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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 6/6/18

Going "Full Dictator"? Trump Claims He Has Right to End Mueller Investigation or Pardon Himself

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We go now to Philadelphia, where we're joined by Will Bunch, longtime columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News. Latest column is headlined "The week Trump went full dictator and no one tried tried to stop him."

Respond to these latest developments and comments of both President Trump, reinforcing this letter that The New York Times got a hold of and released this weekend.

WILL BUNCH: Yeah. And hi, Amy. Hi, Juan. Thanks for having me on. I appreciate it.

Yeah, you know, I wrote that column over the weekend, before this extraordinary tweet from President Trump yesterday in which he claimed that he has the ability to pardon himself. You know, you mentioned it's been 500 days of President Trump. And it's day by day we've seen him slowly eroding democratic norms, the rule of law, rules, you know. And when he does that, step by step, he not only erodes our democracy, but he's taking us on a path from a presidency to some kind of dictatorship, where he's basically, like you said, declaring -- like he said, declaring himself above the law. I mean, the letter, the 20-page letter from his lawyers to Robert Mueller, was stunning in the claims that he can shut down the investigation, that he can fire anybody in the Justice Department who's investigating him, at will, and that he has the right to pardon anybody -- Michael Flynn, Michael Cohen and himself, perhaps, although that theory is yet to be tested. So, this is clearly a dangerous time for democracy. And again, we've seen it just erode step by step, you know, the fact that he gets away with telling an average of 30 lies a day to the American people and goes unchallenged on that, the -- you know, in so many ways.

And, you know, the flip side of that is the Founders always thought that we'd be protected against that, because Congress, the courts, our institutions, the media would step in if somebody was that abusive to our fundamental democracy, and take action. But we have a Congress that's totally cowed. You know, the Republicans have completely thrown in with Trump, and the Democrats haven't really adopted an aggressive strategy on how to counter this. The media is debating whether to call a lie a lie. And he is really strengthening this hold over our reality in ways that are very dangerous.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Will, talking about calling a lie a lie, for months and months President Trump continued to say that he was ready to talk to the special prosecutor, and he was looking forward to it. And yet, here, this letter that the Timesissued, released, shows that back in January they were already claiming that they didn't want -- that he doesn't want to talk to Mueller, that they believe that Mueller has all the information he needs and that the president basically doesn't have the time. It was stunning that yet he has continued to say that he's willing to talk to the special prosecutor.

WILL BUNCH: Right, it is stunning, Juan. And, of course, something else emerged in that letter, too, which is the fact that the official story line out of the White House about their initial explanation of this Trump Tower meeting with the Russian emissaries in 2016, the issue was whether President Trump had been personally involved in drafting this statement claiming that the meeting was only about adoptions and nothing else, and, you know, there wasn't a discussion of dirt about Hillary Clinton. The White House had initially denied that Trump had made that -- had done that. And now, in their own letter, they admit that Trump did, in fact, dictate the statement. And, you know, Sarah Sanders was pressed on this yesterday, and she doesn't have a good answer.

And this has just been a hallmark of the Trump administration, you know, just blatant lying. I mean, obviously, Donald Trump is not the first president to lie. You know, we've been through LBJ and Vietnam and Watergate and all these other things. But in this case, I mean, the sheer brazenness of it. And, you know, this gets back to the whole issue of democracy versus dictatorship, because what really makes a dictator is the ability to redefine reality, right? So, the more that Trump and his aides, like Sarah Sanders, and his lawyers can come out and just state these blatant untruths, and he's still -- and you wake up the next day, and nothing has really changed, you know, the more dangerous our situation becomes.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, we've been doing a lot of reflecting back, 50 years later, on 1968. Now, this is, well, not quite 50 years, maybe more like 41 years, but it was after Nixon resigned, the famous interview that he did with David Frost.

DAVID FROST: The president can decide that it's in the best interest of the nation, or something, and do something illegal?

RICHARD NIXON: Well, when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.

DAVID FROST: By definition?

RICHARD NIXON: Exactly.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that was Nixon after he resigned, in 1977. Will Bunch, can you compare Nixon and Trump?

WILL BUNCH: Yeah, absolutely. You know, Amy, I came of age during Watergate. I mean, that's what kind of made me want to go into journalism as a young man. And one of the lessons, supposedly, of Watergate was that we proved that no one is above the law, because Nixon had to resign, he was forced out of office. The truth is, we obviously never really resolved that question, unfortunately. I mean, first of all, the muddies were watered when Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon, so, in a way, he was above the law. He did commit crimes and was not sent to jail or punished for them. And so you had a situation where, three years later, Nixon, instead of being in jail, is a free man, and he's making this claim that when the president does it, it's not illegal. I think the vast majority of Americans totally disagree with that statement, and yet we've never really resolved that question.

And now we have a president who's determined to push this to the outer limit. You know, he's determined to blow by every tradition, every norm, every rule, and he's basically challenging us to say, "What are we going to do about this?" You know, he's challenging Congress. He's challenging the media. He's challenging the American people. What are we going to do about it? Are we going to, you know, sit on our couches and watch this on TV every night? Are we going to take to the streets? What are we going to do as he gets more and more brazen? And this is really the question we have to resolve, because if the president can show that he's above the law, that just erodes the underpinnings of our democracy in so many ways. You know, it's a very risky time.

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