The President believes that law enforcement should be at his personal beck and call

Benjamin Wittes analyzes Trump’s horrifying interview with the Times.

He says Sessions should resign, because he shouldn’t stay in the office with Trump’s naked disdain for him on the record.

The president is evidently distraught at Sessions’s recusal from the Russia investigation “right after he gets the job.” (Sessions recused himself on March 2—three weeks after his swearing-in and fifteen weeks after his nomination.) The Attorney General gave the president “zero” heads up, Trump says. In Trump’s view: “Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job, and I would have picked somebody else.” He twice describes Sessions’s decision as “unfair to the president,” seemingly unaware that his recusal was almost surely compelled by Justice Department recusal rules. That is, the President is openly expressing bitterness toward his attorney general for following the rules—because the rules don’t favor Trump’s interests. He wants an attorney general who will actively supervise the Justice Department, and the Russia investigation, in a fashion congenial to his interests, and he has no compunction about saying so explicitly. He made perfectly clear that he regrets appointing Sessions. He made equally clear that Sessions’s job is, in his mind, a personal service contract to him and that if Sessions couldn’t deliver on service to Trump, he shouldn’t have taken the position.

Trump seems to think, literally, that the members of his cabinet work for him in the same sense that employees of his business work for him. He seems to have no idea that they work for the country, not for him.

Sessions has hardly shrouded himself in glory over the past few months, but it is wildly improper for the President to talk about the attorney general in this fashion. The attorney general serves at his pleasure. If he is dissatisfied with Sessions’s performance, Trump can remove him. Unlike the FBI director, Sessions does not have a ten-year term that creates some normative expectation of retention. It would be, of course, inappropriate to fire the attorney general for having the temerity to follow Justice Department recusal policies on the advice of career lawyers, but it’s also inappropriate to whine publicly about his conduct without removing him. For those who need a reminder, the proper thing for a President to say publicly about a recusal in a live investigative matter—one that involves him directly and personally—is nothing whatsoever.

But Trump thinks he’s there to defy any notion of what’s proper, and instead do whatever his id prompts him to do.

Trump also dissed Rosenstein, and then there is Mueller.

The president declares bluntly, “I have done nothing wrong. A special counsel should never have been appointed in this case.” And he regards Mueller as conflicted because he was briefly considered to replace Comey.

Trump describes his meeting with Mueller while interviewing him for the job of FBI Director as “wonderful” and says that “of course … he wanted the job.” And he seems to regard this as some kind of conflict of interest on Mueller’s part. Trump does not seem to understand or even be able to imagine that Mueller might have been talking to him out of a sense of public service, not personal interest, with respect to an agency he had led for a long time and treasures and which Trump had plunged into crisis.

That’s because he has a tiny, sordid, empty mind. There’s nothing in there. There’s only Self, which dwells more in the intestines than in the mind. A guy with a a tiny, sordid, empty mind thinks everyone is as sordid and empty as he is.

And to top it off, the President apparently feels no compunction either about commenting on the proper scope of Mueller’s investigation substantively. When asked whether a potential investigation of the Trump family finances “unrelated to Russia” would constitute a “red line” in the investigation, Trump stated, “I think that’s a violation.” And he didn’t say no when asked whether such conduct would lead him to fire Mueller; rather, he hedged, stating that “I can’t answer that question because I don’t think it’s going to happen.”

He thinks he can tell them all what to do at any moment – even when they’re investigating his potential corruptions and crimes.

If, on reading this, it sounds like the President believes that law enforcement should be at his personal beck and call, that’s because that is, in fact, exactly what he believes. We know this because he made this belief perfectly clear in the interview as well. At one point, he offered an extraordinary account of the history of the FBI and its relationship to the Justice Department. He indicated that around the time of the Nixon administration, “out of courtesy, the F.B.I. started reporting to the Department of Justice.” He continued: “But there was nothing official, there was nothing from Congress. There was nothing — anything. But the FBI person really reports directly to the president of the United States, which is interesting. You know, which is interesting.”


Trump’s logic isn’t easy to follow here, but his core claim is unmistakeable—and “interesting” is a generous word for it: the FBI director serves the president. As a matter of constitutional hierarchy, this is of course true. But in investigative matters, the FBI director does not, or should not, serve the president by reporting to him. He serves the president by leading law enforcement in an independent and apolitical fashion. And it is fundamentally corrupt for any president to be asking him to do otherwise.

Yes but as he likes to tell us, he’s the president and we’re not.

In a foundational 1978 speech that has shaped subsequent Department policy, Jimmy Carter’s attorney general, Griffin Bell, affirmed the independence of the Justice Department and its constituent entities, including the FBI. Bell declared, “it is improper for any Member of Congress, any member of the White House staff, or anyone else, to attempt to influence anyone in the Justice Department with respect to a particular litigation decision, except by legal argument or the provision of relevant facts.”

The astonishing implication of Trump’s view is that he believes the president may shut down an FBI investigation that displeases him. Indeed, Trump went so far as to say that too: when explaining why it would not be a problem even if he had told Comey to drop the Flynn investigation, he stated, “other people go a step further. I could have ended that whole thing just by saying—they say it can’t be obstruction because you can say: ‘It’s ended. It’s over. Period.’”

In an environment in which the President of the United States, in a single interview, expresses no-confidence in the attorney general, the deputy attorney general, the special counsel, the acting FBI director, and the special counsel’s staff, and in which he makes clear that the FBI should be his personal force and that all of law enforcement should be about serving him, the principle protection is having people with backbone who are willing to do their jobs and stand up for one another in the elevation of their oaths of office over political survival.

But Rosenstein is not acting as if he’s one of those people.

We are in a dangerous moment—one in which the President, with his infinite sense of grievance, feels entitled publicly to attack the entire federal law enforcement apparatus, and that apparatus, in turn, lacks a single person with the stature, the institutional position, and the fortitude to stand up to him. Sessions has not done so. While Rosenstein did the country an enormous service when he appointed Mueller, he acted as an enabler of the Comey firing in the first instance and did not do himself credit yesterday. Mueller certainly has the stature, but by the nature of his position he cannot say anything publicly; he is investigating the President and thus cannot also confront him. And McCabe, who has been both able and courageous in the aftermath of Comey’s firing, is in an acting capacity.

The man who had the stature, the institutional position, and the moral fiber to confront the President on such matters was Comey, who is no longer there and whom the President also slimed in his interview yesterday.

The result is an environment in which the President can say these things without obvious consequence, at least for now.

So we descend more steps down into the muck.

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