Tracy Lee Carroll / Flickr Donald Trump in Portsmouth...
Tracy Lee Carroll / Flickr

On Saturday, the New York Times published information from a letter that had been sent by Trump’s attorneys to the special counsel’s office. In the letter, Trump’s legal team asserted not just that Trump can’t be prosecuted for obstruction, but that it’s impossible for Trump to obstruct—because Trump has the ability to nip any investigation in the bud. And should Trump not act quickly enough to prevent the start of an investigation, he can always act retroactively by pardoning anyone caught up in its findings.

Under this interpretation, Trump need not respond to a request for an interview by the special counsel. Or a subpoena from the grand jury. Or … anything at all. He is utterly exempt from legal actions.

If reporting around the letter seemed most focused on Trump’s ability to shrug off the Russia investigation, Trump’s principle public representative on these matters, Rudy Giuliani, went forth over the weekend to clarify the limits of Trump’s legal authority. What Giulani made clear is … there aren’t any. The interpretation of the White House is that Trump is not only immune from providing testimony, but based on a conversation Giulani held with the Huffington Post, Trump is completely above legal recourse. So far above it that he can do anything he wants.

“In no case can he be subpoenaed or indicted,” Rudy Giuliani told HuffPost Sunday, claiming a president’s constitutional powers are that broad. “I don’t know how you can indict while he’s in office. No matter what it is.”

Giulani made it clear that Trump could have shot James Comey, rather than firing him, and it still couldn’t have led to an indictment. This may sound similar to the statement that Trump made during the campaign about his ability to “stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody,” but there’s a critical difference. That first statement from Trump was an expression of his belief that his supporters were with him, no matter what. The new statement is a declaration of something that’s not just anti-American but exceeds the authority of most monarchs. For centuries.

Trump isn’t looking back to some “originalist” perception of the power of the executive. He’s looking at his friends. Like Rodrigo Duterte. Like Recep Erdoğan. Like Kim Jong-un. Like Vladimir Putin. And like them, he’s declaring that he’s more than just a titular leader. His power is without bounds.

On obstruction. Not on murder. Trump need bow to no indictment or subpoena. Trump isn’t just above the law, he is the law.

Trump didn’t do much to hide his ambitions form the beginning, but on this date, in just a few posts, he’s made it clear. He does not intend to abide by the findings of the special counsel or by any legal finding. Since he’s already made it clear that even murder is within his scope, no one should expect to hold him accountable on bribery, cronyism, or any other act of mere corruption.

Meanwhile, the television is notably not overrun with special bulletins and talking heads warning that this little two-century experiment in representational democracy is coming to an end.  The lack of concern, the lack of any response, is deafening.

Wait … was that a whimper?

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This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.


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