It’s the collaboration between Trump and his allies in Congress, says Georgetown University law professor Martin Lederman, that stands out as having little precedent, if any.
“The questions of most lasting significance here are not about how unusual and inappropriate Donald Trump’s actions are, which is not unexpected. This is the person we’ve elected. He’s taken pride in rejecting all the old norms,” Lederman said. “What’s really significant is that he is not getting any resistance from Congress and from the establishment GOP, and they are so uniformly either silent or supportive. That’s what’s truly groundbreaking here, and has the most potential to be of deep and lasting importance beyond Trump.”
While the legal validity of Trump’s latest moves may depend on his motives, it’s not unusual for a president to fight back against perceived adversaries. In that way, the basic outlines of Trump’s public attack on agencies and individuals that he sees as a threat may mark a difference of degree, not thrust.
“The attempt to disparage the investigators is probably as old as the hills,” Ben-Veniste said. “Trump takes it to new heights or new lows, depending on your perspective.”
Still, Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, a professor at Stetson University’s College of Law, said Trump’s decision to direct an inspector general’s probe toward those who investigated him in the first place is new territory.
“We are way outside the norms when it comes to President Trump, and asking for an investigation into the investigation of his own campaign,” she said.
Some Trump critics feared that he was testing the boundaries of his authority by pushing Rosenstein to lean on the inspector general and that he might go further in order to protect himself from the Mueller probe.
“In surrendering this ground, Rosenstein seems to be giving the president and his defenders in Congress just enough accommodation — without fatally compromising the Justice Department’s independence — to forestall either his own firing or Mueller’s and to buy enough time for Mueller to complete his work,” MSNBC Justice and Security analyst Matthew Miller wrote in a Washington Post op-ed Tuesday.
“But this is a dangerous game, and in the short term it may only embolden the president,” Miller wrote. “Just think about it from Trump’s perspective: He crossed what has long been seen as a red line on Sunday, and not only did he not pay any consequence but also he got at least some of what he wanted.”
On Tuesday, Trump batted aside a reporter’s question about whether or not he continues to have confidence in Rosenstein.
“What’s your next question, please?” he said.