The DoJ works for HIM

How much does Trump understand about the institutions he’s damaging and the norms he’s defying? It doesn’t really matter, because he doesn’t care in any case. As has been regularly pointed out, his motivations are all entirely self-directed; he does what he considers good for him and is entirely indifferent to what’s good for other people or the country as a whole.

Greg Sargent at the Post:

[W]hat we now see happening is that Trump is directly pressuring Justice to conduct this investigation into his campaign in a certain way, and at least to some extent, it is complying. As Charlie Savage puts it, Trump is slowly eroding an “established constraint on executive power.”

Trump signaled in his own words that he was going to do this and more. Trump recently tweeted that “at some point” he will “use the powers granted to the Presidency and get involved!” Late last year, he said that “I have absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department.” On still another occasion, Trump revealingly admitted that he is “very frustrated” by the fact that he is “not supposed to be involved” with the Justice Department, meaning he recognizes there is a norm that dictates this limit on his power, but he sees it as an inconvenience and does not recognize that there are good institutional reasons for preserving it.

He recognizes that there is a rule (however tacit) that dictates this limit on his power, but he has worked out an ideology that lets him see rules of that kind as Children of the Swamp aka Artifacts of the Deep State, so that he is doing a fine and populist thing by smashing them for his own criminal purposes. He may well recognize that from the point of view of the FBI there are good institutional reasons for preserving the rule, but the fact that the rule is an obstacle to what he wants is far more salient. To the rest of us, the ability of the FBI to find out what Putin and Co did to our election is important, but to Trump it is as a bit of milkweed before his need to avoid prosecution. Who ya gonna take care of, the whole country or Trump? The question answers itself.

The Watergate scandal led some to propose isolating Justice entirely from the executive branch. But this, too, was seen as unworkable, because that would mean the Justice Department is not subject to political accountability. So Justice must be overseen by the executive branch. But that subjects it to presidential manipulation. The answer to this thorny problem is the norm of prosecutorial independence. The answer is the idea, as one senator put it during Watergate, that the Justice Department’s “client is not only the president of the United States but includes the people.” The president is their boss, but prosecutors are answerable to the law and to the people as well. That norm’s existence depends on it being observed by both prosecutors and the president alike.

But this is an idea that Trump plainly does not accept. He has said again and again and again in his own words that he views law enforcement as merely an instrument of his political will, to be turned loose on his political opponents at his whim and to be weaponized against itself when it tries to hold him accountable. This appears rooted in a uniformly corrupt impulse that also animates all of his profiteering off the presidency (as Adam Serwer writes), and is an extension of his long history of trampling rules and laws with impunity as a businessman (as Timothy L. O’Brien writes). As president, it’s not clear that Trump recognizes any institutional obligation of any kind to the law or to the people.

Or rather, it’s all too clear that he does not.

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