President Donald Trump’s just appointed himself America’s judge and jury, casting even deeper doubts on whether the nation’s impartial justice system can withstand his expanding political assault.”I’m actually, I guess, the chief law enforcement officer of the country,” Trump said Tuesday, after setting off alarm bells with a flurry of pardons and commutations.Though the President is the head of the executive branch, America’s real chief law enforcement official is William Barr and there are dramatic signs that even the loyal Attorney General is beginning to feel the strain of the last week’s legal tumult. CNN’s Kaitlan Collins reported Tuesday night that Barr had considered resigning over Trump’s interference in his department, including the President’s tweets that he said last week made it impossible for him to do his job. The story was first reported by the Washington Post.The President’s relish in unveiling a new set of clemency decisions in highly sensitive political cases — days after his meddling in the Roger Stone sentencing recommendations — is only exacerbating a Justice Department credibility crisis. That is especially the case since his presidency has unfolded in a whirl of scandal, legal showdowns and questionable constitutional power grabs that are hardly conducive to good governance and respect for the impartiality of the Justice Department.
Trump on Tuesday commuted the jail sentence of Rod Blagojevich, the ex-Illinois governor convicted of trying to sell off Senate seat once held by former President Barack Obama, among other crimes. He pardoned Bernie Kerik, the former New York police commissioner who was convicted of tax fraud. And in another controversial move, he pardoned a fellow kingpin of 1980s New York, the junk bond entrepreneur Michael Milken, convicted of conspiracy to hide stocks and tax fraud.The moves were the latest examples of Trump’s willingness to use his pardon power — that many Presidents only fully utilize on the way out of the Oval Office door — to political advantage in the middle of his administration.His aggressive use of constitutional but still highly provocative presidential power also sparked speculation he would next move to political associates caught up in the Russia probe. And it was the latest extraordinary example of untamed executive power that suggests the President is feeling invincible now he has been delivered from the impeachment storm.Tuesday’s developments were also a fresh indication that he is intensifying his attacks on institutions that challenge his power with the courts becoming an increasingly frequent target.”What the President has discovered is that he can do pretty much whatever he wants, within reason,” Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor told CNN.Trump’s latest moves are likely to alarm critics who see his own questionable legal behavior and record of stretching his powers to the limit as a historic threat to the US legal system. More than 2,000 former prosecutors have signed onto a letter calling on Barr to resign for facilitating the President’s legal maneuvering. And a group of judges also called an emergency meeting to discuss political threats to the integrity of the legal system, after years of threats from the President.