Trump Attacks Manafort Prosecution
Once again, the President has thrown the Rule of Law under the bus.
With the trial of former Trump Campaign Manager Paul Manafort hitting its fourteenth day on Friday, and the jury completing a second day of deliberations without a verdict, President Trump chose to use the occasion to speak out against a prosecution being tried by his own Justice Department:
President Donald Trump on Friday refused to say whether Paul Manafort, his former campaign chairman who’s been wrapped up in the special counsel’s Russia investigation, could count on a pardon from the White House.
Responding to a shouted question of whether or not he would pardon Manafort, Trump wouldn’t answer either way, saying that “I don’t talk about that.”
“I think the whole Manafort trial is very sad,” Trump told reporters on the White House lawn, as jurors deliberate charges of tax and bank fraud against his former campaign chairman in nearby Alexandria, Virginia.
“When you look at what is going on, I think it’s a very sad day for our country. He worked for me for a very short period of time, but you know what? He happens to be a very good person. And I think it’s very sad what they’ve done to Paul Manafort,” he said.
With all that going on, the President’s comments yesterday morning now hang over like a dark cloud. In addition to at least subtly hinting at the prospect of a pardon in Manafort’s future, which is arguably meant to deter him from thinking about cutting a deal with the prosecution while the jury is still deliberating, it also constitutes an entirely inappropriate intrusion into the process on the part of the President of the United States. This is especially true given the fact that the jury is not sequestered and, while they are instructed not to read, listen to, or watch anything related to the trial, the odds that something about the trial, or the President’s comments, might not come to their attention.
Of course, President Trump has already demonstrated that he has no real inclination to refrain from attacking the legitimacy of the legal system or undermining legal process when he thinks it suits his personal or political interests. The most prominent example of that contempt, of course, has been his consistent attempts to undermine the investigations by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and Congress, an effort that his fellow Republicans are only too happy to help him with for the most part. In addition to the investigation, Trump has also attacked the Rule of Law when it impacts him personally. In the wake of the numerous occasions on which Federal Courts around the country have put Administration policies such as the Muslim Travel Ban, the effort to ban transgender Americans from openly serving in the military, his efforts to undo the DACA programs, and his attacks on the Tenth Amendment rights of the states by punishing so-called “sanctuary cities,” Trump has repeatedly attacked the courts and the court system.
We’ve also seen other examples of this during the time since he became President. For example, Trump tweeted his support for the death penalty for Sayfullo Saipov, the suspect in the Halloween attack in New York City last October, saying on Twitter that he “SHOULD GET DEATH PENALTY.” Trump also commented on the sentence handed down in the case of Bowe Bergdahl, who received a Dishonorable Discharge and reduction in rank to Private after pleading guilty to walking away from his post in Afghanistan in 2009 before being captured by the Taliban. In the past, of course, Trump had referred to Bergdahl as a “dirty, rotten traitor,” and as a “traitor” who should be executed for his crimes while a candidate for President, and said he stood by those comments shortly after Bergdahl pled guilty. In each of these incidents and others, Trump has shown his contempt for courts, for Judges, and for the legal system generally.
There was a preview of all of this, of course, during the campaign two years ago when he attacked the Federal District Court Judge who was presiding over the fraud lawsuits against him and his now defunct business venture “Trump University.” In those attacks, Trump referred to the Judge, Gonzalo Curiel of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California as a “Mexican”notwithstanding the fact that he was born in Indiana, contended that his ‘Mexican heritage’ created some sort of conflict of interest, and claimed that Curiel was “biased” and “unfair.” In retrospect, it’s clear that Trump’s attacks were related to Judge Curiel’s decision to authorize the release of documents related to the ongoing lawsuit, documents that clearly show the extent to which Trump’s so-called “University” was little more than a fraudulent marketing scheme. In reality, though, an examination of Judge Curiel’s rulings in the case demonstrated no evidence of the bias Trump alleged.
Back when Trump was still just a candidate, I made note of his obvious contempt for the Rule of Law:
Based both on his rhetoric and his actions, Donald Trump gives the impression of being a President who sees himself as unconstrained by the law or the other branches of Government in the tradition of Jackson or Richard Nixon, both of whom set off Constitutional crises from which it took the nation years to recover. As in the case of those two previous Presidents, he would likely justify his actions by appealing to the same populist, anti-establishment rhetoric that has fueled his campaign from the start. The difference is that, this time, he would be President of the United States and his rhetoric would be tied to action that could do real damage to the Rule of Law and to the Constitution. Furthermore, unlike any of his predecessors, Trump seems to have command over a mob of supporters that would rush to his defense even when he was clearly wrong. This is why the arguments that equate Trump to the European far right, and even to fascists and authoritarians of the past, are completely on the mark. Either Donald Trump is lying to his supporters or he is the kind of man who cannot be trusted with political power even in a Constitutionally limited democratic republic. Under the circumstances, it would be foolish for anyone to believe that this is all a big con on Trump’s part, and much safer to assume that he quite simply cannot be trusted with political power.
Those comments remain as true today as they were in 2016, and the fact that the President has decided to cross the line and comment about an ongoing criminal trial while the jury is deliberating is just the latest example of the utter contempt he has for the Rule of Law, for propriety, and for the boundaries that have applied to President’s before him.