The Department of Justice had now been transformed under Barr. There didn’t seem to be any issues with Trump that the agency wouldn’t at least try to resolve. He launched a counter-investigation into the FBI investigation into Trump’s campaign, attempted to block the distribution of a memoir by former national security adviser John Bolton that was not flattering to Trump, and intervened in a libel lawsuit brought by author and columnist E. Jean Carroll, who accused Trump of raping her in the mid-1990s, claiming that Trump’s insulting comments about her fell within his official duties as president. (Trump has denied Carroll’s allegations.)
Trump, meanwhile, continued to test the limits of his seemingly limitless authority. He expelled five inspectors general charged with overseeing the conduct of the executive branch, commuted Stone’s prison sentence, and openly challenged the authority of the other two branches of government in an effort to fuel his political base. Rather than appoint Chad F. Wolf, who oversaw the administration’s ‘law and order’ response to racial justice protests in Portland, Ore., To serve as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Trump appointed him director acting to avoid the Senate confirmation process. Even after the Government Accountability Office and a federal judge ruled that Wolf was most likely holding his post illegally – and many of his actions therefore could have been illegal – Trump left him in place. He also ignored an order from a federal judge requiring him to restore the Obama-era DACA program that allowed hundreds of thousands of immigrants to stay in the United States.
Even as Trump boldly wielded his power, the potential threats that awaited him if he lost the election proliferated and intensified. Not only was the Manhattan DA investigation progressing, but a watchdog had accused Trump’s re-election campaign of illegally funneling $ 170 million in funds to unidentified recipients through companies controlled by the recently dismissed director of the United Nations. campaign, Brad Parscale, and other officials. (The Trump campaign has denied any wrongdoing.) Outside of office, Trump would almost certainly face financial problems. The presidency had been good for business, bringing tens of millions of dollars in foreign projects to the Trump organization, providing a constant stream of clients seeking favors at Trump’s hotel in Washington, and allowing Trump and his children to charge hundreds of dollars to the government. official visits ”of its properties. But his golf courses were losing millions of dollars each year and he had personal debt of $ 421 million, most of which matured over the next four years.
And so, in the final weeks of his tenure, Trump stepped into a new realm of potential crime, directing the full weight of the government executive toward his re-election efforts. He turned the White House into a stage prop for the Republican National Convention, pardoning a former prisoner and participating in a naturalization ceremony as part of the festivities. In October, days after leaving Walter Reed Hospital with Covid-19, Trump held a campaign rally on the South Lawn. Even that wasn’t enough to move his poll numbers. Still lagging behind in the final days of the campaign, Trump criticized some of his staunchest allies in the administration for not using their power aggressively on his behalf, even calling Barr for not stopping. his political rivals, including Biden, and trying to get Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to go public with Hillary Clinton emails dating back more than four years.
In 1939, in the face of widespread claims that employees of the Works Progress Administration were forced to work on Democratic Party campaigns, Congress passed a law known as the Hatch Act to prevent federal officials from exploiting their authority. for partisan purposes. Most presidential administrations have since taken care to separate their public and political operations, so as not to break the law. Civil violations of the law are handled by an independent agency known as the Office of Special Counsel. President Obama’s Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro has been censored for discussing the 2016 election in a television interview. He issued a public apology, explaining that the error was inadvertent.
Presidents and vice-presidents are exempt from the civil provisions of the statute. Because they are effectively still at work, some of the prohibitions – such as the one prohibiting engaging in political activities while on duty – would be difficult to enforce. Dozens of Trump administration employees, including at least nine high-level appointees, have been investigated for violations of the Hatch Law. Kellyanne Conway broke the law more than 60 times, prompting the Office of the Special Advisor to recommend that Trump remove her from her post as a senior White House official. (“Blah, blah, blah,” Conway said at the time. “Let me know when jail time starts.”)
But the Hatch Act also contains criminal provisions from which the president is not exempt; one is the prohibition on using official authority to influence a federal election. “This is the very heart of the Hatch Act,” Kathleen Clark, professor of legal and government ethics at Washington University in St. Louis, law school told me. “Public power is for the public good, not for the private good.” Trump’s blatant violations of this ban were widely noted at the time of the Republican convention. Neither Trump nor his senior executives seemed so worried about it. “No one outside the ring road really cares,” said Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.