Press: King Donald's goal - no checks, no balances

Press: King Donald's goal - no checks, no balances
© Getty Images

As any college freshman could tell you, the heart of the Constitution – and the reason our republic has endured so long – is the system of checks and balances the Founding Fathers so wisely built into the Constitution. They operate on many levels, the most obvious of which are: the president can veto any bill passed by Congress; the Congress can override the president’s veto; the Supreme Court can declare any action by the Congress or president unconstitutional.

Those checks and balances have gotten us a long way, but now Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpSessions accepts 'Fox News Sunday' invitation to debate, Tuberville declines Priest among those police cleared from St. John's Church patio for Trump visit Trump criticizes CNN on split-screen audio of Rose Garden address, protesters clashing with police MORE is trying to destroy them. In fact, what Trump is doing is worse than Nixon. Yes, Nixon did once tell David Frost: “Well, when the president does it, that means it is not illegal.” But that was part of a 12-interview series Nixon held with Frost in 1977, more than two years AFTER he’d resigned as president.

Yet Trump is making the very same argument today from the White House. On May 12, his attorneys argued before the U.S. Supreme Court that, as president, Donald Trump does not have to obey a judge’s order to release his financial records or respond to a subpoena issued by Congress, nor can he be indicted for committing a crime. While in office, they told the court, the president enjoys “temporary absolute immunity.” In other words, the president is above the law. Trump himself asserted, in a statement that would make the Founders’ head spin, that Article II of the Constitution gives him the power to do whatever he wants.

ADVERTISEMENT

But even that’s not enough for Trump. Determined to root out of the executive branch any threat to his rule, Trump’s now declared war on independent inspectors general. The first Office of Inspector General was established by Congress in 1976 under the Department of Health and Human Services to tackle waste, fraud, and abuse in Medicare. Since then, Congress has added an inspector general as watchdog in every major agency. In the last six weeks, Trump fired four of them: not for wrongdoing, but because they dared disagree with his policies.

Christi Grimm was fired as IG for Health and Human Services because she dared report that hospitals faced equipment shortages in dealing with COVID-19. Michael Atkinson, IG for the Intelligence Community, fired for forwarding the Ukraine whistleblower’s report to Congress. Glenn Fine, Acting IG for the Defense Department, fired for raising questions about distribution of coronavirus relief spending. And Steve Linick, fired as State Department IG because he was investigating Secretary Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoPresidents and 'presidents' The Hill's Morning Report - Trump mobilizes military against 'angry mob,' holds controversial photo op The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden addresses protests over George Floyd's death MORE’s alleged abuse of office for personal favors, including requiring staff to pick up his laundry and walk his dog.

Four inspectors general sacked in six weeks for no cause? Even some Republicans are starting to question Trump’s obsession with absolute power. After Linick’s firing, Utah’s Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneySenate Republicans urge Trump to tone down rhetoric on protests Congress flying blind: Why now is the time to revive the Office of Technology Assessment Trump asserts his power over Republicans MORE tweeted: “The firing of multiple Inspectors General is unprecedented; doing so without good cause chills the independence essential to their purpose. It is a threat to accountable democracy and a fissure in the constitutional balance of power.”

But, of course, there’s no need to worry. If they’re not happy, the American people can always boot Trump out of office on Nov. 3. Oh, yeah? Maybe not. Clearly reflecting current thinking in the West Wing, “I’m not sure I can commit one way or the other” to an election on Nov. 3, presidential factotum Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerTrump's strategy to stay in office Trump tries to soothe anxious GOP senators Press: King Donald's goal - no checks, no balances MORE said recently. “But right now that’s the plan.” If King Donald has his way, there won’t be one.

Press is host of “The Bill Press Pod.” He is author of “From the Left: A Life in the Crossfire.”