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Opinion The utterly lawless ‘Individual-1’

Federal prosecutors filed new court papers on Dec. 7 that revealed a previously unreported contact from a Russian to Trump’s inner circle during the campaign. (Video: Melissa Macaya, Monica Akhtar/The Washington Post)
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“Individual-1” has a singular problem: His own Justice Department just said he directed a crime.

Late Friday, U.S. prosecutors — ordinary prosecutors, not the ones working for Robert S. Mueller III’s supposed rogue witch hunt — filed papers in court saying President Trump’s former fixer Michael Cohen admitted “he acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual-1.”

This means that it is the considered view of Individual-1’s Justice Department that Individual-1 participated in a felony violation of campaign finance law by directing, in order to influence the presidential election, the payoff of two women who alleged affairs with Individual-1.

Mueller and his team will decide in the coming months whether to accuse Trump of crimes. But in one sense, these are just details. That Trump is fundamentally lawless can no longer be seriously disputed. His own prosecutors now say he took part in a crime — and his former secretary of state says Trump had little concern about what was legal.

“So often,” Rex Tillerson said in a talk Thursday, “the president would say, ‘Here’s what I want you to do, and here’s how I want you to do it.’ And I would have to say to him, ‘Mr. President, I understand what you want to do. But you can’t do it that way. It violates the law.’ ”

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To this, Trump responded with a well-reasoned legal defense: Tillerson “was dumb as a rock” and “lazy as hell.”

Tillerson didn’t detail his allegations of Trump’s illegal impulses, but many such views by Trump are already in the public domain.

During the campaign, Trump said he would have no trouble getting the military to follow his orders, even if they were illegal, such as torture or the deliberate targeting of innocents.

“If I say do it, they’re gonna do it,” Trump said. And, “They’re not gonna refuse me. Believe me.”

As Bob Woodward reported in his book “Fear,” Trump wanted the military to assassinate Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which would be illegal (unless Trump has issued secret orders stating otherwise). “Let’s f---ing kill him!” was Trump’s proposal.

In April, The Post’s Greg Jaffe reported that Trump watched a recording of a CIA drone strike in which the agency held off on firing until the target was away from his family. Trump asked: “Why did you wait?” Doing otherwise would have been a war crime.

More recently, Trump has suggested troops could fire on unarmed migrants on the border (he later qualified this), and CNN reported that the Pentagon rebuffed instructions for the military to engage in law enforcement on the border, which is normally not allowed.

Trump has floated the idea that he could unilaterally end the constitutional protection of birthright citizenship, and his administration has toyed with implementing a $100 billion capital-gains tax cut without Congress, and sharing census citizenship information with law enforcement officials.

Axios last year reported that Trump told a group of Native American tribal leaders to ignore federal rules on energy drilling: “I’m telling you, chief, you’ve just got to do it.”

When courts push back on his lawlessness, Trump treats judges as political opponents. He tried to disqualify the Trump University judge, saying his Mexican ancestry meant he couldn’t be fair to Trump. He rebuked the “so-called judge” who ruled against his travel ban, widely seen as unconstitutional before it was revised. And he earned a rebuke from Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. for blaming an “Obama judge” for a ruling that his administration must process asylum claims.

Meanwhile, five former Trump aides have pleaded guilty in Mueller’s Russia probe, and others seem to regard it as perfectly plausible that Trump himself, as former aide Sam Nunberg put it, “may very well have done something during the election with the Russians.”

On Friday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said the latest filings “tell us nothing of value that wasn’t already known.” That’s true in the sense that recent findings essentially corroborate much of the 2016 “dossier” by former spy Christopher Steele — declared fraudulent by Trump — and its reports of extensive, compromising interactions between the Trump campaign and cronies of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The dossier’s assertion of Michael Cohen’s “ongoing secret liaison relationship” with Russian leadership has been confirmed by his now-exposed work on a Moscow Trump Tower well into 2016, which he lied about to Congress. The new revelations about Cohen also show that the dossier correctly identified Putin lieutenants Dmitry Peskov and Sergei Ivanov as the ones managing the Trump campaign for the Russian government.

Trump on Friday nominated William P. Barr to be attorney general, citing his “unwavering adherence to the rule of law.”

If he’s right about Barr, Individual-1, whose own adherence to the rule of law is wavering at best, will be deeply disappointed.

Twitter: @Milbank

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Read more:

Jennifer Rubin: What we learned on Friday

Randall D. Eliason: The hush-money payments are a sideshow. Mueller just added key pieces to the Russia puzzle.

Paul Waldman: The latest filings show that nobody can save Trump now

Charles Lane: What we should take away from the Trump-Roberts kerfuffle

The Post’s View: William Barr believes in Justice Department independence. He might have to fight for it.