As the boss of the country’s chief law enforcement official, President Trump has a keen eye for possible violations of the law. Well, that’s not entirely true. Trump has a keen eye for possible violations of the law in the sense that he likes to allege that his political opponents might have broken the law, even in cases where there’s no conceivable way that they have done so.
Consider his tweet on Wednesday about Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who on Tuesday unilaterally released the testimony of Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson.
The fact that Sneaky Dianne Feinstein, who has on numerous occasions stated that collusion between Trump/Russia has not been found, would release testimony in such an underhanded and possibly illegal way, totally without authorization, is a disgrace. Must have tough Primary!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 10, 2018
Possibly illegal! Wow. That must be serious.
This, of course, is the point. I feel confident that Feinstein, who has served as a senator for a quarter-century, would make sure she wasn’t violating the law before taking such an unusual step to share important information (that, not coincidentally, makes Trump look bad). Instead of accusing Feinstein of breaching norms, a critique with more validity but that has an unfortunate rock-in-glass-house effect for Trump, he ups the ante as high as he can go: Did Feinstein … break the law??
He does this all the time. He’s done it on at least 17 occasions since announcing his candidacy for the Republican nomination.
Was Hillary Clinton’s email server … illegal?
Per @rushlimbaugh: Why does Hillary Clinton get the benefit of the doubt (after she DESTROYS her illegal email server) …
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 29, 2015
Were Clinton’s emails … illegal?
It came out that Huma Abedin knows all about Hillary’s private illegal emails. Huma’s PR husband, Anthony Weiner, will tell the world.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 3, 2015
Was Ted Cruz’s personal disclosure form … illegal?
Ted Cruz purposely, and illegally, did not list on his personal disclosure form personally guaranteed loans from banks. They own him!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 16, 2016
Did the Republican National Committee, then run by his future chief of staff Reince Priebus, send out a fundraising notice that was … illegal?
The RNC, which is probably not on my side, just illegally put out a fundraising notice saying Trump wants you to contribute to the RNC.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 13, 2016
Did Cruz raise money … illegally?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 17, 2016
Seriously though, were Clinton’s emails … illegal?
Crooked Hillary Clinton is a fraud who has put the public and country at risk by her illegal and very stupid use of e-mails. Many missing!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 1, 2016
Was Barack Obama’s amnesty order … illegal?
I want all Americans to succeed together. President Obama's illegal executive amnesty undermines job prospects for…https://t.co/dpIDejXzJw
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 24, 2016
Was the State Department defending Clinton … illegally?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 19, 2016
Was former Democratic National Committee chair Donna Brazile’s sharing of debate questions with Clinton … illegal?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 20, 2016
No, seriously, did she?
Are we talking about the same cyberattack where it was revealed that head of the DNC illegally gave Hillary the questions to the debate?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 16, 2016
Were the 3 million votes cited by a random guy on Twitter cast … illegally?
Look forward to seeing final results of VoteStand. Gregg Phillips and crew say at least 3,000,000 votes were illegal. We must do better!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 27, 2017
Did the former attorney general not prosecute Clinton … illegally?
A.G. Lynch made law enforcement decisions for political purposes…gave Hillary Clinton a free pass and protection. Totally illegal!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 13, 2017
Was former FBI director James Comey sharing an unclassified memo with a friend to give to the press … illegal?
James Comey leaked CLASSIFIED INFORMATION to the media. That is so illegal!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 10, 2017
Did the Clinton campaign and Obama administration do a lot of unnamed things that were … illegal?
With all of the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign & Obama Administration, there was never a special counsel appointed!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 18, 2017
Did Brazile steal the election from Bernie Sanders … illegally?
Donna Brazile just stated the DNC RIGGED the system to illegally steal the Primary from Bernie Sanders. Bought and paid for by Crooked H….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 3, 2017
Did Clinton get debate questions … illegally — unlike this meeting Donald Trump Jr. had with a Kremlin-linked attorney, which is totally being blown out of proportion?
HillaryClinton can illegally get the questions to the Debate & delete 33,000 emails but my son Don is being scorned by the Fake News Media?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 16, 2017
(Trump has also repeatedly complained about leaks of classified information to the press, which is more of a gray area.)
Trump’s use of “illegal” smacks of a schoolkid who knows only one swear word and deploys it often and with ferocity. It’s the meanest, most serious charge he can level, so he levels it.
During the campaign, the tactic was effective. Pillorying Clinton for illegal activity — activity for which she was either never investigated or never charged, mind you — served to bolster his case that Clinton was hopelessly corrupt. Those allegations led to the “lock her up” mantra and, to some extent, his victory, to the extent that it contributed to skepticism about Clinton’s candidacy.
Against everyone else, Feinstein included, it’s in part an attempt at objectivity. Trump doesn’t like that Feinstein released the transcript, since, among other things, it repeatedly contradicts his own unsubstantiated claims. He sees the charge of “illegal” as not only a pejorative but an outside validator of his frustration. Look, he’s essentially saying, this is about the law, not about me being cranky.
For the most part, it’s actually about him being cranky.