In the aftermath of his acquittal by the Senate, Donald Trump shows no signs of wanting to abandon the idea that the Constitution gives him the right to do whatever he wants as president.
At the time of the trial of Donald Trump, some of the republican senators who voted to acquit felt that the president would take the lessons of his impeachment by the House of representatives and his trial by the Senate to restrict its propensity to capture all the powers and all the rights, in addition to curb the authoritarian drift of his administration. It was wishful thinking. Trump has already demonstrated that it won’t.
This is certainly not the first time that the president Trump takes actions aimed at consolidating its control undisputed of all of the activities of the executive, in disregard of norms and conventions, even the laws themselves. I’ve written about, between others, here, here, here, and here.
Atmosphere of the other hand
Two days after his acquittal, on Friday night, the president announced the return of its ambassador to the european Union, Gordon Sondland, and the expulsion of lieutenant-colonel Alexander Vindland from his analyst position at the national security Council. The reason for these removals is fairly transparent: they have defied the ban of the president to testify before the House of representatives and to disclose the facts of which they had knowledge on the matter of ukraine, as the law requires. The pattern of these references is transparent enough: revenge. At the same time, the president has sent another military attaché on the national security Council whose only fault apparent was to be the twin brother of lieutenant-colonel Vindland.
Formally speaking, of course, the president has the right to hire and to return the members of his staff, but in this case, it is obvious that his goal is vengeance and the intimidation of other employees of the executive who could be tempted to put the rule of law before any personal interests or policies of the president. The same desire of revenge is also evident in the many attacks that the president has directed towards Mitt Romney, the only republican senator who dared to vote in favour of his impeachment.
These actions are accompanied by anonymous threats that have been directed against the people who are placed in the way of the president on the part of people who claim to act in the defense of a president who has never made a particular effort to calm the violent impulses of some of its supporters.
Contempt of judicial independence
The most recent episode of authoritarian drift of Trump occurred on Tuesday, when the speaker is poured out on Twitter against the sentence recommended by federal prosecutors in the case involving his personal friend and political adviser Roger Stone, convicted of several charges of obstructing justice and lying to Congress. Incidentally, these criminal acts for which Stone was convicted were intended explicitly to protect Donald Trump. In this case, after prosecutors recommended a sentence of seven to nine years in prison, according to the standards of the ministry of Justice, the Attorney-General William Barr has stepped in to ask the judge to consider a sentence reduced, after the public intervention of the president. The four federal prosecutors engaged in this folder are immediately disqualified from this cause, to signify their deep disagreement and one of them has resigned from his position.
Clearly, this is an improper interference of the president and Barr in a criminal case, in flagrant violation of the independence of the judicial process. On top of that, the president has also issued criticism of the judge who will hear this sentence, the content of which can be interpreted as bullying. Observers of the legal scene in the United States are unanimous in saying that these interventions to divert the course of justice in favour of a personal friend and a political ally was a dangerous example of government interference and intimidation on the part of the president.
This is not just the behavior of the president himself which poses a problem but also the seeming impunity given to all the members of his political entourage. For example, when we ask the republican senators who had claimed that Donald Trump had retained the lessons of his impeachment what they thought of this latest episode of abuse apparent of the presidential power, most of them refuse to denounce the president’s action.
In the first rank of those who make it possible and reinforce this authoritarian drift of the president, there was of course his minister of Justice, William Barr. Normally, the holder of this position must keep his distance in the face of the president to ensure the independence of the judicial process, but William Barr has made it clear since his commitment a year ago that it intends to fully satisfy the expectations of the Trump, to which the Attorney-General must devote absolute loyalty. Early in his term, the president had hoped that the Attorney-General to act as his “Roy Cohn”, in reference to his former lawyer’s staff who was also a solid reputation to defend of the heads of organized crime (see here). He has found it.
One at a time, Donald Trump tests the limits of his conception of presidential power, which places it above the law (see here). He prides himself also commit these abuses of power openly and in public, for example when he asked China to investigate Joe Biden, live on television. The fact that the president’s supporters in his party and in the media, conservatives refuse to criticize or denounce his actions make it seem normal and acceptable, which only strengthen the authoritarian nature of his rule.
Each day that passes brings it closer to its vision of power without limits and without constraints he covets, and the concurrence quiet of the republicans who have abdicated their responsibility for oversight of the executive strengthened its position. It is no longer sufficient to speak of an authoritarian drift: the engines are running.