Trump de­mands sim­ply ig­nored

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OBITUARIES/NEWS - BY ALEXAN­DER PANETTA

Some­thing strange has been hap­pen­ing lately in Wash­ing­ton when the most pow­er­ful man in town, the pres­i­dent of the United States, makes a head­line-grab­bing dec­la­ra­tion on some new pol­icy.

The re­cent re­sponse has been: Noth­ing.

Some re­cent pres­i­den­tial state­ments have been sim­ply ig­nored, tuned out as mean­ing­less noise by the fed­eral ap­pa­ra­tus he runs. Sun­day pro­vided the lat­est ex­am­ple of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion ig­nor­ing Don­ald Trump.

It came after the pres­i­dent sug­gested at a par­ti­san rally last week that the Jus­tice Depart­ment should be in­ves­ti­gat­ing his de­feated elec­tion op­po­nent: “What the prose­cu­tors should be look­ing at are Hil­lary Clin­ton’s 33,000 deleted emails,” Trump told a crowd, prompt­ing chants of, ”Lock her up!”

No way, said his deputy at­tor­ney gen­eral.

Rod Rosen­stein not only re­jected the idea that pub­lic state­ments from the pres­i­dent should be viewed as an or­der — he made clear that even if such an or­der were de­liv­ered ex­plic­itly more for­mally, in a pri­vate set­ting, he would refuse it as im­proper.

“No,” Rosen­stein replied, when asked about the pres­i­den­tial de­mand, in a Fox News in­ter­view. “I view what the pres­i­dent says publicly as some­thing he said publicly. If the pres­i­dent wants to give or­ders to us in the depart­ment, he does that pri­vately.”

He went one step fur­ther: “The pres­i­dent has not di­rected us to in­ves­ti­gate par­tic­u­lar peo­ple. That wouldn’t be right. That’s not the way we op­er­ate.”

That back-of-the-hand dis­missal fol­lowed a sim­i­lar event a few days ear­lier.

The pres­i­dent trig­gered an avalanche of at­ten­tion with a head­line-grab­bing an­nounce­ment on Twit­ter: After con­sult­ing with his gen­er­als and mil­i­tary ex­perts, the pres­i­dent said, the U.S. mil­i­tary would no longer ac­cept or al­low trans­gen­der peo­ple.

The blunt, clear state­ment prompted ques­tions about what pro­ce­dures might be im­ple­mented; what would hap­pen to the trans­gen­der peo­ple al­ready serv­ing; what fi­nan­cial con­di­tions might ap­ply to any dis­charges; and whether the or­der might be fought in court.

But then a con­sid­er­able wrin­kle de­vel­oped: The mil­i­tary said it wasn’t hap­pen­ing.

It shrugged off the an­nounce­ment from its com­man­der-in-chief. In an in­ter­nal com­mu­ni­ca­tion pub­lished by Politico; a state­ment is­sued by the Sec­re­tary of De­fence; and in an ex­change with re­porters, the mil­i­tary made clear it did not view Trump’s state­ment as of­fi­cial pol­icy.

“What you saw in the form of a tweet rep­re­sented an an­nounce­ment,” Navy Capt. Jeff Davis told Pen­tagon re­porters, ac­cord­ing to the Wash­ing­ton Ex­am­iner. “Or­ders and an­nounce­ments are dif­fer­ent things, and we are await­ing an or­der from the com­man­der-inchief to pro­ceed.”

One well-con­nected mil­i­tary of­fi­cial, chat­ting off the record, said this dis­cord could oc­cur in the most ur­gent, life-and-death mat­ters. If the pres­i­dent is­sued an ill-ad­vised or­der for a mil­i­tary strike, against North Korea or else­where, he pre­dicted the mil­i­tary might push back un­der a four-word jus­ti­fi­ca­tion: ”If it’s not legal.”

That def­i­ni­tion of an il­le­gal or­der, he said, might in­clude a mil­i­tary strike that doesn’t get con­gres­sional au­tho­riza­tion. He said there was al­ready wide­spread anx­i­ety last spring, among mil­i­tary brass, over the or­der for a lim­ited strike against Syria. That or­der was ul­ti­mately car­ried out.

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