President Donald Trump apparently believes that the U.S. Constitution gives him unlimited power. While it is true that a president has a lot of power, that power is not without limits.
In June, the president told George Stephanopoulos on ABC News that he “can run the country.” He argued that “a lot of great lawyers” agree that Article 2 of the Constitution means that the president can’t obstruct justice.
“So a president can’t obstruct justice?” Stephanopoulos asked.
“A president can run the country,” Trump said. “And that’s what happened, George. I run the country and I run it well.”
“Article 2 allows me to do whatever I want," he added.
Trump was even more explicit last month when he told a room full of teenagers that the Constitution gives him “the right to do whatever I want.” He told the children that special counsel Robert S. Mueller had found “no collusion, no obstruction.” (Not true, by the way.)
“Then," he said, “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.”
Let’s talk about that, Mr. Trump. Article 2 of the U.S. Constitution establishes the executive branch of the federal government and establishes the president’s powers and responsibilities. He or she is commander-in-chief of the military, has the power to grant pardons and can order cabinet members to give advice.
The president has the power to enter into treaties with other countries, but only if two-thirds of the Senate approves. The president can appoint judges and other public officials, but only if a majority of the Senate confirms them.
Article 2 requires the president to obey and enforce all laws. In fact, President George Washington said: “It is my duty to see the laws executed; to permit them to be trampled upon with impunity would be repugnant to (that duty)."
It should be obvious that the president is not given power to obstruct justice anywhere in Article 2. As Mr. Mueller said in his report: "Under applicable Supreme Court precedent, the Constitution does not categorically and permanently immunize a president for obstructing justice through the use of his Article 2 powers.”
The report goes on to say that under the U.S. system of checks and balances, "Congress may apply the obstruction laws to the president's corrupt exercise of the powers of office."
Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. wrote a book in 1973 called “The Imperial Presidency." Schlesinger was concerned that since Franklin D. Roosevelt, the presidency had become uncontrollable and that it had exceeded constitutional limits.
Shortly after the book was published, President Nixon was impeached and he resigned the presidency. “Imperial” means “with the powers of an emperor," and Nixon finally realized that he didn’t have that much power after all.
Usually, we can count on the U.S. Supreme Court to make sure that a president obeys the constitution. However, that has been called into question during the last two years.
In July, for example, in the case of Trump v. Sierra Club and ACLU, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that President Trump can bypass Congress and use money appropriated for the military to construct his wall on the Mexican border. This, despite the fact that Congress had expressly refused to fund the wall’s construction.
Last year in Trump v. Hawaii, the court ruled (5 to 4) that President Trump had the legal authority to restrict travel from several mostly Muslim countries. This despite the fact that the First Amendment to the Constitution prevents the establishment of any religion in this country.
During the President Nixon era, the Supreme Court was more vigilant. In United States v. Nixon, the court ruled in 1973 that Nixon could not use the doctrine of executive privilege as a means of obstructing a criminal investigation into the Watergate scandal.
I’m reminded of David Frost’s interview of ex-President Nixon in 1977. Frost asked: "Would you say that there are certain situations ... where the president can decide that it's in the best interests of the nation, and do something illegal?"
Nixon answered: "Well, when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal."
Apparently, President Trump suffers from the same delusion.
James H. Manahan is a Harvard Law School graduate and was named one of Minnesota’s Top Ten Attorneys. He now handles family law, wills and probate in the Lake County area, and does mediation everywhere. He writes a regular column on legal issues for the News-Chronicle. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or jamesmanahan.com.