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Midterm fury fuels Trump's assault on constitutional norms

President Donald T...

Posted: Nov 13, 2018 10:31 AM
Updated: Nov 13, 2018 10:31 AM

President Donald Trump is intensifying his challenge to constitutional constraints and governing norms that are already facing their gravest test since Watergate in the 1970s.

Trump has reacted to the coming Democratic majority in the House by upping the assault on the Washington system he was elected to upend, but in a way that could be taking the nation into perilous political territory.

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In the days since the fracturing of the Republican majority on power in Washington, Trump has challenged political order across a broad front.

The President has installed Matthew Whitaker, an acolyte who shares his skepticism of the Mueller probe as acting attorney general. In addition, he has stoked conspiracy theories about stolen elections in the wake of Florida's latest vote counting controversy and has threatened to use the mechanisms of government to investigate Democrats if they investigate him.

And he has stepped up his assault on the press, including by confiscating the White House pass of CNN chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta, who asked multiple, challenging questions of Trump during a White House news conference.

All of this came days after Trump used his power as commander-in-chief to dispatch troops to the border to meet what he said was an imminent criminal invasion from a migrant caravan that is yet to materialize.

The President's moves, with the prospect of more to come, have precipitated a surreal moment in politics, with Washington veterans debating whether a constitutional crisis is looming — or whether it is already here.

Does the acting AG threaten the rule of law?

The current epicenter of the debate concerns Whitaker, the former chief of staff to fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions who took his boss's job.

"He should never have been appointed and ... it does violence to the Constitution and the vision of our founders to appoint such a person in such a manner to be the chief legal officer in our country," the likely next House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, said on CBS's "Face the Nation" on Sunday.

Growing questions over Whitaker's position will hike pressure on the President to swiftly nominate a permanent attorney general. But that nominee will face an inquisition from the Republican-led Senate over their positions on the Russia probe.

Whitaker's critics fear he will refuse to sign off on subpoenas Mueller might request, narrow the mandate of his investigation or suppress the special counsel's final report.

His appointment has raised fears that the President intends to use him to derail the Russia investigation. That is a realistic possibility since Trump already admitted in an NBC interview last year that he fired FBI Director James Comey because of the investigation -- a move that critics say in itself amounts to an abuse of power and obstruction of justice.

Whitaker appears unlikely to heed calls to recuse himself from the probe given a decision by Sessions to do so sparked Trump's fury and poisoned his tenure.

It may fall to the new Democratic House majority, therefore, to act as a check on any attempts by Trump to use Whitaker to interfere with Mueller, despite the President's challenge to legal norms represented by his appointment.

Florida, Florida, Florida

The President has frequently made claims of massive voter fraud in the United States, despite the fact that all available evidence suggests that it is not a significant problem.

So it is no surprise that he has leapt into action to proclaim that Florida's latest vote controversy is a flagrant example of Democratic larceny at the polls.

"The Florida Election should be called in favor of Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis in that large numbers of new ballots showed up out of nowhere, and many ballots are missing or forged," Trump tweeted Monday morning after having spent the weekend in Paris.

An honest vote count is no longer possible-ballots massively infected. Must go with Election Night!

No one is disputing the Sunshine's State's unfortunate tendency to trigger election controversy. And answers are overdue about the stewardship of elections in Broward and Palm Beach counties for instance.

Lawyers for Democratic and Republican candidates are now launching dueling campaigns. Each side has every right to make their case after the state's Republican secretary of state ordered recounts to begin given thin margins.

"Every vote should be counted, but, by gosh, not let fraudulent or anti-Constitutional behavior prevail," Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, who ran the Republican Senate midterm campaign, said on CNN's "State of the Union."

But Trump seems to be reacting not to evidence of fraud, but to vote counts that are narrowing the gap between Democratic Senate and gubernatorial candidates Bill Nelson and Andrew Gillum and the presumed Republican victors.

Thus the Florida controversy marks the latest occasion when he is prioritizing his personal interests over a President's duty to protect the nation's democracy.

But by intervening personally in the race, the President is casting doubt on the integrity of the election and potentially risking long-term damage to America's political system itself, which relies on public consent.

His furious intervention contrasts with the reaction of President Bill Clinton during an even higher-stakes confrontation in Florida, the bitterly contested recount in the 2000 presidential election, eventually handed to George W. Bush over Democrat Al Gore by the Supreme Court.

Clinton took steps to avoid politicizing the process, reasoning that America's system depended on him staying out of it.

"I don't think I should be involved in that," Clinton said soon after the disputed election.

Trump's intervention 18 years later is one reason why his critics fear he is oblivious or disdainful of traditional norms governing presidential behavior.

Lashing out at scrutiny

The Democratic capture of the House guarantees an uncomfortable period of investigation and oversight for the White House that the Republican majority deemed unnecessary during his first two years in office.

