WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump is a bald-faced liar who covered up collusion between his campaign and the Russians, tried to derail a federal investigation and claims to be above the law like some tin-pot dictator. This is not my assessment. It is what Trump and his attorneys proudly proclaim.
Don’t be distracted by Trump’s showmanship and buffoonery. Look instead at the essence of what he is trying to do: Save himself from possible impeachment by subverting the rule of law and enhancing tribalism at the expense of citizenship. In place of “E Pluribus Unum” he attempts to substitute a very different idea of the nation and what it stands for: “Just Win, Baby.”
A confidential Jan. 29 letter from Trump’s legal team to special counsel Robert Mueller, first published Saturday by The New York Times, gives copious new evidence -- as if more were needed -- of the president’s utter shamelessness and his smirking contempt for the people he is sworn to represent.
Begin with a particularly egregious example of Trump’s lying. You will recall the now-famous June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower -- organized by Donald Trump Jr. and attended by Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner -- for the purpose of obtaining damaging information about Hillary Clinton from a Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, who has close ties to the Kremlin. This meeting was a clear act of “collusion” (which is not a legal term), but whether any laws were broken is up to Mueller.
When the meeting was revealed last summer, Trump Jr. issued a statement saying that “we primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children” -- a subject that reportedly did come up while Veselnitskaya was being pressed, vainly, for dirt on Clinton. A report by The Washington Post that the president had “personally dictated” the deliberately misleading statement was flatly denied by White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and one of Trump’s attorneys, Jay Sekulow.
But the newly disclosed letter to Mueller -- signed by Sekulow and John Dowd, who was then another of Trump’s attorneys -- admits that, indeed, “the President dictated” the bogus statement.
Ho-hum, just another of Trump’s lies -- but stop for a minute and think about that. We have a president who lies constantly about matters big and small, a president whose word we can never trust. How can we accept that? How can democracy and constitutional order function in contempt, rather than reverence, of truth?
Trump is untroubled by this question because democracy and constitutional order, to the extent he understands them, do not seem to be what he has in mind. Rather, he claims imperium.
Trump’s lawyers argue in the letter that Trump could not have obstructed justice by firing former FBI Director James Comey because “a President can fire an FBI Director at any time and for any reason,” and any impact on any pending investigation -- the investigation into Russian election meddling and the Trump campaign, say -- “is simply an effect of the President’s lawful exercise of his constitutional power.”
Interviewed by NBC’s Lester Holt shortly after firing Comey, Trump said this: “I was going to fire Comey knowing there was no good time to do it. And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself -- I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.” Around the same time, in a private meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and another Russian diplomat, Trump reportedly called Comey a “nut job” and said that “great pressure because of Russia” had been “taken off” by the firing.
None of that matters, according to Trump and his lawyers. Nor does it matter if Trump asked Comey to end his investigation of Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn -- saying, according to Comey, that “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.” Trump doesn’t admit saying that, according to the letter to Mueller; but even if he did, so what?
On Monday, following disclosure of the letter, Trump was defiant on Twitter: “As has been stated by numerous legal scholars, I have the absolute right to PARDON myself, but why would I do that when I have done nothing wrong?”
Pardon himself? Is he President Trump or His Majesty Czar Donald I?
Trump has flagrantly abused his power. The Constitution gives Congress the authority to constrain or remove him, but Republicans in both chambers refuse to act or even speak out. We the people must take our stand in November.
Eugene Robinson’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.