WASHINGTON, June 4, 2018 – A Democratic congressman and constitutional law professor says President Trump’s latest tweets on the constitutionality of Robert Mueller’s probe into Russia’s election meddling, his pardon power and trade deficits represent “a brazen expansion of the president’s monarchical pretensions.”
“The president has revealed that he has the mind of a king,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., who has taught constitutional law at American University’s Washington College of Law since 1990. “Whether he’s a mad king or not is in the eye of the beholder.”
Raskin spoke with BeltwayBreakfast shortly after President Trump capped off a Monday morning tweetstorm by claiming the appointment of former FBI director Robert S. Mueller III as a special prosecutor was unconstitutional.
“The appointment of the Special Counsel is totally unconstitutional!” Trump wrote, adding that despite that, his administration “[plays] the game because I, unlike the Democrats, have done nothing wrong!”
Separate Tweets on pardon power and presidential authority on trade
In separate tweets – which the White House has said are official statements by the president – Trump also claimed that “numerous legal scholars” have said he has “the absolute right to pardon himself,” and that he will end trade deficits by negotiating deals to prevent “Mexico, Canada, China and others” from treating “U.S. farmers and other businesses” unfairly.
Raskin first weighed in on Trump’s claim that Mueller’s appointment was unconstitutional, noting that the tweet was so vague that it was unclear whether the president was arguing that only Mueller’s investigation was unconstitutional, or if he was referring to all investigations involving the appointment of a special prosecutor.
It would be hard for either argument to stick, Raskin said, in light of a 7-1 Supreme Court decision in 1988, Morrison v. Olson, upholding the 1978 Independent Counsel Act. That precedent empowered prosecutors like Kenneth W. Starr, the former independent counsel whose investigation led to Bill Clinton’s impeachment.
The 1978 law, Raskin said, was found to be constitutional even though it granted special prosecutors even more powers than Mueller, a mere special prosecutor, has under the regulations governing his appointment.
Trump’s claims are beyond that of the ‘unitary executive’ theory
Previous presidents have staked out an expansive view of executive authority under a constitutional theory known as the “unitary executive.” Such a theory claims that the constitution allows a president to directly control the entire executive branch.
But for Raskin, Trump’s latest argument amounts to a belief that “anything which offends him on any given day is unconstitutional,” which, to him, makes Trump sound less like George W. Bush and a lot more like France’s Louis XIV.
“Essentially we’ve arrived at the argument of ‘L’Etat, C’est Moi,’ he said.
In Raskin’s view, Trump’s assertions of such wide unfettered authority represent “a brazen expansion of the president’s monarchical pretensions,” and go against the very principles on which the United States was founded.
“The whole point of our revolution and our constitution was to reject monarchy. The president’s primary responsibility is to take care that the laws are faithfully executed,” he said.
“This president thinks that the laws simply don’t apply to him, and if he doesn’t like them, they’re unconstitutional.”
Legal scholars are not united in favoring Trump’s monarchical pretensions
Raskin further said Trump’s claim that numerous legal scholars say he has the absolute right to pardon himself was “clearly in contradiction of law and the constitution,” and that his proposed grant of clemency to disgraced Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich was “chilling.”
“Now the White House is arguing that there are no limits to the pardon power. They are essentially arguing that they can sell pardons and can promise people pardons for criminal conduct,” Raskin said.
“The only question is whether the proper response to a corrupt pardon is impeachment or prosecution, but it is clearly wrong to say that the president can sell a pardon or offer a pardon for corrupt purposes.”
Trump’s “monarchical pretensions” also extends to his use of a little-used national security law to unilaterally impose tariffs on many of America’s allies, Raskin added.
“Even if you grant the president wide authority under the various trade provisions, there still has to be some rational basis for his actions, that means there’d have to be some rational argument that national security is implicated,” he said.
Raskin called particular attention to Trump’s claim that trade deficits are evidence of bad trade deals, noting that the president’s idea of a good trade deal appears to be one that forces other countries to buy American goods.
“Befitting a king, Trump wants to return our economic and trade policies to the mercantilism of the 16th and 17th centuries,” he said.