"They can play that game, but we can play it better, because we have a thing called the United States Senate," Trump said during a Wednesday news conference.

In the latest worrying sign for the President, top Democrat Rep. Jerrold Nadler told Jake Tapper on "State of the Union" that Democrats would examine hush payments to women who allege past affairs with Trump that may infringe campaign finance laws.

"That might very well be an impeachable offense," Nadler said.

Trump has denied the alleged affairs.

The President already reacted with fury to the notion of a new era of scrutiny from Democrats, promising a "warlike" posture if it took place, and hinted he could use the mechanisms of government to investigate them during a news conference last week.

The President also acted in a way many observers fear raises First Amendment questions by taking the unprecedented step of confiscating Acosta's permanent White House press pass after he questioned the President on the migrant caravan.

How deep is the crisis?

Events of the last few days point clearly to an escalating challenge by the White House to political conventions and guardrails, one that could further sharpen if Trump's reshuffle of top officials rids him of remaining restraining influences.

It is more difficult to assess whether the President's actions have already tipped the nation into a constitutional crisis or whether the system of checks and balances has kept him on the right side of that line.

After all, two years after he was elected, voters did decide to introduce new accountability in Washington with a Democratic House after Republicans gave no sign they were willing to rein in the President's excesses.

The courts have tempered some of Trump's most radical ideas, watering down a Muslim travel ban he authored early in his presidency. Trump's new use of executive power to limit asylum claims, in an apparent contravention of international law, will soon get its own day in court.

But political systems need to be nurtured constantly if they are to remain healthy. And the President's rhetoric on the Florida controversy especially seems to edge close to the danger zone.

One veteran observer, Leon Panetta, a former White House chief of staff for Clinton and defense secretary under President Barack Obama, believes the nation's institutions are standing firm.

"I think ultimately the institutions that our forefathers put in place are strong enough to be able to survive any administration," Panetta said Thursday on "The Situation Room."

But the fact that the question is even relevant is testimony to the darkening mood in Washington.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 263023

Reported Deaths: 5752
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto17675191
Hinds16813331
Harrison14224204
Rankin11167219
Jackson10839190
Lee9050144
Madison8568168
Jones6668114
Forrest6177124
Lauderdale6097192
Lowndes5518120
Lafayette516298
Lamar503965
Washington4923125
Bolivar4104109
Oktibbeha405982
Panola384881
Pontotoc376258
Warren3674103
Monroe3671108
Union355663
Marshall355270
Neshoba3485154
Pearl River3468105
Leflore3111109
Lincoln305688
Hancock291862
Sunflower291475
Tate279662
Alcorn272354
Pike268981
Itawamba268063
Scott259648
Yazoo255256
Prentiss252553
Tippah249250
Copiah249049
Coahoma248054
Simpson242171
Leake237367
Grenada223272
Marion222073
Covington219973
Adams213671
Wayne212634
Winston207371
George204339
Newton199046
Attala196963
Tishomingo194161
Chickasaw189044
Jasper179538
Holmes171768
Clay165837
Tallahatchie156235
Stone151425
Clarke147262
Calhoun140822
Smith129226
Yalobusha122034
Walthall114337
Greene113529
Noxubee112926
Montgomery111636
Carroll106622
Lawrence106517
Perry104531
Amite101426
Webster96124
Tunica88821
Claiborne88325
Jefferson Davis88329
Benton85623
Humphreys84624
Kemper80520
Quitman7089
Franklin69917
Choctaw63213
Wilkinson59825
Jefferson56821
Sharkey45117
Issaquena1606
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 439442

Reported Deaths: 6657
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson644371007
Mobile31435569
Madison28158217
Tuscaloosa21492275
Montgomery19873332
Shelby19248132
Baldwin17128189
Lee13137107
Morgan12594142
Etowah12070181
Calhoun11496206
Marshall10420123
Houston8988164
Limestone832081
Cullman8257124
Elmore8183110
DeKalb7871107
Lauderdale7847107
St. Clair7808130
Talladega6445112
Walker6028183
Jackson599145
Colbert548694
Blount546286
Autauga535862
Coffee460764
Dale409685
Franklin374150
Russell354215
Chilton344373
Covington338580
Escambia334544
Tallapoosa3143109
Dallas312996
Chambers303470
Clarke298036
Pike262431
Lawrence253355
Marion253161
Winston233342
Bibb222348
Geneva210247
Marengo208231
Pickens199531
Hale184944
Barbour180538
Fayette177829
Butler173160
Cherokee165131
Henry159525
Monroe152021
Randolph145536
Washington141727
Clay129746
Crenshaw123745
Macon121937
Cleburne121525
Lamar119922
Lowndes114836
Wilcox107922
Bullock103328
Perry99918
Conecuh97822
Sumter90527
Greene77923
Coosa63418
Choctaw51924
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