Tuesday’s revelation that the president had ordered his White House counsel to prosecute Hillary Clinton and James Comey illustrates the fragility of even apparently bedrock political norms in the Age of Trump.
The story prompted a new level of stunned outrage among Trump critics, even those already jaded by the president’s weekly onslaughts against the rule of law. Former Department of Justice officials in particular responded with variants of “He’s got to be kidding.” But others claimed that the idea, which was shot down by Don McGahn, the White House counsel, shows that the system is working.
In fact, Mr. Trump was deadly serious — and this latest story illustrates just how fragile the system has become in less than two years since he took office.
Mr. Trump’s attempted move here was positively Putinesque, using the legal system, and the executive branch’s extensive legal power, to punish his enemies. What kept him from getting away with it was not the laws on the books — Russia’s legal protections are no less extensive and high-minded than ours, but they don’t prevent Vladimir Putin from laying waste to his political opponents — but shared political norms developed and stabilized over time. [Continue reading…]