In an interview with a New York Times reporter on Thursday, President Donald Trump claimed from the comforts of his Florida golf club that he has the "absolute right" to do what he wants with the Department of Justice (DOJ)—a remark critics characterized as a "veiled threat" against special counsel Robert Mueller and "the type of statement authoritarian leaders make."
"'Absolute right' to direct DOJ? Absolutism is for monarchs and dictators—not rule of law systems."
—Norm Eisen, Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington
Referring to Mueller's investigation of possible collusion between Trump's 2016 campaign and the Russian government, the president went on to say that he has "stayed uninvolved with this particular matter" because he believes he is "going to be treated fairly."
While Trump didn't articulate a definition of "fair," he has previously attempted to set limits on what he believes is and isn't off limits for Mueller's probe. During an interview with the Times in July, Trump claimed that any attempt by the special counsel to investigate his or his family's finances would constitute a "violation."
Mueller has since plowed through the president's so-called "red line," sparking concerns that Trump could be planning to fire him in the coming weeks. So far, Mueller has brought charges against four people connected with Trump, including his former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
As Common Dreams has reported, more than 100,000 Americans have vowed to take to the streets across the U.S. if Trump fires Mueller.
Trump's interview on Thursday sparked fresh worries that the president will attempt to subvert Mueller's Russia probe if he feels that the special counsel is getting too close to him or his inner circle. In particular, Trump's assertion that he has the right to interfere with an independent investigation demonstrates the president's "chilling" disregard for the rule of law, critics said.
"'Absolute right' to direct DOJ? Absolutism is for monarchs and dictators—not rule of law systems," wrote Norm Eisen of Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington, a sentiment echoed by numerous analysts in response to Trump's impromptu interview.
Trump said this, as if the rule of the law and the Constitution did not exist:
“I have absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department.”https://t.co/LsNZVvPjP5
— Steven Greenhouse (@greenhousenyt) December 29, 2017
This quote begs the question: If there comes a time when Trump feels like he isn't being "treated fairly" by Mueller, can he use this "absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department" and fire Mueller? (WH has repeatedly denied there are plans to fire Mueller.) https://t.co/PVs8bRiTzY
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— Marshall Cohen (@Marshall_Cohen) December 29, 2017
Trump: “I have absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department ... for purposes of hopefully thinking I’m going to be treated fairly, I’ve stayed uninvolved with this particular matter.”
Sounds like a veiled threat to shut down Mueller if he brings charges. https://t.co/VJEfzkMwPE
— Renato Mariotti (@renato_mariotti) December 29, 2017
The key quote in Trump's new @nytimes interview is not his claim Mueller will treat him fairly. By "fair," Trump only means, "conclude what I want him to conclude."
— Greg Sargent (@ThePlumLineGS) December 29, 2017