Former ethics lawyer under George W. Bush, Richard Painter, gave Donald Trump a reality check on Saturday, telling the president that he does not have an “absolute right” to use the Justice Department to kill the Russia investigation.
During a segment on MSNBC’s AM Joy, Richard Painter said that Trump may be able to fire the attorney general or deputy attorney general, but he can’t do so if his sole motivation is to stop special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
— Sean Colarossi (@SeanColarossi) December 30, 2017
He has the power to decide whether to fire the attorney general or not. Or the deputy attorney general. That is his power. But he does not have the right to do so in order to obstruct justice. He does not have the right to fire Attorney General Sessions or pressure Attorney General Sessions to fire Robert Mueller if his intent is to obstruct justice, to stop the Russia investigation. So the bottom line is, he does not have the right to do whatever he wants with the Justice Department. He must abide by the laws and the constitution of the United States.
The ex-Bush ethics lawyer’s comments come after he went ballistic in an interview on Friday, lashing out at the president for thinking he is a king, not the leader of a democracy.
“He is not above the law,” Painter said. “He is not a king! He is a president in a constitutional model of government.”
Painter said Trump “picked the wrong country to be president of if he thinks he has absolute power to run the Justice Department however he wants.”
“That may be the way it works in Putin’s Russia and other places but that’s not the way it works here,” Painter said. “There are laws, and he has been sworn to uphold the law and the constitution of the United States.”
The comments come after Trump told the New York Times on Thursday that the Justice Department is essentially his play toy, something he can use at the drop of a hat to do his bidding. But as I wrote on Thursday, one historian immediately shut down Trump’s claim, saying any move to use the Justice Department to derail Mueller’s investigation would cause a constitutional crisis.
To Trump, it’s likely that none of this matters. He cares very little about protecting the Constitution or upholding norms that all presidents, even Richard Nixon, have upheld. He will go to any lengths to protect himself, no matter how much damage it does to U.S. democracy, and that’s a dangerous place for a country to be.
Sean Colarossi currently resides in Cleveland, Ohio. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and was an organizing fellow for both of President Obama’s presidential campaigns. He also worked with Planned Parenthood as an Affordable Care Act Outreach Organizer in 2014, helping northeast Ohio residents obtain health insurance coverage.