Comey's warning to Trump

He may be an imperfect messenger, but ...

Posted: Dec 18, 2018 4:37 PM
Updated: Dec 18, 2018 4:37 PM

He may be an imperfect messenger, but James Comey's warning is still chilling.

The former FBI chief is calling out what he sees as an increasingly obvious and disturbing trend: The President of the United States, far from upholding the rule of law, frequently seeks to shape it for personal and political gain.

Continents and regions

Crime, law enforcement and corrections

Criminal law

Donald Trump

Eastern Europe

Europe

Federal Bureau of Investigation

Government and public administration

Government bodies and offices

Government departments and authorities

Government organizations - US

Investigations

James Comey

Justice departments

Law and legal system

Political Figures - US

Politics

Russia

Russia meddling investigation

US Department of Justice

US federal departments and agencies

US federal government

White House

In just the last few days, President Donald Trump has jumped into active court cases, attacked legally supported investigations and put his own political goals ahead of judicial conventions that underpin the independent legal system.

He inserted himself into a military investigation of a US soldier accused of the pre-meditated murder of a Taliban bomb maker by vowing to examine the case. His move complicated a difficult, highly sensitive investigation that is being closely watched in Afghanistan and could even have implications down the road for the security of American soldiers serving in a dangerous environment.

On Tuesday, Trump offered public support to Michael Flynn ahead of a hearing in which the former national security adviser will learn whether he will go to prison for lying to the FBI.

Trump also fired off a weekend tweet accusing the FBI of breaking in to the office of Michael Cohen, his ex-lawyer who is headed to prison next year. The raid was carried out on a court endorsed warrant.

And last week, Trump raised doubts over the apolitical independence of the legal system by suggesting he could use a top Chinese executive awaiting extradition from Canada on fraud charges as a chip in his trade war.

His comment put Canada, who first arrested Huawei's Meng Wanzhou, in a tough diplomatic spot, raised questions about whether she would receive due process and could undermine US critiques of the way judicial systems in China and other totalitarian states are subordinate to politics.

But Trump's challenge to legal norms is not new.

In two years in office, Trump has built a mountain of tweets, remarks and actions that do not just test institutional restraints on presidential power but appear to undermine the constitutional norms he is sworn to uphold.

His willingness to use the weight of his office in such a way appears to be increasing the prospect of a constitutional imbroglio at a time when multiple areas of Trump's public, political and business life are under investigation.

And it risks lingering damage to the infrastructure of American justice and the public support that is essential for democratic and judicial institutions to retain legitimacy even after he has left office.

That possibility seems to lie behind Comey's concern.

"This is not about Republicans and Democrats. This is about what does it mean to be an American," Comey said after testifying on Capitol Hill Monday.

"We have to stop being numb to it, whether you're Republican or Democrat, stand on your feet, overcome your shame and say something."

No let up

Trump started to jolt America's judicial and legal system as soon as he moved into the White House, castigating judges who slowed his agenda and piling pressure on the Justice Department over the Russia probe.

There's been no let up since.

The President's unconventional relationship with the law goes far beyond the numerous legal challenges to his presidency, transition and campaign and the unusual number of associates who have fallen foul of prosecutors.

He's sued and been sued countless times, often using the legal system and bankruptcy courts as a tactical tool as a real estate tycoon.

Trump has so far not been found guilty of any wrongdoing by Mueller or prosecutors elsewhere. He denies he has done anything wrong.

But it is extraordinary that he has been indirectly implicated by federal prosecutors in New York in cooperating with Cohen to pay hush money to women who accused him of affairs, in violation of campaign finance laws.

Unprecedented for at least 40 years

Many presidents have had frustrations with the legal system and criticized court rulings and irksome judges. Tensions between branches of government are inherent in the US political system.

President Barack Obama caused a storm by rebuking police in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who arrested African-American academic Henry Louis Gates Jr. in his own home. He was also ripped for criticizing the Supreme Court over the Citizens United decision. President Bill Clinton whipped up a firestorm with his pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich and was impeached for lying under oath.

But no modern president has racked up a record like Trump, who has risked the integrity of the justice system of which he is the titular head for apparently personal and political reasons.

"I think that at least going back 40 years there is no comparison that you can make in terms of degree," said Rudy Mehrbani, senior counsel at the non-partisan Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.

"He really doesn't respect the judiciary and the rule of law as we expect and need Presidents to. ... He just weighs in for what I think are clear partisan political purposes."

The President has publicly appeared to dangle the possibility of a pardon in front of his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort who faces years in jail.

In tirades more typical of a despot, he has demanded his political foes be investigated by the Justice Department. He beams when crowds chant "lock her up" in reference to Hillary Clinton at his rallies.

His pardons of Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio and conservative polemicist Dinesh D'Souza were criticized as pure partisan plays to please his base.

In November, he slammed a judge on the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit as an "Obama judge" after he contravened the administration's asylum policy. In an exceedingly rare move, Chief Justice John Roberts issued a statement contradicting the President's remarks.

Trump responded by proposing the break up of the Ninth Circuit.

In 2017, Trump accused judges of thwarting the fight against terrorism by overturning his executive orders on immigration.

Trump didn't even wait to become President to slam the judiciary: in 2016, he singled out American-born Judge Gonzalo Curiel over the Trump University civil suit, arguing his Mexican heritage meant he could not deliver a fair verdict.

Presidential pressure

Trump's challenge to the rule of law has not been confined to the judiciary.

For two years he has leaned hard on the Justice Department. His beef with former Attorney General Jeff Sessions was that he recused himself over the Russia probe in accordance with departmental norms.

He vocally opposed the AT&T and Time Warner merger before his Justice Department launched an unsuccessful attempt to stop it. AT&T is the parent company of CNN. The President has also threatened to end broadcast licenses for TV stations who carry news he dislikes.

