Trump opens up prospect of Constitutional showdown

Developments on Day 501 of the Trump Administration:

See also Podcast: Week in Review — Ireland and Brexit, “Farage is a Liar”, Trump Above The Law, and Protests in Jordan

“Special Councel is Totally UNCONSTITUTIONAL”

Both betraying his concern over the Trump-Russia investigation and threatening to close off the inquiry, Donald Trump proclaims on Monday that he has “the absolute right” to pardon himself for any crime while insisting that he has not acted illegally.

Trump backed up his remark with the insistence that the notable violation is the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, again reviving the prospect that Mueller might be dismissed if the prospect of political and/or criminal charges is too great: “The appointment of the Special Councel [sic] is totally UNCONSTITUTIONAL! Despite that, we play the game because I, unlike the Democrats, have done nothing wrong!”

[Trump — or someone on his staff — later deleted the tweet and replaced it with the correct spelling of “Counsel”.]

Trump’s remarks continued a 72-hour escalation as his lawyers tried to prevent Mueller from questioning the President in an encounter which, given Trump’s propensity for deceptive remarks, could add perjury to the list of legal and political difficulties.

On Saturday, The New York Times published a January letter from Trump’s attorneys to Mueller — with speculation that the Trump camp leaked the 20-page document — invoking executive power to argue that Trump should not have to answer questions and that he can never be charged with obstruction of justice. Yesterday Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani toured Sunday morning TV talk shows to introduce the notion of Trump pardoning himself while, amid rambling and confused remarks, saying that the President would never do so.

The weekend campaign and Trump’s Twitter burst indicated concern that earlier efforts to undermine the Russia investigation have failed. Trump and his allies have spent more than a year trying to deny the legitimacy of the FBI, Justice Department, and Mueller, from the May 2017 firing of FBI Director James Comey to February’s Nunes memorandum accusing the FBI of inappropriate surveillance of Trump advisors to Trump’s recent fictional claim of the FBI planting a “spy” inside the campaign.

Last week it was revealed that Trump may have further entangled himself in possible obstruction of justice with demands that Attorney General Jeff Sessions — forced to recuse himself from oversight of the investigation because of his contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak — reverse the recusal.

No previous President has claimed the power to pardon himself. Many legal scholars have questioned the claim, but there is no court precedent.

Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders is challenged over Trump’s declaration:

Ex-Trump Campaign Manager Manafort Accused of Witness Tampering

Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort has been accused of witness tampering by the Special Counsel’s team.

The investigators said Manafort, indicted last October on money laundering and tax charges, had tried to get two witnesses to lie for him in court. A court filing in the Washington DC District Court said one witnesses had described contacts from Manafort by phone and encrypted e-mail.

Mueller’s team asked the judge to revoke his $10 million unsecured bail, ending his house arrest and sending him to prison as he awaits trial, scheduled in late July.

Manafort is being prosecuted over his consultancy for the pro-Russian Ukrainian party of former President Viktor Yanukovych.

On Saturday, Trump tried to distance himself from Manafort in a pair of tweets claiming — falsely — that he had little contact with the former campaign manager.