While many reporters have described President Trump’s aggrieved psychology, his phone call this morning on Fox & Friends gave outsiders unfiltered access to the sorts of rants he routinely imposes upon his staff. In the interview, Trump’s sense of persecution was so acute he was barely able to concentrate on an open invitation to tout his own success, the thing he does best. Asked to grade his presidency to date, Trump began by denouncing the “phony cloud” placed over his head by the deep state, briefly regained his balance to give himself an A+, and then returned to the calumnies inflicted upon him by his enemies in the media and the justice system. “A horrible group of deep-seated people,” he insisted, “are coming up with all sorts of phony charges against me and they’re not bringing up real charges against the other side.” Trump’s belief that his enemies, not he himself, should be the subject of legal investigation overwhelmed even his ability to boast about his great success.
But the most disturbing moment came at the very end, when Trump threatened to force the Department of Justice to adopt his own chosen priorities, ignoring the “phony” charges against him, and prosecuting the “real” ones against his opponents:
You look at the corruption at the top of the FBI, it’s a disgrace. And our Justice Department – which I try and stay away from, but at some point I won’t – our Justice Department should be looking at that kind of stuff, not the nonsense of collusion with Russia. There is no collusion with me and everyone knows it.
At this point, astonishingly, the embarrassed hosts ushered Trump off the phone, insisting he must be busy — likely the only time in memory a “journalist” has cut short an interview with the president of the United States. Trump is making his intentions perfectly clear. He wants the Department of Justice to lock up his political opponents and witnesses to his misbehavior. And he wants it to stop investigating his own misdeeds. The Department of Justice is constructed around restraints designed to prevent any such interference, because the power to use federal law enforcement as a weapon to protect the president and his party, and to harass the opposition, is so terrifying it has to be prevented at all costs. Trump is, on national television, making existential threats to the rule of law.