Then there has been the incessant effort to demean Mueller and the FBI in an apparent campaign to devalue any eventual critical conclusions out of the Russia investigation. According to Comey, the President asked him to go easy on Flynn. The former FBI chief's firing triggered the appointment of Mueller and an investigation into whether Trump obstructed justice.

Trump has often given the impression that he views the Justice Department as owing loyalty to him rather than the rule of law.

"So often, the President would say here's what I want to do and here's how I want to do it," former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in one of his first public appearances since leaving the administration.

"And I would have to say to him, 'Mr. President, I understand what you want to do, but you can't do it that way. It violates the law,' " Tillerson said.

Trump supporters often argue that his critics take his tweets and comments too seriously. And they reject any criticism by Comey, who many conservatives accuse of giving Clinton a pass on her email server.

Democrats are still fuming at the former FBI chief because they believe he handed the White House to Trump by reopening the Clinton probe days before the election.

Trump backers, who chose someone to shake up what they saw as a corrupt political establishment either do not perceive a threat to the rule of law or really don't care that much. Their perceptions of Trump's behavior are also filtered through the conservative media machine. And the President's approval ratings of 80% and higher among Republicans offer him a safety net with his political base.

But there is an increasing expectation of a legal reckoning in Washington as Mueller appears to be aiming directly at the President as he approaches the end of his investigation.

That means that Trump has likely yet to pose his gravest test to the legal system and the rule of law.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1474289

Reported Deaths: 20385
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion2021122504
Lake996361476
Allen909861007
Hamilton71271540
St. Joseph63433750
Elkhart48401623
Vanderburgh46765523
Tippecanoe42550330
Johnson37591519
Hendricks35518458
Porter34097464
Madison28261531
Clark25349321
Vigo25076343
LaPorte23079307
Monroe22397244
Howard21556372
Delaware21108365
Hancock18494218
Bartholomew17598212
Kosciusko17580201
Warrick16259212
Wayne15851300
Floyd15521252
Grant14992296
Morgan14070230
Boone13268136
Noble11509140
Dearborn11468112
Henry11427201
Shelby11276150
Marshall11115167
Dubois10954152
Jackson10280104
Cass10012142
DeKalb10005129
Lawrence9973220
Huntington9893139
Gibson9236125
Montgomery9105140
Knox8839124
Harrison8754111
Whitley850471
Steuben8403103
Jasper8125114
Putnam800497
Clinton800194
Miami7961133
Jefferson7663124
Wabash7651139
Ripley7053111
Adams6555101
Daviess6332127
Scott632686
White606581
Greene5958111
Clay592773
Decatur5843118
Wells5831120
Jennings578976
Fayette5687121
Posey535146
LaGrange517096
Randolph4972129
Washington487068
Owen484998
Fountain469079
Spencer441856
Starke435686
Sullivan433465
Fulton428290
Orange415182
Jay406464
Rush398737
Carroll374749
Franklin371250
Perry368755
Vermillion348762
Pike311345
Tipton309974
Parke308938
Pulaski269173
Blackford269055
Newton229559
Brown223654
Benton214821
Crawford213031
Switzerland192414
Martin184622
Warren170820
Union164419
Ohio120616
Unassigned0742

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 2418722

Reported Deaths: 31245
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin2613932065
Cuyahoga2576953018
Hamilton1679311714
Montgomery1114691604
Summit1070311391
Lucas899971160
Butler79406942
Stark750951400
Lorain63061792
Warren50411475
Mahoning49909915
Lake46923605
Clermont44079429
Delaware39138212
Trumbull38726755
Medina37708419
Licking37221408
Fairfield34115334
Greene32452422
Portage31473360
Clark30496445
Richland28493423
Wood27867297
Allen24603395
Miami23075395
Muskingum22525245
Columbiana22202403
Wayne21380356
Tuscarawas18940427
Erie18137222
Ashtabula17989342
Marion17633232
Scioto16712207
Ross16314252
Pickaway15631178
Hancock15407228
Geauga15281223
Lawrence13931186
Huron13460182
Union1340984
Belmont13369247
Jefferson12969258
Sandusky12862199
Athens11991106
Knox11595198
Seneca11540200
Ashland10830178
Darke10786198
Washington10644168
Auglaize10247142
Crawford9949175
Shelby9839157
Brown9507140
Fulton9310150
Guernsey9179117
Defiance9116135
Highland9100148
Logan9035142
Clinton8810127
Mercer8709111
Madison8654106
Preble8069162
Williams7937135
Putnam7780135
Ottawa7675121
Champaign7606112
Jackson7409117
Perry720798
Coshocton7076136
Morrow700182
Fayette670987
Hardin6251128
Pike621786
Gallia598191
Adams5844124
Van Wert5824121
Henry570793
Hocking5568104
Carroll4853100
Wyandot485290
Holmes4760161
Paulding404464
Meigs377473
Monroe300268
Noble281551
Harrison281361
Morgan278148
Vinton240845
Unassigned08
Fort Wayne
Partly Cloudy
37° wxIcon
Hi: 38° Lo: 26°
Feels Like: 29°
Angola
Mostly Cloudy
35° wxIcon
Hi: 36° Lo: 25°
Feels Like: 26°
Huntington
Partly Cloudy
36° wxIcon
Hi: 37° Lo: 26°
Feels Like: 27°
Decatur
Partly Cloudy
37° wxIcon
Hi: 40° Lo: 27°
Feels Like: 29°
Van Wert
Partly Cloudy
41° wxIcon
Hi: 40° Lo: 28°
Feels Like: 33°
A gusty northwest wind ushers in another round of Arctic air which lingers for the rest of the workweek.
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events