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Place your bets: The rule of Trump vs. the rule of law

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders responds

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders responds to questions from reporters on Monday at the White House. Credit: EPA-EFE / REX / Shutterstock / Shawn Thew

Trying on an emperor’s clothes

Does Donald Trump think he is above the law? “Certainly not,” said press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

Before taking her word for that, or anything, take note that Sanders just got caught in a brazen lie regarding the Russia investigation (more on that soon). Truth is, it’s hard to figure from comments by Trump and his lawyer lately just how they think this president can be held accountable to the law.

“I have the absolute right to PARDON myself,” Trump tweeted Monday, “but why would I do that when I have done nothing wrong?”

Trump also tossed out a brand-new argument: “The appointment of the Special Counsel is totally UNCONSTITUTIONAL! Despite that, we play the game because I, unlike the Democrats, have done nothing wrong!”

Of course, special counsel Robert Mueller could conclude Trump did do something wrong. Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, while pushing the claim Sunday of his client’s power to pardon himself, said it would be “unthinkable” and lead to “probably an immediate impeachment.”

Yet Trump seems to find the idea quite thinkable.

See Laura Figueroa Hernandez’s story for Newsday.

Can he do that?

No president has ever tried to pardon himself, and scholars differ on whether it would stand up legally. There’s less dispute on whether he could get away with it politically.

Jonathan Turley, a constitutional law professor at George Washington University Law School, told The Washington Post he believes Trump can pardon himself — but the act, in itself, could be grounds for impeachment “as an abuse of his office.”

Ethan Leib, a Fordham Law School professor, said the Constitution’s requirement that presidents “shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed” prohibits “self-dealing” on pardons.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Grassley of Iowa, a Republican, told CNN: “If I were president of the United States, and I had a lawyer that told me I could pardon myself, I think I would hire a new lawyer.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said, “No president has the power to pardon himself or herself. If they did, the presidency would function outside the law.”

Sticking it to her story

Last August — after news broke about Donald Trump Jr.’s 2016 sit-down with a Russian lawyer offering dirt on Hillary Clinton — Sanders denied that the president had dictated his son’s initial, misleading statement that the meeting was about adoption policies.

It turns out the president did dictate the statement, according to a memo to Mueller from the president’s lawyers, which was obtained by The New York Times and published over the weekend.

Asked about her false account, Sanders refused to answer and referred reporters to Trump’s outside lawyers, who also pushed the untruthful story last year.

Janison: Bluff justice?

Should Trump’s extreme claims of presidential power be taken seriously?

The possibility that Trump would set off a constitutional crisis cannot be readily dismissed, writes Newsday’s Dan Janison, even if they are as baseless as his tweet that the appointment of the special counsel was unconstitutional.

Strange bed fellow

How does EPA chief Scott Pruitt sleep at night? If his dreams came true, it would be on a used mattress from the Trump International Hotel in Washington.

Pruitt aide Millan Hupp, questioned by the House Oversight Committee about personal errands the boss asked her to do, said the nation’s top environmental official wanted a discount “Trump Home Luxury Plush Euro Pillow Top” mattress.

She emailed and called hotel managers, but it wasn’t clear whether Pruitt ever got to buy the previously used bedding. Hupp said other tasks she performed for Pruitt, both on work time and personal time, included searching for housing and helping book his family trip to the Rose Bowl.

Sanders said the White House is “certainly looking into the matter,” but “I couldn’t comment on specifics of the furniture used in his apartment.”

Monday night nuclear football

Trump’s first meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un is tentatively scheduled in Singapore for 9 a.m. on June 12, the White House said. With the time difference, that means the historic encounter begins at 9 p.m. Monday New York time.

Senators from both parties are urging the president not to let his enthusiasm for a deal rolling back Kim’s nuclear weapons program trump other concerns, such as human rights abuses by Pyongyang and regional security for allies South Korea and Japan.

Sore with the Eagles

Trump abruptly disinvited the Philadelphia Eagles from a White House event to honor the Super Bowl champions Tuesday.

Many, if not most, of the team’s members said they wouldn’t come because of Trump’s attacks on players who participated in protests of racial injustices during the national anthem.

“They disagree with their President because he insists that they proudly stand for the National Anthem, hand on heart, in honor of the great men and women of our military and the people of our country,” Trump said in a statement.

Instead, Trump said he would host 1,000 fans for “a different type of ceremony” to pay tribute to the military and those who “loudly and proudly” play the anthem.

What else is happening

  • Mueller’s office accused indicted former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and an associate with Russian intelligence links of trying to tamper with two witnesses. The prosecutors asked a judge to consider tougher terms for Manafort’s house arrest or to jail him.
  • Trump complained again on Twitter that investigations of his perceived enemies are taking too long. This may or may not have any impact. 
  • A court-appointed watchdog has so far found that only a handful of items seized from Trump lawyer Michael Cohen by the FBI in an April raid met the standard of being subject to attorney-client privilege, Newsday’s John Riley reports.
  • John Bolton, the president's third national security adviser so far, has been sidelined on the North Korea talks amid reported friction with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, CNN and other outlets report. 
  • Trump tweeted out celebration of his first 500 days in office, followed by a White House statement extolling “500 days of American greatness.”
  • Former top economic adviser Gary Cohn routinely withheld jobs report data from Trump until just before their release, worried the president would jump the gun by boasting if it was good, Politico reports. Cohn’s successor, Larry Kudlow, took no such precaution last week, with the predicted result.
  • Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron, his best bud among European allies, had a testy phone call over new U.S. trade tariffs, CNN reported. “Macron thought he would be able to speak his mind, based on the relationship. But Trump can’t handle being criticized like that,” a source said.
  • The Pentagon’s inspector general is investigating Trump’s former personal physician, Navy Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, who was accused of misconduct on the job while he was being considered to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs.
  • First lady Melania Trump, who has not been seen publicly since May 10, attended a private White House event for Gold Star families with Trump Monday afternoon, CNN reported.

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