As Washington waits for word – that could come as soon as Friday – about the status of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report into Russian interference in the 2016 election, President Donald Trump is closing his PR campaign against the investigation on a new note: Who elected this guy???
Here’s Trump on that subject in an interview with Fox Business Network’s Maria Bartiromo that was released Friday morning:
“It’s always interesting to me because a deputy, that didn’t get any votes, appoints a man that didn’t get any votes, he’s going to write a report on me. I had one of the greatest election victories in history. Would you say that’s true? They came from the valleys, they came from the rivers, they came from the cities, they came from all over, they voted in one of the greatest elections in the history of our country, and now I have a man, because we have an attorney general who – nobody can even believe he didn’t tell me, but he recused himself – so I have a man who is a deputy who I don’t know, who I didn’t know at all, and he appoints a man who had just left my office, I didn’t give him the job at the FBI, [James] Comey’s his best friend, but listen, you know it better than anybody, you’ve been very fair in this, but listen, I have a deputy, appoints a man to write a report on me, to make a determination on my presidency? People will not stand for it.”
That diatribe from Trump is in line with the argument he made Wednesday before leaving the White House for a speech in Ohio. “It’s interesting that a man gets appointed by a deputy; he writes a report. You know – never figured that one out,” he said. “I had the greatest electoral victory – one of them – in the history of our country. Tremendous success. Tens of millions of voters. And now somebody is going to write a report who never got a vote.”
While rational argument – especially as it relates to the Mueller probe and eventual report – has never been Trump’s strong suit, this latest (and maybe final) line of argument makes absolutely no sense. Trump is suggesting that because neither Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the man who established the special counsel, or Mueller were elected – and Trump was – they have no right to stand in judgment on him.
But that’s not how this works. Any of it. No one in the Justice Department serves in an elected position. There aren’t any elected jobs to run for there. So to say that because Rosenstein and Mueller “didn’t get any votes” they can’t do their jobs deeply misunderstands the role the Justice Department plays in American life.
It’s also in keeping with Trump’s broader lack of knowledge – or concern – about the traditional separation between a president and his Justice Department. Trump has never really seemed to grasp that the department doesn’t exist to simply investigate those he would like them to. The Justice Department is, ostensibly, upholding the laws of the land, not the personal piques of a president.
There’s even another level, however, on which Trump’s attack on the “unelected” Justice Department officials makes no sense. Trump chose Jeff Sessions to run Justice. And Sessions chose Rosenstein as his deputy. While neither man won an election for their offices, they were picked – by Trump!!! – to serve in their roles. So it’s hard to see how Trump can now credibly make the case that because Rosenstein wasn’t elected he shouldn’t be allowed to stand in judgment on a president. Rosenstein got the only vote that actually matters – the vote of the President! (Or, at a minimum, the vote of the guy – Sessions – that the President had put in charge of Justice.)
None of these facts seem to matter much to Trump. His point is simple: I won. These guys didn’t. So how can a winner be judged by people who have never even played the game?
For Trump, his 2016 electoral victory – one of the most unlikely wins ever in the history of the presidency – should insulate him from the likes of Mueller and Rosenstein. He won! Millions of people voted for him! How dare these unelected bureaucrats challenge him!
Of course, that’s not how our democracy works. The president isn’t a king. Winning an election doesn’t make you immune from criticism or even investigation.
That’s a lesson Donald Trump still hasn’t learned.