In the summer of 1787, George Mason told the authors of the Constitution that “no point is of more importance than that the right of impeachment should be continued.”
To the framers who had only recently thrown off the rule of King George III, Mason explained that this was the answer to the question that challenged a new nation that did not choose to be a monarchy: “Shall any man be above Justice? Shall any man be above Justice? Above all shall that man be above it, who can commit the most extensive injustice?”
In those tumultuous days, Mason feared the “easy step to hereditary Monarchy,” and answered his own questions with advocacy for a rigorous system of checks and balances on the presidency.
Donald Trump has a different answer to the questions that Mason posed. As he and his legal team scramble to avert questioning of the president by special counsel Robert Mueller—or, at the very least, to limit the scope of that questioning—Trump asserted Monday that the Mueller investigation is unconstitutional and insisted that Mueller’s appointment is “totally UNCONSTITUTIONAL!” He cooperates with it not out of respect for the rule of law or the system of checks and balances but because he chooses to do so as someone who claims to “have done nothing wrong.” At roughly the same time, Trump declared that he has an “absolute right” to pardon himself if the heat gets too heavy.
That sounds mighty monarchical.
Where is Trump getting these un-American ideas? From the lawyers he has hired to tell him what he wants to hear about an inquiry that, not unlike those of previous special counsels, appears to be engaged in a meticulous examination of specific wrongdoing and broader questions of obstruction of justice.
Donald Trump has apparently been informed by his lawyers, and his own ego, that he is something of a monarch.
In a 20-page memo that was dispatched by those lawyers to Mueller’s office earlier this year, those lawyers asserted a view of the presidency that places Trump so far above the law, as The New York Times reported after obtaining the document, that “it is impossible for him to obstruct justice by shutting down a case or firing a subordinate, no matter his motivation.”