President Trump said on Friday that he might revoke the credentials of additional White House reporters if they did not “treat the White House with respect,” lobbing another threat at the news media two days after his administration effectively blacklisted the CNN correspondent Jim Acosta.
.. “When you’re in the White House, this is a very sacred place for me, a very special place,” Mr. Trump said as he left Washington for a brief jaunt to Paris. “You have to treat the White House with respect. You have to treat the presidency with respect.”
.. Aides to Mr. Trump said that he was most bothered by reporters who, in his view, spoke to him in a belligerent manner, and that his willingness to take questions — he did so for about 25 minutes on Friday — made him more open to scrutiny than past presidents.
.. But Mr. Trump’s retaliation against Mr. Acosta, buttressed by a false claim that the correspondent had handled a female White House intern roughly during the news conference on Wednesday, has little precedent in the modern White House.
On Friday, the president lashed out at Mr. Acosta again, calling him “a very unprofessional guy.” He went on to insult other members of the White House press corps, including April D. Ryan, the correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks and one of a small number of African-American reporters who cover the administration.
.. “You talk about somebody that’s a loser; she doesn’t know what the hell she’s doing,” Mr. Trump said of Ms. Ryan, in an unprompted diatribe. “She gets publicity, and then she gets a pay raise or a contract with, I think, CNN. But she’s very nasty. And she shouldn’t be. She shouldn’t be. You’ve got to treat the White House and the office of the presidency with respect.”.. In traveling to Paris, Mr. Trump may escape the Washington press corps for a few days. But he will be reunited with Mr. Acosta, who is scheduled to cover the trip for CNN.
Mr. Mueller has told the president’s lawyers that he needs to talk to their client to determine whether he had criminal intent to obstruct the investigation into his associates’ possible links to Russia’s election interference. If Mr. Trump refuses to be questioned, Mr. Mueller will have to weigh their arguments while deciding whether to press ahead with a historic grand jury subpoena.
Mr. Mueller had raised the prospect of subpoenaing Mr. Trump to Mr. Dowd in March.
.. The attempt to dissuade Mr. Mueller from seeking a grand jury subpoena is one of two fronts on which Mr. Trump’s lawyers are fighting. In recent weeks, they have also begun a public-relations campaign to discredit the investigation and in part to pre-empt a potentially damaging special counsel report that could prompt impeachment proceedings
.. Mr. Giuliani said in an interview that Mr. Trump is telling the truth but that investigators “have a false version of it, we believe, so you’re trapped.”
.. “Ensuring that the office remains sacred and above the fray of shifting political winds and gamesmanship is of critical importance,” they wrote.
.. They argued that the president holds a special position in the government and is busy running the country, making it difficult for him to prepare and sit for an interview. They said that because of those demands on Mr. Trump’s time, the special counsel’s office should have to clear a higher bar to get him to talk. Mr. Mueller, the president’s attorneys argued, needs to prove that the president is the only person who can give him the information he seeks and that he has exhausted all other avenues for getting it.
“The president’s prime function as the chief executive ought not be hampered by requests for interview,” they wrote. “Having him testify demeans the office of the president before the world.”
They also contended that nothing Mr. Trump did violated obstruction-of-justice statutes, making both a technical parsing of what one such law covers and a broad constitutional argument that Congress cannot infringe on how he exercises his power to supervise the executive branch. Because of the authority the Constitution gives him, it is impossible for him to obstruct justice by shutting down a case or firing a subordinate, no matter his motivation, they said.
“Every action that the president took was taken with full constitutional authority pursuant to Article II of the United States Constitution,” they wrote of the part of the Constitution that created the executive branch. “As such, these actions cannot constitute obstruction, whether viewed separately or even as a totality.”
That constitutional claim raises novel issues, according to legal experts. Under the Constitution, the president wields broad authority to control the actions of the executive branch. But the Supreme Court has ruled that Congress can impose some restrictions on his exercise of that power, including by upholding statutes that limit his ability to fire certain officials. As a result, it is not clear whether statutes criminalizing obstruction of justice apply to the president and amount to another legal limit on how he may wield his powers.
Subpoenas of the president are all but unheard-of. President Bill Clinton was ordered to testify before a grand jury in 1998 after requests for a voluntary appearance made by the independent counsel, Kenneth W. Starr, went nowhere.
To avoid the indignity of being marched into the courthouse, Mr. Clinton had his lawyers negotiate a deal in which the president agreed to provide testimony as long as it was taken at the White House and limited to four hours. Mr. Starr then withdrew the subpoena, avoiding a definitive court fight.
In making their arguments, Mr. Trump’s lawyers also revealed new details about the investigation. They took on Mr. Comey’s account of Mr. Trump asking him privately to end the investigation into Mr. Flynn. Investigators are examining that request as possible obstruction.
But Mr. Trump could not have intentionally impeded the F.B.I.’s investigation, the lawyers wrote, because he did not know Mr. Flynn was under investigation when he spoke to Mr. Comey. Mr. Flynn, they said, twice told senior White House officials in the days before he was fired in February 2017 that he was not under F.B.I. scrutiny.
“There could not possibly have been intent to obstruct an ‘investigation’ that had been neither confirmed nor denied to White House counsel,” the president’s lawyers wrote.
Moreover, F.B.I. investigations do not qualify as the sort of “proceeding” an obstruction-of-justice statute covers, they argued.
“Of course, the president of the United States is not above the law, but just as obvious and equally as true is the fact that the president should not be subjected to strained readings and forced applications of clearly irrelevant statutes,” Mr. Dowd and Mr. Sekulow wrote.
