Donald Trump’s ties with Vladimir Putin – it’s a test of Presidential Power

Donald Trump’s ties with Vladimir Putin – it’s a test of Presidential Power

Trump had already spent Saturday morning using his Twitter feed to slag the Times, Comey, the FBI, Special Counsel Robert Mueller and Democrats for orchestrating groundless investigations, and he continued his food fight on Pirro’s show – lobbing insult after insult but never answering a straightforward question in a straightforward way.

Later in their conversation, Pirro and Trump chatted about another piece of hard-won reporting the Washington Post published Saturday morning. The Post disclosed that Trump had “gone to extraordinary lengths” to bury details of conversations he had with Putin, including “on at least one occasion taking possession of the notes of his own interpreter and instructing the linguist not to discuss what had transpired with other administration officials.” The net effect of Trump’s manoeuvres, the Post noted, is that there now isn’t a detailed record – even in the federal government’s classified files – of his personal conversations with Putin at five locations over the past two years.

‘I couldn’t care less’

A reasonable person might wonder if the president has been going out of his way to hide something. The president was less concerned. ‘I’m not keeping anything under wraps. I couldn’t care less,” Trump said. “I mean, it’s so ridiculous, these people make it up.’

Trump also told Pirro that there’s no reason to be unduly alarmed by his various intersections with Russia’s leader. “Think of it: I have a one-on-one meeting with Putin like I do with every other leader, I have many one-on-one, nobody ever says anything about it. But with Putin they say, ‘Oh, what did they talk about?’ We talked about very positive things.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with US President Donald Trump as he arrived to attend a ceremony in Paris on November 11, marking the 100th anniversary of the end of the Great War.  Ludovic Marin

Trump would prefer, of course, to continue interacting with Putin unsupervised. He also would prefer the broader public to adopt his view of investigations of his conduct as “witch hunts.” All of that would also involve the country accepting an imperial understanding of presidential powers. That’s why one of the great tests of the Trump presidency involves seeing how ready the Republican Party and voters are to accommodate themselves to executive overreach or malfeasance.

Trump and his advocates have argued that Comey’s firing can’t be construed as obstruction of justice because, under Article II of the Constitution, the president was merely exercising the powers of his office as he saw fit. Comey worked for him, after all. A similar argument has surfaced around the voluminous body of critical or meddlesome tweets Trump has directed at federal investigators and defendants in various legal probes that might circle back to him. Trump can tweet whatever he wants because it’s free speech, say his defenders.

But the law allows no one, including the president, to try to upend the justice system or disrupt governmental proceedings in the service of their own interests. In that context, it really isn’t about thinking of it as someone just doing their job when a senior law enforcement official gets canned, or just speaking their mind when they seek to influence witnesses by lashing out or praising them on Twitter (especially if national security and the rule of law are at stake).

There isn’t settled agreement about the boundaries of presidential immunity and executive privilege, so we may end up seeing some of this adjudicated and settled by the Supreme Court depending on how events unfold. In the interim, the House of Representatives is likely to fill the void.

‘The country is told nothing’

US Representative Jerrold Nadler, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said on Saturday that it was “unprecedented” that the FBI felt it needed to investigate a sitting president’s “possible co-optation by a hostile foreign government.” He said that his committee will “take steps to better understand both the President’s actions and the FBI’s response to that behaviour, and to make certain that these career investigators are protected from President Trump’s increasingly unhinged attacks.’

US Representative Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, also said on Saturday that he wants to know more about Trump’s meetings with Putin. He said his committee plans to hold hearings on the “mysteries swirling” around the Trump-Putin relationship. “Every time Trump meets with Putin, the country is told nothing,” he said. “The Foreign Affairs Committee will seek to get to the bottom of it.”

Whether any of that looms large in the president’s mind – or whether he completely understands the potential threats of the various probes surrounding him – is unclear. An open season of House probes is set to kick off publicly next month in Washington when the president’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, testifies in a hearing about his experiences working for Trump. Pirro asked the president on Saturday night if he had concerns about Cohen’s testimony.

“You know, you’re supposed to have lawyer-client privilege, but it doesn’t matter ’cause I’m a very honest person, frankly,” Trump responded.


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