“Your Honor, the President Is Acting Like He’s in Charge and We Want It Stopped”

NEW YORK—Small children on the playground know that if you can’t win an argument any other way, you always play the faulty-research card, as in:

“Where did you get your information?”

Those six words are always spoken with an air of superiority, implying that your opponent is superstitious, he listens to snake-oil salesmen, his parents are idiots and so is everyone they talk to.

For example, if Sally says, “They might change the color of the band uniforms next year,” and Mike counters with “No, they won’t because the principal thinks it would make us look too much like Central High,” then whoever speaks next needs to show knowledge of (a) band uniforms, (b) school policy, (c) the politics of the principal, and (d) the desirability of a uniform color change. It might all be too much for Trudy, and so she says, “Well, that’s not right at all. Where are you getting your information?”

By putting it that way, she’s emphasizing how horribly misinformed both Sally and Mike are, and in the process she’s summoning up images of her own vast trove of better research, leading to:

“It doesn’t matter what the principal thinks. Only the school board can make that change.”

She has now pulled a new principle out of thin air, partly because she doesn’t like the principal, and she’s implied that her position has the force of law.

The “Where are you getting your information?” person will almost always be the person with no real information.

“You don’t put a man in charge and then remove the tools he needs to run things.”

This is exactly what Donald Trump’s enemies are doing every time the President of the United States acts like the President of the United States.

He can’t do that.

He’s overreaching his authority.

Other presidents didn’t do that, so he can’t do it either.

The Constitution forbids that.

That’s an impeachable offense.

He’s basing his decisions on bad information and prejudice.

Let’s start with the simplest example—his authority to fire the head of the FBI.

The director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation is not the highest law-enforcement official in the land. The president is.

The Bureau is 100 percent within the executive branch. If the president wants to get personally involved in any investigation, that’s his prerogative. If he wants to fire his director for failing to pursue a case, or pursuing a case too closely, or investigating a matter that he doesn’t want investigated, he’s well within his authority to do so. He can fire a director every day of the week until he gets one who enforces the law the way he wants it enforced. It was part of the genius of J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI under six presidents, that he was always able to position himself as the chief executive’s confidant and personal intelligence operative, altering his agenda according to whoever was in office. James Comey didn’t feel the need to do that, so Trump didn’t trust him.

Even more to the point: Every time the president signs an executive order, somebody files a suit against him, claiming the right to investigate why he’s doing what he’s doing and whether he’s doing it for the right reasons or because he has sinister intentions caused by demonic fake-news sources.

Just where did you get your information?

For example, in September the president rescinded an immigration policy called DACA, which stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. It’s not a law. It’s not based on any statute. In fact, it’s a directive to immigration officials to intentionally not enforce the law. It was implemented by a president (Obama, 2012), and it was rescinded by a president (Trump, 2017). In the murky world of immigration policy, in which people can be admitted to the country or turned away from the country for thousands of reasons, it’s part of the executive branch’s discretion. We let the president decide because it’s part of his job description.

You might disagree with what Trump is doing, but the way to change what he’s doing would be to change the law. That’s not how he’s being challenged. There were five—count ’em, five—major lawsuits filed against the president for changing this purely administrative policy. One of them was filed by the University of California on behalf of students there who might get deported if Trump has his way. This is the same University of California that recently complained about spending too much money to ensure the security of speakers on campus.

At any rate, these five plaintiffs managed to get the attention of a federal judge, and he issued an order requiring the government to turn over all “emails, letters, memoranda, notes, media items, opinions and other materials” that fall within the following categories:

“All materials actually seen or considered, however briefly, by Acting Secretary [of Homeland Security Elaine] Duke in connection with the potential or actual decision to rescind DACA.”

In other words, what was she thinking and what made her think that way?

“All DACA-related materials considered by persons (anywhere in the government) who thereafter provided Acting Secretary Duke with written advice or input regarding the actual or potential rescission of DADA.”

Yes, it says anywhere in the government. This obviously includes watercooler conversation, comments made to the security guard at the Nebraska Avenue Complex where she goes to work every day, and anybody who blurted out anything in a meeting.

“All DACA-related materials considered by persons (anywhere in the government) who thereafter provided Acting Secretary Duke with verbal input regarding the actual or potential rescission of DACA.”

In other words, if it was a phone call that didn’t get written down, we still demand to know what was said.

“All comments and questions propounded by Acting Secretary Duke to advisors or subordinates or others regarding the actual or potential rescission of DACA and their responses.”

In other words, a second-by-second accounting of everything she herself said or did.

“All materials directly or indirectly considered by former secretary of DHS John Kelly leading to his February 2017 memorandum not to rescind DACA.”

In other words, all the reasons for an action that the president chose not to take.


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