Samuel W. Buell, a Duke Law School professor and white-collar criminal law specialist who was a lead prosecutor for the Justice Department’s Enron task force, said the real issue was whether Mr. Trump obstructed a potential grand jury investigation or trial — which do count as proceedings — even if the F.B.I. investigation had not yet developed into one of those. He called it inexplicable why the president’s legal team was making arguments that were focused on the wrong obstruction-of-justice statute.
They went beyond asserting Mr. Trump’s innocence, casting him as the hero of the Flynn episode and contending that he deserved credit for ordering his aides to investigate Mr. Flynn and ultimately firing him.
“Far, far, from obstructing justice, the only individual in the entire Flynn story that ensured swift justice was the president,” they wrote. “His actions speak louder than any words.”
The lawyers acknowledged that Mr. Trump dictated a statement to The Times about the 2016 Trump Tower meeting between some of his top advisers and Russians who were said to have damaging information about Hillary Clinton. Though the statement is misleading — in it, the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., said he met with Russians “primarily” to discuss adoption issues — the lawyers call it “short but accurate.”
The president’s lawyers argued that the statement is a matter between the president and The Times — and the president’s White House and legal advisers have said for the past year that misleading journalists is not a crime.
Mr. Trump’s lawyers also try to untangle another potential piece of evidence in the obstruction investigation: his assertion, during an interview with Lester Holt of NBC two days after Mr. Comey was fired, that he was thinking while he weighed the dismissal that “this Russia thing” had no validity. Mr. Mueller’s investigators view that statement as damning, according to people familiar with the investigation.
But the lawyers say that news accounts seized on only part of his comments and that his full remarks show that the president was aware that firing Mr. Comey would lengthen the investigation and dismissed him anyway.
The complete interview, the lawyers argued, makes clear “he was willing, even expecting, to let the investigation take more time, though he thinks it is ridiculous, because he believes that the American people deserve to have a competent leader of the F.B.I.”
Bush offered a blunt assessment of a political system corrupted by “conspiracy theories and outright fabrication” in which nationalism has been “distorted into nativism.”
.. “Bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone and provides permission for cruelty and bigotry. The only way to pass along civic values is to first live up to them.”
.. Just hours after Bush completed his speech, Obama also made a veiled critique of the Trump era, calling on Democrats at a New Jersey campaign event to “send a message to the world that we are rejecting a politics of division, we are rejecting a politics of fear.”
.. That Trump’s two most recent predecessors felt liberated, or perhaps compelled, to reenter the political arena in a manner that offered an implicit criticism of him is virtually unprecedented in modern politics, historians said.
.. George W. Bush was taking aim at Trump’s “roiling of the traditional institutions of the country and, in particular, demeaning the office of the president by a kind of crude or vulgar bashing of opponents,”
.. “I think this is Bush throwing down the gauntlet and feeling that this is a man who has gone too far,” Dallek said. The discretion former presidents traditionally afforded their successors “is now sort of fading to the past because of the belligerence of Trump.”
.. McCain’s critique prompted Trump to warn him to “be careful” because he is prepared to “fight back.”
.. The common thread among Bush’s and McCain’s words was a defense of the post-World War II liberal order
- which supported strong security alliances,
- a defense of human rights and an
- open economic system of free trade
.. “The hallmark of McCain’s and Bush’s speeches was to try to re-center us on what have been, since 1945, these traditional ends,”
.. He cautioned at the time, however, that he would speak out if he saw “core values” at risk.
.. the unifying themes between Obama and Bush are “humanity and empathy towards the American public.”
.. Bush opened his remarks by speaking in both English and Spanish and noting that refugees from Afghanistan, China, North Korea and Venezuela were seated in the audience.
.. Bush also warned that “bigotry seems emboldened” in a passage that evoked the aftermath of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville
.. “Bigotry or white supremacy in any form is blasphemy against the American creed,” Bush said in a line that drew the most applause.
.. “Politics are now about discrediting people by ad hominem attacks, not by argumentation,” Cohen said. Those who opposed Bush’s wars have a fair point of view, he said, but their constant “demonization does help make it easier for Trump.”
Mr. Trump’s West Wing has always seemed to be the crossroads between cutthroat politics and television drama, presided over by a seasoned showman who has made a career of keeping the audience engaged and coming back for more. Obsessed by ratings and always on the hunt for new story lines, Mr. Trump leaves the characters on edge, none of them ever really certain whether they might soon be voted off the island.
“Absolutely, I see those techniques playing out,” said Laurie Ouellette, a communications professor at the University of Minnesota who has studied reality television extensively. “Reality TV is known for its humiliation tactics and its aggressive showmanship and also the idea that either you’re in or you’re out, with momentum building to the final decision on who stays and who goes.”
.. dismissed Mr. Corker on Tuesday by mocking his height and suggesting he had somehow been conned. “The Failing @nytimes set Liddle’ Bob Corker up by recording his conversation,” Mr. Trump wrote. “Was made to sound a fool, and that’s what I am dealing with!”
.. Mr. Trump later denied that he had demeaned his secretary of state. “I didn’t undercut anybody. I don’t believe in undercutting people,” he told reporters, in a comment that must have amused the many people he has undercut since taking office.
.. “With Jemele Hill at the mike, it is no wonder ESPN ratings have ‘tanked,’ in fact, tanked so badly it is the talk of the industry!” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter.
.. Andy Cohen, the creator of the “Real Housewives” reality television show franchise, found that too rich. “This is actually happening,” he wrote on Twitter. “All the wives are fighting. Even I AM SPEECHLESS.”
.. This has exceeded what would have been allowed on ‘The Apprentice,’” she said. “It’s almost a magnification. It’s like reality TV unleashed. Yes, he was good at it, but I always felt like he had to be reined in in order not to mess up the formula. Here, he doesn’t have that same sort of constraint.”