“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.

Okay, in case you don’t already think this sort of micro-spying on executive decisions is ridiculous, we should recall the background of DACA. It takes the form of a memorandum from the Secretary of Homeland Security entitled “Exercising Prosecutorial Discretion with Respect to Individuals Who Came to the United States as Children”—and then it sets out some guidelines by which these particular illegals can register and get a temporary reprieve so that they can acquire driver’s licenses and apply for jobs without fear of deportation.

It would be a great thing were it not for one fact: President Obama only came up with this after Congress refused to pass the DREAM Act, which had been before Congress in various forms since 2001. He tried to create a favored class of illegal immigrant after the legislative branch made it clear that they didn’t support that idea. He wanted to accomplish through lax enforcement what the law forbade.

This is the kind of manipulation of the system that we all swore in 2016 should never again be allowed. Remember all the articles and speeches leading up to the presidential election? They all started out, “No matter how this election turns out, we should all agree not to challenge its legitimacy and to recognize the chief executive and support him or her.” In fact, Trump and Hillary Clinton were both asked to affirm that very principle in public forums at least a dozen times.

How does that translate, a year later, into challenging a president’s right to choose his personnel and formulate his own enforcement policies? How does that further translate into actual lawsuits in which the plaintiff claims the right to, in effect, overrule the president and psychoanalyze his motives?

All five of the requests for information are asking the childish question, “Where did you get your information?”

It doesn’t matter where he got his information.

Ronald Reagan got some of his information from Joan Quigley, who was used by Nancy Reagan as the official White House astrologer. Other presidents have gotten information from mistresses, business partners, and religious leaders. There’s no constitutional amendment dealing with the right of the people to dissect the brain of the chief executive.

These lawsuits—and I’m only dealing with one batch of them—are the very definition of bad faith. They challenge the right of the president to be president. They are attempts to use the courts to shape executive decisions. Do we really intend to do this for the rest of recorded history? Are we going to look at the emails and tweets and backroom conversations of every future president before we “allow” him to make a decision?

Fortunately, the Supreme Court said that Trump doesn’t have to produce any of those documents, and sent the case back to the district court for a hearing in which the government can be heard. Let’s hope that it’s heard by someone who understands that you don’t put a man in charge and then remove the tools he needs to run things. You don’t tell the chief executive, “You can’t make that decision because you watch too much Fox News.”

I’m reminded of Lieut. Col. Owen Thursday, as portrayed by Henry Fonda in the movie Fort Apache. Despised by his men, second-guessed by his officers, he fights a losing battle against Cochise and sees most of his troops wiped out. Knocked off his horse, with the battle still raging around him, his nemesis Captain Yorke rides up to save him. (Yorke is played by John Wayne.)

“Trouble you for your sabre, Captain,” says Thursday.

“My sabre?” says the confused Yorke.

“I must rejoin my command.”

“The command is wiped out, sir, and there’s nothing we can do about it.”

“I’m not asking your opinion, Captain Yorke. When you command this regiment—and you probably will—command it! Your sabre, sir.”

Yorke hands over the sabre.

“Any questions, Captain?” says Thursday as he mounts and rides off to his certain death.

“No questions,” says Yorke.

Donald Trump has a right to his command.

Daily updates with TM’s latest