Early Returns

A Lawless Presidency Isn't Without Its Risks

Jonathan Bernstein's morning links.

Ah, the good ol' days.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

The two extraordinary sides of the Donald Trump presidency -- his off-the-scale incompetence and his off-the-scale refusal to follow the norms and laws of his job -- have come together in Trump's bizarre standoff with Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Trump reportedly wants to fire Sessions, or wants to push him to quit, or just wants to "see how Sessions will respond to humiliation." 

All of which would be strange enough to begin with; normal presidents don't go around forcing cabinet secretaries out six months into their presidencies, and they certainly don't do it by staging public showdowns. 

But it's also an extremely risky move for the president just in terms of ordinary politics; Sessions is his strongest link to anti-immigration Republicans, and one of his strongest links to Christian conservatives. It's as if he is determined to force his most loyal supporters to prove their loyalty by making them break with their own policy preferences and other friendships, even if that costs him the support of the least loyal of them. 

And that's not all. Trump hasn't even bothered to invent legitimate reasons for ridding himself of Sessions. It's all about the attorney general's decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation, a decision that was forced by Justice Department rules. By firing Sessions, or by pushing him to resign, Trump is basically continuing the for-everyone-to-see obstruction of justice he began when he fired FBI Director James Comey and said it was over Russia. 

Even Richard Nixon, when he sought to remove special prosecutor Archibald Cox in the episode that became the Saturday Night Massacre and otherwise publicly fought back against the Watergate investigation, had reasonable-sounding public arguments based on separation of powers and the constitutional powers of the presidency. Trump really has nothing more than pointing out that he won an election, as if that makes anything he does legitimate and subject to neither investigation nor oversight. It is, in fact, a lawless presidency. 

1. Julia Azari on why the fallout from Trump scandals seems less than it "should" be. Yup. That there's been any fallout at all despite all the incentives against it -- and there's been some at the congressional level and quite a bit in terms of public opinion -- is a result of just how far from normal Trump has been. 

2. Erica Chenoweth, Devin Finn and Jeremy Pressman at the Monkey Cage with their monthly report on U.S. protest activity.

3. Michael Shaw at Made by History on Trump, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. The problems for Trump? By this point, Clinton had already recognized the problems with his presidency and was on the way to improving things, while Trump is actively making things worse. And yeah, it matters that Trump hasn't just been incompetent; he's also running a lawless administration and consequently has a special counsel investigating serious charges, something Carter never had to deal with. 

4. Greg Sargent has more on the Sessions showdown and Trump's lawless presidency. Very good.

5. John Harwood on the economic risks of the Trump presidency.

6. And Katie Mettler and Derek Hawkins give the historical context for just how different Trump's politicized and just plain inappropriate speech to the Boy Scouts was. 

Get Early Returns every morning in your inbox. Click here to subscribe.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

    To contact the author of this story:
    Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

    To contact the editor responsible for this story:
    Brooke Sample at bsample1@bloomberg.net

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.