If Trump is Cornered, the Judges he Disdains May Finally Bring Him Down – Opinion

Walter Shapiro | The Guardian

The president thinks justice only matters as it affects him – He may live to find this all too painfully true

A rational president, who had just bludgeoned Brett Kavanaugh onto the supreme court, would not jeopardize the long-awaited conservative majority by picking a fight with Chief Justice John Roberts.But rationality has never been Donald Trump’s strong suit when it comes to dealing with the judiciary. 

According to an estimate by the Washington Post, the Trump administration has been overruled in more than 40 federal court decisions. While correlation does not imply causation, it does suggest that Trump’s constant bleats and tweets about biased judges represent an odd strategy to tilt the scales of justice.        

Many phrases might describe Roberts’ 13 years as chief justice since he was appointed by George W Bush, but “hot-headed” is not among them. It presumably took dozens of provocations before he yielded to the temptation to instruct the president that with an independent judiciary, “we do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges”.

Nothing better illustrates Trump’s solipsistic approach to crime and punishment than the recent revelation by the New York Times that last spring he talked about ordering the justice department to prosecute Hillary Clinton and James Comey.

As he pursued such thuggish fantasies, it is possible Trump was influenced by Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, who had imprisoned hundreds of his political foes in the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh.

That, of course, was the more benevolent version of Prince Mohammed, before he became closely associated with a bone saw.

In the American version of such a dragnet, you might see Robert Mueller confined to a room next to Elizabeth Warren with a couple of dozen recalcitrant federal judges down the hall. Of course, the incarcerated would be residing in a Trump hotel – and the president would be billing the federal government at inflated rates for its use.

With his sneering contempt for the rule of law vying with his hatred for press freedoms, it is tempting to categorize Trump as a would-be authoritarian, albeit an inept one. But I tend to be skeptical, even though I shudder at a full revelation of what lurks in the depths of Trump’s psyche.

Part of Trump’s disdain for judicial independence is probably rooted in his days as a New York real estate hustler under the tutelage of the notorious judge-fixer and ultimately disbarred lawyer Roy Cohn. In Cohn’s cynical world, the questions you asked about a judge were: “What do we have on him? Who can get to him? And what does he want?”

The idea that a real estate case would be tried solely on its merits was as alien to Trump’s worldview as the quaint notion that creditors and contractors need to be paid in full.

Another factor is that Trump appears incapable of handling patriotic abstractions. It is why the ceremonial aspects of the presidency, like visiting Arlington Cemetery on Veteran’s Day and bearing witness to the first world war dead in France, seem so baffling to him. The best he can do on such solemn occasions is to woodenly read someone else’s words off a teleprompter as he flashes the thumbs-up sign. 

Concepts like democracy, a free press, due process, an independent judiciary and the rule of law are lost on Trump. As far as his understanding goes, the constitution might just as well be carved in cuneiform characters on stone tablets.

Up to now, many of Trump’s worst impulses have been resisted by the saner members of his entourage, like the former White House counsel Donald McGahn, who told the president he had no authority to prosecute Clinton and Comey. Other aides in The Perils of Pauline melodrama that is playing on a constant loop in the White House have intervened to save the Mueller investigation.

But as Trump’s arrogance of power grows along with his political peril from the newly elected Democratic House, we may be close to the moment when no one is left with the power or the willingness to constrain a cornered president.

The final line of defense of democratic values are judges and top law enforcement officials who answer to a higher loyalty than fealty to Trump. It would be both bracing and ironic if the president were ultimately thwarted by black-robed figures whom he denounces as “Trump judges”.

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  • Clyde Duncan  On November 24, 2018 at 2:31 pm

    Mueller and a Blue House Could Bring Down Trump

    But the president’s supporters won’t make it easy.

    Joshua Zoffer and Niall Ferguson | The Atlantic

    On May 17, 1973, Senator Sam Ervin Jr. opened Senate hearings into the Watergate affair.

    “It is the constitutional duty of this committee,” he said, to expeditiously investigate allegations that American democracy “has been subverted and its foundations shaken.”

    Ervin, a Democrat, did not mince words in characterizing the gravity of the accusations leveled against Richard Nixon’s campaign and administration. At stake were “the workings of the democratic process under which we operate in a nation that still is the last, best hope of mankind.”

    President Nixon started in a relatively weak position. His misdeeds came to light during a period of opposition-party control, with Democrats able and willing to wield Congress’s investigative powers to the fullest. Prior to the hearings, Nixon enjoyed approval ratings: In the mid-50s among all Americans and well over 80 percent among Republicans.

    By August 1973, the Watergate hearings had dragged them down to just 31 percent nationally and a paltry 58 percent among co-partisans.

    On August 9, 1974, with bipartisan articles of impeachment hanging over him, Nixon RESIGNED.

    President Donald Trump has thus far had a very different experience. For the past two years, Republican control of Congress has protected him from the public exposure Nixon and his staff had to endure.

    Now that the Democrats have taken back the House, the Trump administration will face a challenge from which it has been immune thus far:

    A far-reaching, aggressive, and highly public investigation of the kind that brought down Nixon.

    Trump’s approval ratings stand at 40 percent overall and 89 percent among Republicans.

    In September 2017, we wrote, “It is tough for a special prosecutor alone to bring down an administration. That feat is more readily accomplished in the court of public opinion, where an opposition-led Congress can rain hellfire and brimstone upon a troubled presidency.”

    We believe our argument will soon be proven correct; hellfire and brimstone are imminent.

    Of course, the initiation of a full-scale public investigation alongside the Mueller team is not without risks. Members of both the Watergate and Iran-Contra special-counsel teams reported difficulties in coordinating their efforts with Congress’s.

    Prosecutors labor under strict secrecy to limit the premature release of evidence and avoid influencing public opinion. Congress endeavors to do just the opposite.

    If Congress and Mueller can cooperate, though, both stand to gain from parallel investigations.

    Whatever risks the Mueller investigation does pose for the president, history suggests that they will be magnified by a Democrat-controlled House.

    In one respect, Trump’s position may now be even more precarious than Nixon’s. As former White House Counsel John Dean recalls, Nixon “was forced to quit not because he had lost his support on Capitol Hill, but because he had lost his support at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,” leaving him defenseless against Congress.

    Leaks from inside the White House suggest that Trump already does not enjoy the unqualified confidence of officials in his own administration.

    Finally, there is the very different political calculus in the present-day Senate. For Mitch McConnell, Donald Trump is a means not just to GOP control of the upper house, but also to conservative dominance of the Supreme Court and the judiciary more generally.

    It is hard to see what more it would take to persuade McConnell and his colleagues to abandon this president, considering how many damaging aspects of his personality and record are already in the public domain.

    Trump has been likened to Nixon from the beginning of his presidency. Now the real test begins.

    Will the combination of Mueller and a blue House doom him?

    Or have Washington and America changed so much that a president can withstand repeated allegations that, on his watch, American democracy “has been subverted and its foundations shaken”?

  • Cyril Persaud  On November 24, 2018 at 9:52 pm

    Mr. Shapiro do you live in the land of Oz. Please

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