Donald Trump is the undisputed world heavyweight champion of getting away with bullshit that would bury any other politician upside down to their ankles, and nobody has been able to properly explain why.
“He’s not a politician,” goes the refrain, but yes he is. Yes he is. He runs for office. He has PACs, campaign commercials, campaign staffers, he holds delirious political rallies better suited to Huey Long standing on a tree stump with an ax in his hand back when the Depression didn’t have a name yet.
By some measures, Trump is the single most purely gifted political animal this country has ever produced, and the rules simply do not apply: He defies the courts, borrows money and then screws lenders, stiffs workers and dares them to sue him over the debt, and when he does get hauled into court, he deploys the kind of delaying tactics that would still have the Japanese Army fighting over tiny islands in the Pacific 81 years after Pearl Harbor.
In another sense, of course, the rules do apply, in that the legal system is built to let people like Trump off the hook, even if it means making extreme exceptions.
“A federal judge’s extraordinary decision on Monday to interject in the criminal investigation into former President Donald J. Trump’s hoarding of sensitive government documents at his Florida residence showed unusual solicitude to him, legal specialists said,” reports Charlie Savage for The New York Times. “This was ‘an unprecedented intervention by a federal district judge into the middle of an ongoing federal criminal and national security investigation,’ said Stephen I. Vladeck, a law professor at University of Texas.”
Judge Aileen M. Cannon, a Trump appointee and member of the right-wing Federalist Society, has ordered a special master to be placed in charge of the hoard of top-secret documents recovered from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago property in Florida. The order gives the special master vast powers of denoting what may and may not cover both executive and legal privilege, and blocks investigators from reviewing the documents until the master says otherwise.
The order is, in whole and in part, a huge break for Trump and the Republican Party. The investigation into Trump’s astonishing mishandling of incredibly sensitive intelligence materials was turning into the kind of legal hairball that even the luckiest of politicos fail to survive, and further threatened to turn the entire 2022 midterm election into a dual referendum on Trump and Roe. For the time being, the paper chase is on hold.
MSNBC’s Joy Reid questioned Elie Mystal, justice correspondent for The Nation, on the ruling. “How on Earth could a judge who made it through law school think that Donald Trump can take the property of the government, the federal government, take it home and then have to have a special master decide whether they can investigate him?” she asked.
“Because she’s biased and corrupt,” Mystal replied. “I’ve been saying this since he took office. When you allow Republicans to control the courts, you get nothing. Trump judges do not believe in the rule of law. They do not believe in precedent. They do not believe in facts. They do not believe in logic. They just believe in whatever’s going to help Donald Trump and they’ve proven it again and again and again.”
This may all come to nothing in the fullness of time, but it does give Trump’s defenders a long opportunity to chop away at issues of attorney-client and executive privilege, both of which reside in a foggy realm thanks to the nuances of presidential power. Simply put, the White House has never experienced a figure like Trump, which means the boundaries of acceptable behavior remain unestablished.
“Executive privilege refers to private communications presidents have with their advisers and other types of internal communications within the executive branch that are withheld from public release,” reports CNN. “While disputes over the privilege have come up in congressional investigations, the reaches of executive privilege — particularly when a former president is arguing it should apply when a current president is declining to assert it — is an unsettled area of law.”
The decision will almost certainly be appealed, but should such an appeal visit the Supreme Court, I trust the Roberts Rogues to handle this properly about as much as I trust the Red Sox bullpen to get to the ninth inning without raining home run balls on the bleacher seats.
Donald Trump has caught yet another break. He will get to dig in behind his plans to run for president again, and will use these legal maneuvers as fundraising tools even as he slathers himself in martyrdom. There are hundreds of Trump judges out there now, with three of them on the highest court in the land.
The legal system was built to prop up people like Trump, not to take them down. This is the world we live in, and although it might be enraging, it should not surprise us at all.