An Autocrat in the White House

Even as Trump ignores evidence from our intelligence services about crimes committed by his handlers, he continues to abuse his power as president by attempting to use our justice system to prosecute his opponents.

President Trump told the White House counsel in the spring that he wanted to order the Justice Department to prosecute two of his political adversaries: his 2016 challenger, Hillary Clinton, and the former F.B.I. director James B. Comey, according to two people familiar with the conversation.

The lawyer, Donald F. McGahn II, rebuffed the president, saying that he had no authority to order a prosecution. Mr. McGahn said that while he could request an investigation, that too could prompt accusations of abuse of power. To underscore his point, Mr. McGahn had White House lawyers write a memo for Mr. Trump warning that if he asked law enforcement to investigate his rivals, he could face a range of consequences, including possible impeachment.

The encounter was one of the most blatant examples yet of how Mr. Trump views the typically independent Justice Department as a tool to be wielded against his political enemies…

It is unclear whether Mr. Trump read Mr. McGahn’s memo or whether he pursued the prosecutions further. But the president has continued to privately discuss the matter, including the possible appointment of a second special counsel to investigate both Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Comey, according to two people who have spoken to Mr. Trump about the issue.

Frankly, that shouldn’t surprise any of us because it is exactly what Trump said he would do during a presidential debate with Hillary Clinton.

Notice that at the end of that exchange, Trump said that if he was president, Clinton would be in jail.

This is a good example of how Trump never admits to making a mistake, never backs down and never learns anything from the critiques that are leveled against him. Almost immediately after he uttered those words in the debate, a chorus rose up pointing out that his threat amounted to an illegal abuse of presidential power. He ignored that and, as the New York Times reported, pursued it with his White House counsel once elected. He was told that such an action would trigger a range of consequences, including possible impeachment, but he has continued to discuss the matter.

What we should all keep in mind is that it has been people like McGahn who probably held these attempts by Trump in check, and he is now gone. As with a lot of cabinet members and White House staff, the president is replacing them with incompetent loyalists who will do his bidding, like Matt Whitaker as acting attorney general.

With Whitaker, the plot thickens. It turns out that as Trump was attempting to pressure Sessions and Rosenstein into investigating his political opponents, Matt Whitaker played the role of Trump’s mole at DOJ.

During this period of time, Whitaker was the chief of staff to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and in that role was advising Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on how to counter the president’s demands. But according to one former and one current administration official, Whitaker was simultaneously counseling the White House on how the president and his aides might successfully pressure Sessions and Rosenstein to give in to Trump’s demands.

Sources say that Whitaker presented himself as a sympathetic ear to both Sessions and Rosenstein — telling them he supported their efforts to prevent the president from politicizing the Justice Department. A person close to Whitaker suggested to me that the then-chief of staff was only attempting to diffuse the tension between the president and his attorney general and deputy attorney general, and facilitate an agreement between the two sides.

But two other people with firsthand information about the matter told me that Whitaker, in his conversations with the president, presented himself as a vigorous supporter of Trump’s position and “committed to extract as much as he could from the Justice Department on the president’s behalf.”

David Corn has documented all of the times that Whitaker advocated for Hillary Clinton to be prosecuted. That, along with his consistent attacks on the Mueller investigation, is precisely why he now has the job of acting attorney general.

These actions by the president and his sycophants are so autocratic that John Dean said even Nixon would tell Trump he’s gone too far. But of course, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell isn’t likely to have a problem with any of it. That is the state of play today. Stay tuned for the next installment of “An Autocrat in the White House.”

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .