impeachment trial, seeking to bend the executive branch into an instrument for his personal and political vendetta against perceived enemies.
And Trump — simmering with rage, fixated on exacting revenge against those he feels betrayed him and insulated by a compliant Republican Party — is increasingly comfortable doing so to the point of feeling untouchable, according to the president’s advisers and allies.
In the span of 48 hours this week, the president has sought to protect his friends and punish his foes, even at the risk of compromising the Justice Department’s independence and integrity — a stance that his defenders see as entirely justified.
Trump complained publicly about federal prosecutors’ recommended prison sentence for one of his longtime friends and political advisers, Roger Stone. After senior Justice Department officials then overruled prosecutors to lighten Stone’s recommended sentence, the president congratulated Attorney General William P. Barr for “taking charge” with an extraordinary intervention.
Next Trump sought to intimidate the federal judge in the Stone case, badgering her on Twitter for previous rulings, and attacked the four prosecutors who resigned from the case in apparent protest of the Justice Department’s intervention. Then Trump floated the possibility of a presidential pardon for Stone, who was convicted by a jury in November of tampering with a witness and lying to Congress.
The president has openly encouraged his Justice Department to retaliate against a quartet of former FBI officials who long have been targets of his ire for their involvement in the Russia probe.
“Where’s [James] Comey?” Trump bellowed Wednesday in a stream-of-consciousness diatribe from the Oval Office. “What’s happening to [Andrew] McCabe? What’s happening to Lisa and — to Pete Strzok and Lisa Page? What’s happening with them? It was a whole setup, it was a disgrace for our country, and everyone knows it, too, everyone.”
For months now, Trump has been enraged that these FBI officials have not been charged with crimes. And he has vented at length privately in recent weeks that James A. Wolfe, a former aide to the Senate Intelligence Committee, received a prison sentence of two months for lying to FBI agents about his contact with reporters during a federal leak investigation — a criticism the president repeatedly publicly on Wednesday.
Some of Trump’s top aides have counseled him against speaking out on legal matters, warning him that doing so could wrongly influence proceedings because officials at the Justice Department or elsewhere would then know they needed to please him or risk his wrath. Trump has often responded, “I have a right to say whatever I want,” according to a former senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal conversations.
“He knows exactly what he’s doing,” this official explained. “He knows that he has more power than anyone else in the government — and when he tweets, everyone has to listen to him.”
A second former senior official, former chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, said of Trump, “He is mad and he should be mad. The Democrats and the media wasted three years of the nation’s time on a witch hunt. Now he understands how to use the full powers of the presidency. The pearl-clutchers better get used to it.”
We've reached the point now where Trump is openly defying the Constitution on an hourly basis and feels he no longer is answerable to anyone on the planet. There's no effort to cover up or conceal what he wants. He wants everyone who defied him to go to prison. And Bill Barr is going to have to make a decision very soon about whether or not he delivers on that.
Our country is run by a rampaging toddler in full tantrum mode in the middle of the grocery store. Nothing resembling a parent or guardian is around. There's no longer any indication that the "adults" that were supposed to be in charge even exist. It's all Trump Twitter rage, all the time.
Bill Barr won't even bother talking to Congress until the end of March and in the intervening seven weeks Trump will have carte blanche to wreck the country. Trump keeps demanding people go to jail. We know now Barr will do whatever Trump orders him to do. How long does it take Trump to order Barr to round up Comey, Mueller, and whoever else he wants?
We're well past the point where we should be in the streets.