“So often, the President would say here’s what I want to do and here’s how I want to do it and I would have to say to him, Mr. President I understand what you want to do but you can’t do it that way. It violates the law.”
The President of the United States would tell the secretary of state how he wanted things done and the secretary of state would have to tell him it couldn’t be done the way he wanted because that was illegal?
This is all fine!
What’s scary about Tillerson’s admission? A few things.
1) Trump either doesn’t know the law or doesn’t care about the law
Time and time again — particularly in his interactions with the Justice Department — Trump has shown that he has zero understanding of the limits of his job.
Tillerson described Trump as “a man who’s undisciplined, doesn’t like to read, doesn’t read briefing reports, doesn’t like to get into the details of a lot of things but rather says ‘this is what I believe.'”
That approach is broadly in keeping with Trump’s experience in the private sector. In business, he largely did what he wanted — rules (and consequences) be damned. If things went bad, the penalty, usually, was bankruptcy — and Trump believed he could just deal and talk his way out of that sort of thing.
Trump has never understood the distinctions between being the head (figurehead, some would say) of a company and being the President of the United States. In his dealings with Sessions — and Tillerson — Trump’s assumption is that they will do whatever he tells them to do because, well, he’s the boss.
The idea that Tillerson, Sessions and the rest of the administration ultimately serve a) the people of the country and b) the rule of law is seemingly lost on Trump.
That Sessions recused himself to prevent any perception of bias in the investigation — you know, for the good of the country and all that — was totally lost on Trump. His only reaction to the situation was: This is bad for me, and so Sessions shouldn’t have done it.
Which, really, says it all.
Trump’s total ignorance of the law — whether willful or just from sheer obtuseness — is, at this point, a defining characteristic of his presidency. He simply doesn’t get that there are limits on his power, limits put in place to preserve the office of the presidency — and the broader institutions of our democracy.
The Point: We have a President who, according to his one-time FBI director and his first secretary of state, repeatedly proposed ideas that were in violation of established laws. Sit with that for a minute.