Amid ‘Whistleblowergate,’ Trump again suggests his office has unlimited powers

‘I have the right to do whatever I want as president,’ president said in July

President Donald Trump makes remarks in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House as U.S. Vice President Mike Pence stands nearby on August 5. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
President Donald Trump makes remarks in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House as U.S. Vice President Mike Pence stands nearby on August 5. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Posted September 20, 2019 at 2:29pm

ANALYSIS | President Donald Trump on Friday insisted it “doesn’t matter” if he asks foreign leaders to target his domestic political foes, again describing the powers of his office as unlimited.

On yet another remarkable Friday that capped yet another remarkable week in his roller-coaster-like term, the president once again opted against distancing himself from allegations that would have amounted to a major scandal for anyone who held the unofficial title of “leader of the free world.”

[Bashful base: Pollsters say Trump closer to Dems than surveys suggest]

But now, with a lifelong focus of tabloid gossip pages as president, it was just another Friday at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

The White House grounds have been decked out for days, with the president hosting Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison for meetings, a midday joint press conference and an evening state dinner in the Rose Garden. But, yet again, scandal hung over the pomp and circumstance at the executive mansion

The president spent the morning on the defensive, firing off a tweet trying to discredit an intelligence community whistleblower’s complaint that Trump made an alarming and inappropriate “promise” to a foreign leader that multiple news outlets reported is Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, a former comedian.

When pressed by reporters during a wild Oval Office question-and-answer session — this one spanning over half an hour —the former reality television host had an opportunity to distance himself from his latest scandal. He merely could have said he was reviewing the matter and would have more to say later. But that’s just not The Donald’s brash style.

Instead, Trump all but acknowledged reports that he suggested Zelensky’s government investigate a company linked to one of 2020 Democratic presidential primary frontrunner Joe Biden’s sons. Trump and personal attorney Rudolph Giuliani have accused Biden, while he was still vice president, of bribing Zelensky’s predecessor to drop a probe of that very company.

Some congressional Democrats and Trump’s critics are accusing him of holding up a U.S. military aid package meant to help Ukraine ward off additional Russian military aggression unless Zelensky agreed.

Trump did not deny making the alleged remark during a July 25 telephone conservation with the Ukrainian leader. As he uttered his non-denial, he again showed his expansive — perhaps limitless — view of the legal authorities he acquired when he took the oath of office in January 2017.

“It doesn’t matter what I discussed,” Trump told reporters Friday.

He then basically reiterated his reported plea to Ukraine’s leader, looking into cameras in the Oval Office and stating: “Someone ought to look into Joe Biden.”

It’s not the first time Trump has described an all-powerful Office of the President.

“Then I have an Article 2, where I have the right to do whatever I want as president. But I don’t even talk about that,” Trump told teenagers and young adults at the Turning Point USA Teen Student Action Summit in Washington on July 23. (That quote was taken from a transcript released by the White House.)

[Still confused about Trump’s demands of Congress? Maybe it’s you]

“Is the U.S. president really sending a signal now that he will turn his back on Ukraine because its new leaders refuse an American invitation to corruption?” Viola Gienger of the NYU School of Law asked rhetorically in a recent blog post.

Trump gave no indication Friday he was doing anything but. And, in the process, suggested his view of his legal powers knows no bounds.

“What’s stunning is that Trump didn’t THREATEN to hold Ukraine security assistance hostage. He. Actually. DID. IT,” Max Bergmann, a senior fellow at the left-leaning Center for American Progress tweeted. “He actually held hostage vital military aid to an ally AT war to pressure them to do a hit job on Dems.”

Laurence Tribe, a Harvard Law School constitutional law professor, went so far as to accuse Trump and his team of an illegal cover-up about the whistleblower’s allegations.

“Further confirmation that Trump and Barr and Maguire are trying to cover up evidence of a clearly impeachable offense,” he tweeted, also referring to Attorney General William P. Barr and Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire.

Trump and his attorney signaled Thursday night and Friday they have a legal defense teed up.

“I wouldn’t care if he did,” Giuliani told CNN when asked if Trump made the ask of Zelensky. “He had every right to do it as the president of the United States. He had every right to say to the Ukrainian president that we have two outstanding allegations of massive corruption, and you should investigate.”