The good news is President Trump is increasingly aware of important norms constraining presidential misbehavior. The bad news is that isn’t stopping him from transgressing them.
On Thursday, Trump appeared on Larry O’Connor’s radio show, where he complained about leaks and the Justice Department failing to prosecute Hillary Clinton:
But you know, the saddest thing is, because I am the president of the United States, I am not supposed to be involved with the Justice Department. I’m not supposed to be involved with the FBI. I’m not supposed to be doing the kind of things I would love to be doing and I am very frustrated by it. I look at what’s happening with the Justice Department, why aren’t they going after Hillary Clinton with her emails and with her dossier, and the kind of money … I don’t know, is it possible that they paid $12.4 million for the dossier … which is total phony, fake, fraud, and how is it used? It’s very discouraging to me. I’ll be honest, I’m very unhappy with it, that the Justice Department isn’t going … maybe they are but you know as president, and I think you understand this, as a president you’re not supposed to be involved in that process.
Ben Wittes, in a moment of inexplicable optimism, wondered, “Could he be learning?” Spoiler alert: He was not learning, as a string of Friday-morning tweets showed:
Everybody is asking why the Justice Department (and FBI) isn't looking into all of the dishonesty going on with Crooked Hillary & the Dems..— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 3, 2017
Pocahontas just stated that the Democrats, lead by the legendary Crooked Hillary Clinton, rigged the Primaries! Lets go FBI & Justice Dept.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 3, 2017
This is not how it works. You can’t say that you understand that you’re not supposed to interfere with the Justice Department and then turn around 16 hours later and tweet “Lets go FBI & Justice Dept [sic].”
For one thing, Trump has used his Twitter feed to announce orders before, as with his tweets announcing a ban on transgender service members. Those social-media missives hurt the government in court this week, when a judge cited them and stayed the order. Besides, Trump knows how powerful his Twitter feed is. Indeed, he tweeted about it in the same spree, referring to a brief outage last night when, according to Twitter, a rogue employee briefly took down Trump’s Twitter account. “I guess the word must finally be getting out-and having an impact,” the president tweeted. He knows full-well that the FBI and Justice Department will see what he tweets, and although it may not directly and immediately lead to a Clinton probe, having the president of the United States, your boss, instruct you to do specific things is bound to have an effect.