So this is it? Everything Donald Trump has done is just… OK?
The president of the United States provides a running weekly commentary on an investigation into his campaign. Until Trump, of course, presidents refrained entirely from commenting on Department of Justice investigations. Into anything. Let alone into them. On the rare occasions when prior presidents gingerly breached this wall, outrage was universal.
Trump didn’t gingerly breach it. He pulverized it, again and again. He didn’t merely comment on the investigation. He trashed it, and he must have impugned the personal integrity of the man running the investigation 50 times. I thought that was not OK. We Americans were taught to think that was not OK. But now? Apparently, it’s OK.
The president’s campaign aides meet with a Russian national promising dirt on Hillary Clinton. Any other campaign, any other, Republican or Democrat, would have immediately called the FBI. Even Steve Bannon said they should have immediately called the FBI. He said the meeting itself was “treasonous.”
Treasonous, maybe—but evidently as of now, legal.
It’s a longstanding… well, I don’t know what word to use here. I toss “law,” for obvious reasons. I might have written “rule.” But I guess now I’m left with “custom.” But it’s a longstanding custom in this country that the attorney general does not work for the president in the sense that other Cabinet secretaries do. Presidents never fired their attorneys general because they weren’t acting enough like Roy Cohn. But this president did that to Jeff Sessions, and now, his replacement, Bob Barr, is from appearances acting more like the president’s fixer than the nation’s top law-enforcement official.
And this, too, is apparently OK.
I could go on, but you get the picture. Trump has done hundreds of things right in front of our faces that at the very least have decimated normal standards of behavior. And now, it emerges that there is evidently no custom, no rule, and no body of federal law that says this behavior is wrong.
Of course, we can’t quite say that last part just yet. We haven’t seen the report. It’s only Barr and Rod Rosenstein who concluded that Trump didn’t obstruct justice, not necessarily Mueller. So we’ll learn more about that. And it’s worth saying again that obstruction isn’t some booby prize. Obstruction of justice is a serious crime. The credible allegation of it made Republican support for Richard Nixon cave in 1974 and forced his resignation. I know that wouldn’t happen with today’s GOP. Just making the point that obstruction is not a “meh” crime.
And there’s the Southern District probe. The Southern District has wide jurisdiction here, and is reportedly taking a broader look into Trump’s full relationship with Russia. Back to things that used to not be OK: There was once a time when a president who was discovered to be seeking to build a skyscraper in Russia at a time when Russia was clearly helping his campaign (this much is not disputed) would have been rejected and shunned on a bipartisan basis for putting self-interest and cupidity ahead of the national interest. But now, doing that is OK, too.
If Mueller found no collusion, he found no collusion. We have to accept that. This is, for now, a big political blow to Democrats. We know that Trump will campaign for reelection calling the Democrats liars, and we know that with some percentage of the population, it will work.
Given that, Democrats have to proceed with caution here for now. Certainly, Jerry Nadler will be right to bring in Barr and Mueller to testify. There is undoubtedly information in the text of the report that will support the Democrats’ case. If that information seems to back an obstruction charge, lawmakers would be foolish not to bring the heat. But they do have to take care now not to be obsessed with this topic.
That’s not even my main concern yet. My main concern is this utter failure of the law. Trump’s been one step ahead of it his entire life. As long as he was a rich man in New York real estate, he was going to stay one step ahead of it. That’s the way of the world.
But I honestly thought that once he entered this realm, the realm of public service and accountability, the law would catch up to him. And it may yet; we’ll see what the Southern District and the New York attorney general’s office have to say about that. But now we stare at the abyss: It may not catch up with him. If so, the law has validated a set of behaviors that were once considered beyond the pale for a president of the United States to engage in.
And the system has not checked Trump, as so many hoped and predicted. The opposite has happened: He has brought the system down to his level.