Donald Trump talked a lot about his contempt for the free press and how he would like to deny broadcast licenses, “open up” libel laws and raise taxes on his enemies, like Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.
Republicans unenthusiastic about having to defend Trump but nonetheless still in favor of Trump-Republican policies often responded by shrugging their shoulders and saying that Trump’s frequent blowups are just words and that he can’t actually implement them. It would be unconstitutional, for example, to levy taxes on one particular individual just because you don’t like the newspaper he is involved in owning.
It is also unconstitutional for a president to appoint an Attorney General, a cabinet-level position, without Senate confirmation. But that’s just what Trump did on Wednesday when, the day after the election, he fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions and “appointed” Matthew G. Whitaker, a partisan Republican who opposes the Mueller investigation, without Senate approval.
As people like George Conway (Kelly-Anne’s husband) and John Yoo have pointed out–and as a simple reading of the Constitution or consideration of past appointments shows–it is clearly and undeniably illegal to appoint a cabinet-level officer who reports directly to the president without confirmation by Senate.
Section 2 of the Constitution of the United States states:
2: He [the President] shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law: but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments.
3: The President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session.
The Senate calendar shows the Senate has been in scheduled session all of the first and second months of November.
Trump’s interpretation has been tested and rejected in the Supreme Court. When Trump nominated Sessions in the first place (and every time any president nominated an Attorney General), Sessions testified before Senate and was voted on by Senate. If we destroy the precedent that an Attorney General requires confirmation, then that allows the president to have unilateral control of whomever he wants in his administration–in clear violation of the Constitution’s system of checks and balances.
Rod Rosenstein, as Deputy AG, is the acting Attorney General until such time as Trump nominates a new one and has his nomination confirmed by the Senate.
Don’t expect the amoral Republican Senate majority to do anything about Trump’s reckless abuse of power, though.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, for example, said in 2017, “If Jeff Sessions is fired, there will be holy hell to pay.” Now, of course, Trump’s big defender is Senate is supporting Trump’s actions. On Fox News, he said, “It’s clear to me it’s not working, was not working between Attorney General Sessions and President Trump.”
Some movement conservatives who have been critical of Trump, like John Zeigler, are trying to blame the media for supposedly being liberal in the past–as if a slight bias somehow justifies Trump’s scorched-earth response to press freedom.
Trump is to blame for launching demagogic attacks on our freedom + democratic institutions. Not just about the press; illegally put new AG his cabinet w/out confirmation.
If any1 else is 2 blame (lesser culpability), it's the consrvtvs who created the anti-journalism narrative https://t.co/iRkRgpnxsQ
— Mitchell Blatt (@MitchBlatt) November 9, 2018
Zeigler might have a sliver of a point–from an empirical standpoint–but it seems that he and others who take this line are missing the forest for the trees.
The Trump administration denied Acosta press credentials just for asking questions Trump didn’t like then shared a doctored video of Acosta refusing to let a Trump staffer steal the microphone from him. Let it be emphasized that the White House was in the wrong the whole way, from dodging Acosta’s question with an ad-hominem attack, to trying to take the microphone from him, and he was not wrong to simply hold onto the microphone.
Trump supporters claim Acosta made a hostile statement. He said, “I want to challenge you” about whether the so-called ‘caravan’ can really be an “invasion” when “they’re hundreds and hundreds of miles away; that’s not an invasion.” Acosta is right. It is a journalist’s job to correct the record. Few presidents lie as often as Trump does, so it might be that Trump faces more such corrections due to his more frequent lies and the more brazen nature of them.
But even past presidents had to deal with aggressive reporters. Helen Thomas, well known as an aggressive reporter, made such statement-like questions to Obama, too. She “asked” his press secretary, “[Obama’s] formal engagements are prepackaged. … Of course you would, because you don’t have any answers.”
At one time, anti-media conservative activists applauded such aggressive questions of Obama’s administration. Now Newsbusters.org defends Trump from any critical questioning whatsoever.
Trump constantly shouts at reporters and attacks them. Reporters are justified to defend their rights to ask questions.
He said of foreign reporters, “I really don’t understand you.” (One other possibility is that he didn’t understand the Japanese reporters question because it was about economics.)
If NY Post hack Michael Goodwin thinks that Acosta was out of line, one wonders what he would think about Trump’s behavior–that is, if Mr. Goodwin had any scruples.
Trump’s war on the Constitution and rule of law isn’t limited to journalists. Those who dismiss it just because they don’t like journalism are supporting Trump’s assault on the entire democratic system.