August 24, 2018 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

For Republicans, Rule of Law Is for Enemies, Not Friends

The GOP is moving the bar on what's impeachable and what's not.

Share this article

The Republicans appear to be taking two positions with respect to the legal fates of two former Donald Trump aides. One is silence in the face of Paul Manafort’s conviction and Michael Cohen’s guilty plea that implicated the president.

The other is more aggressive, and perilous. I’m talking about US Sens. Lindsey Graham’s and Chuck Grassley’s signalling strongly yesterday the time is coming to replace US Attorney General Jeff Sessions—after the congressional midterms.

Two days after the Special Counsel Robert Mueller achieved the first jury victory since the start of the investigation into the president’s ties to the Kremlin, Graham said:

The president’s entitled to an attorney general he has faith in, somebody that’s qualified for the job, and I think there will come a time, sooner rather than later, where it will be time to have a new face and a fresh voice at the Department of Justice.

This is flip-flopping, hard. In March, the tough-talking Trump-resistant Graham said in an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt that sacking Jeff Sessions to stop the Mueller probe might be impeachable if done without cause.

I think what the president will have done is stopped an investigation in whether or not his campaign colluded with the Russians, what effect the Russians had on the 2016 campaign. I can’t see it being anything other than a corrupt purpose.

He added:

I can’t think of a more upsetting moment in the rule of law to have an investigator looking at a president’s campaign as to whether or not they colluded with a foreign government … To stop investigation without cause, I think, would be a constitutional crisis.

Let’s put this in perspective. As long as the investigation didn’t get close to Trump, Graham was willing to stay the course, see it through, and uphold the rule of law.

On Tuesday, however, the investigation knocked on the White House’s front door, implicating the president as an unindicted co-conspirator. Now that it’s clear that many*—many*, many*—shoes remain to be dropped, the “rule-of-law” senator from South Carolina says that Trump is entitled to an attorney general he trusts?

This isn’t the first time Graham has given the impression that the rule of law is for Republican enemies, not friends. As I noted Thursday, he was the lead prosecutor when the House began impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton.

At the time, the bar for “high crimes and misdemeanors” was absolute. In the AP video* I dug up yesterday, he was adamant in saying that Clinton’s “grand-jury perjury and obstruction of justice” were all that was needed to demand his removal.

Now, the bar is flapping around, blowing in the political wind. It’s hard to say what would qualify as “high crimes and misdemeanors.” In March, it was firing Jeff Sessions, but this week, Graham is paving the way for Trump to fire him.

This is important for reasons other than hypocrisy.

If implication in federal crimes is not enough for the Republicans to put principle over party—to stand against this president the way they stood against Clinton—what would be? Graham suggested this week the answer would be Russian collusion. He said:

Campaign finance violations—I don’t know what will come from that, but the thing that will hurt the president the most is if, in fact, his campaign did coordinate with a foreign government like Russia. Anything short of that is probably going to fall into partisan camps.

But now that he’s flip-flopped, why should we believe him?

Given all this, it’s conceivable that the staunchest Republican critics will roll over for Trump even if the Mueller probe shows indisputable evidence the president conspired with an enemy country to win the presidency of the United States.

This is why, I think, the decision among leading Republicans to say nothing in the face of Mueller’s victories risks deepening the impression that this president is rotten*, and that his enablers are, too. It’s hard to imagine a better reason to vote in November’s midterms than the belief that no one, not even the president, is above the law.

Lindsey Graham feared Donald Trump was the beginning of the end of his party, meaning Hillary Clinton would win in 2016. He was wrong about that, of course, but this tweet from May 3, 2016, has the makings of being downright prophetic.


Cohen’s attorney, Lanny Davis, said his client has much more to say, suggesting there’s evidence that Trump colluded with the Russians to win the presidency.

David Pecker, head of the National Enquirer’s publisher, was granted immunity by investigators. Pecker was key to hush-money payments to women who said they have sexual relations with Trump. Pecker is said to have kept a safe full of dirt on Trump.

Most significantly, investigators granted immunity to Allen Weisselberg, the chief financial officer of the Trump Organization. If anyone knows where the bodies are buries, it’s Weisselberg. As the New Yorker’s Adam Davidson noted on Thursday:

the AP video*
Start watching at :37.

Jonathan Bernstein suggested this morning that we have long had enough evidence to justify impeaching this president—principally, James Comey’s firing—but Donald Trump’s “constant cheap gangster rhetoric and flat-out unwillingness to support the rule of law” is moving the needle in the direction of impeachment and removal.

“We’re getting closer and closer to that point,” Bernstein said.

Subscribe today!

What do you get? Five daily editions of political analysis sent to your inbox every business day by 2 p.m. The Editorial Board is for normal people trying to understand politics. No ads. No sponsors. No “both sides.” Just straight talk straight to you.

Please subscribe today! —John Stoehr

Here’s what we published this week

It’s Not About Free Speech
For free-speech warriors, it’s about power and privilege—their power and privilege.

Trump’s Lies Injure Us. Every Day
“Truth isn’t truth,” Rudy Giuliani said. Truth is, we’re tiring of this bullshit.

Only Tyrants Get to Break Laws, Appoint Supreme Court Justices
The Republican Party is about to enshrine minority rule for a generation thanks to a man who cheated to win the presidency.

In the Era of Donald Trump, Lindsey Graham Grows Soft on Crime
While Bill Clinton’s crimes got impeachment, Trump’s get a Supreme Court justice.

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

Leave a Comment

Want to comment on this post?
Click here to upgrade to a premium membership.