Monday, February 6, 2017
Richard Wolffe - Trump’s fury at a judge who overturned his immigration order betrays his deep ignorance of the constitution
There’s no point in judging Donald Trump by the standards of others. He obviously doesn’t care for ethics, the truth, allies, women or minorities. So let’s judge him on his own terms, shall we? There are three pillars to the temple that Trump has so carefully built around his most precious possession: himself. One is brand marketing, another is the masquerade of management expertise, and the third is the legal know-how that props up the other two. After just two weeks in the Oval Office, Trump has contrived to destroy his reputation on all three.
Let’s start with litigation, not least because Trump has too. Faced with a series of federal courts blocking his Muslim ban, Trump has resorted to attacking and trash-Tweeting the federal judges who dare cross him. It has clearly been a troubling weekend for the 45th President of the United States. First he derided as a “so-called judge” the Republican appointee who blocked his Muslim ban nationwide. Then he seemed surprised that any court had the power to interfere with his executive order to ban travellers with “bad intentions” from countries that just happen to be full of people called Muslims. Later he seemed exasperated that his own lawyers didn’t know about another court that upheld his Muslim ban, urging them to look at that ruling, for cryin’ out loud.
Finally he threw up his tweeting hands in despair and blamed all future terrorist attacks on Judge James Robart of Seattle, who was appointed by President George W Bush just two years after 9/11 and confirmed unanimously by the Senate. There’s a reason presidents have avoided interfering with the courts, at least since Nixon’s shortened reign. It’s a quaint concept known to middle-schoolers as the separation of powers between three equal branches of government. One of those branches was initially omitted from the White House website. Guess which one?
The education of Donald J Trump is a wonderful thing to watch in real time on social media. It’s also chilling to see, unfiltered, a president so clueless about the constitution. Even on his own Trumpian terms, it’s fascinating to watch him destroy his standing as an expert in litigation. Who seriously thinks you can win a case by intimidating a United States judge?
These are the tactics of organized crime and they haven’t exactly been successful. If Trump wants to know how his attacks will be treated, he need only pick up one of the beautiful phones in the White House to call his sister. Judge Maryanne Trump Barry was appointed to the bench by Ronald Reagan, and has a reputation for delivering blunt justice to mob bosses.
Of course this isn’t the first time Trump himself has tried to intimidate and smear a federal judge in recent months. He claimed Judge Gonzalo Curiel suffered from “an inherent conflict of interest” in the fraud case over Trump University because he was of “Mexican heritage.” Judge Curiel was born in Indiana. The case went so well for Trump that he settledthe lawsuits for $25m last year, after bragging that he never backed away from such litigation. “I don’t settle lawsuits,” he told one campaign rally in Arkansas. “Probably should have settled it, but I just can’t do that. Mentally I can’t do it. I’d rather spend a lot more money and fight it.”
Whether Trump’s approach is mentally or financially driven is unclear. What is clear is that Trump’s business career – the foundation for his presidential campaign – was built as much on litigation as real estate. Trump has spent the last few years licensing his name on other people’s developments. By selling and defending his brand – he has more than 700 trademarks – he could make money even when he borrowed and invested nothing. That might be good business, or it might just be the last resort of a serial bankrupt who struggles to borrow the money to develop real estate. Aside from family members, the Trump Organization’s most senior executives are two lawyers, and both of them are now serving the president.
Jason Greenblatt was executive vice-president and chief legal officer of the family business and now holds a sprawling job called the president’s “special representative for international negotiations”. This could encompass everything from trade deals to diplomatic talks, but that’s OK because, as Trump explained, “he has a history of negotiating substantial, complex transactions on my behalf.” Michael Cohen, another executive vice-president at the Trump Organization, was Trump’s special counsel. Now he serves as Trump’s personal attorney, supposedly outside both the private business and the White House.
You might recognize Cohen’s approach to problems, because they sound a lot like his boss. When The Daily Beast wrote a story about Ivana Trump using the word “rape” in the context of her marriage to the now-president, Cohen’s response was less than diplomatic. “So I’m warning you, tread very fucking lightly, because what I’m going to do to you is going to be fucking disgusting,” The Daily Beast quoted him as telling its reporter. “I’m going to mess your life up … for as long as you’re on this frickin’ planet … you’re going to have judgments against you, so much money, you’ll never know how to get out from underneath it.”
These are words attributed to the president’s personal representative on legal matters. But it should not be much of a surprise to anyone who has watched Trump’s career, because the president’s first mentor was Roy Cohn, a Republican lawyer and attack dog who served as an aide to the witch-hunting Joe McCarthy. Cohn helped elect Nixon and was later disbarred for flagrant ethics violations. He famously countersued the federal government for daring to file a civil rights lawsuit against Trump for discrimination against black tenants.
If the president was an apprentice to anyone, it was Roy Cohn. To some degree, Trump’s sister owed her initial appointment as a judge to Cohn’s connections. Somewhere on his journey to the White House, Donald Trump got his targets all mixed up. To most people, there’s a clear difference between deriding your opponent and deriding a judge. The former might work; the latter is guaranteed to fail. And what a time to challenge the independence of the judiciary: just days after nominating a Supreme Court justice.
This kind of self-inflicted gunshot is already such a hallmark of this presidency that Trump should add it to his long list of legally protected trademarks. Trumpicide is what happens when you fail to read an executive order before you sign it. It leaves you, a self-styled master of the universe of deal-making, to apparently complain that you weren’t fully briefed about the deal that placed your political strategist on your own national security council. It means you only establish a process for managing executive orders after you sign several of them, including the one that landed you in court across the nation that you claim to lead. The true business genius might recognize in Trumpicide a threat to all the other Trump brands: incompetence, much like low poll numbers and TV ratings, could easily undermine a luxury name that is attached to the finest in gold-painted furnishings and decorative hardware.
But most of all, it’s really hard to intimidate the world – and all its judges – when you’ve grown into its laughing stock. The world knows this emperor has no clothes. He sits alone in his bathrobe in the executive mansion, watching cable television, tweeting his anger at a Constitution designed to thwart him.https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/feb/06/donald-trump-federal-judge-immigration-order