No One Is Above The Law
In an ominous, full-page editorial today, the New York Times editorial board affirms why “The President Is Not Above the Law” and summons Republicans to help protect that fundamental American concept.
The editorial starts with a quote from Sen. Orrin Hatch, the Utah Republican:
This great nation can tolerate a president who makes mistakes. But it cannot tolerate one who makes a mistake and then breaks the law to cover it up.
The Times immediately clarifies that Hatch wasn’t talking about Donald Trump, but rather about Bill Clinton in 1999, when Clinton’s “financial dealings and…personal relationships were painstakingly investigated for years,” but ultimately prosecutors had to settle with accusing Clinton of lying under oath about a sexual affair.
The Times points out that it quotes Hatch “not to level some sort of accusation of hypocrisy, but to remind us all of what is at stake,” i.e. the “harsher and more consequential test” Hatch and his fellow lawmakers may be approaching shortly.
Because of copyright restrictions, we cannot extensively quote from the editorial. You can read it in full here.
The following are some of the editorial’s most salient points – some paraphrased.
Commenting on the possibility that Trump may act to “cripple or shut down” the ongoing investigations, the Times says that “if and when it comes to pass, [lawmakers] will suddenly find themselves on the edge of an abyss, with the Constitution in their hands.”
Make no mistake: If Mr. Trump takes such drastic action, he will be striking at the foundation of the American government, attempting to set a precedent that a president, alone among American citizens, is above the law. What can seem now like a political sideshow will instantly become a constitutional crisis, and history will come calling for Mr. Hatch and his colleagues.
After quoting some of Trump’s most contemptible tweets on the rule of law, the Times laments how some Republicans “used to warn the nation about Mr. Trump openly, back when they thought they could still protect their party from him” and provides a “short sampling” of the terms they used, e.g. “malignant clown,” “national disgrace,” “complete idiot,” “a sociopath…,” “A bigot. A misogynist. A fraud. A bully.”
While “some” still say such things, the Times warns that if Trump goes after Mueller or Rosenstein, “even Republicans who have misgivings about the president might be inclined to fall into line” because such an “endless investigation” might endanger their agenda, because they resent partisan attacks on their party’s leader, or just because of bare-knuckle political power considerations come November.
But, the Times speculates, “the scariest contingency to contemplate” is that “Republican leaders would calculate that with their support, or mere acquiescence, Mr. Trump could get away with it.”
Perhaps because “many Americans, weary of the shouting in Washington, might dismiss the whole thing as another food fight.”
Perhaps because of the intense pressure the “minority of Americans who support Mr. Trump, as well as…the likes of Fox News and Sinclair,” will surely put on Republican lawmakers.
After pointing out how there is a responsibility, an opportunity, to demonstrate that Americans still have some principles, such as is happening in Missouri right now or during Watergate more than four decades ago, the Times concludes:
But should Mr. Trump move to hobble or kill the investigation, he would darken rather than dispel the cloud of suspicion around him. Far worse, he would free future presidents to politicize American justice. That would be a danger to every American, of whatever political leaning.
The president is not a king but a citizen, deserving of the presumption of innocence and other protections, yet also vulnerable to lawful scrutiny. We hope Mr. Trump recognizes this. If he doesn’t, how Republican lawmakers respond will shape the future not only of this presidency and of one of the country’s great political parties, but of the American experiment itself.