Trump Is Flaunting His Impunity

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Incumbent presidents have two goals for their renomination convention: Show voters what they’ve achieved in their first four years, and tell them what they want to do with another four.

Donald Trump and his Republican Party have skipped the second part—the president has repeatedly whiffed on articulating a second-term agenda, and the Republican National Convention has decided not to bother with a platform. As for achievements, the administration has little to go on there, either. Most of Trump’s 2016 agenda remains incomplete, stalled, or never begun, while the economy is in a tailspin and nearly 180,000 Americans have died from COVID-19.

Yet Trump is using the RNC to show the nation what he has learned over the past four years: the power of impunity. Throughout the convention, Trump, his family, and his aides are using the backdrop of the federal government, in defiance of precedent, propriety, and likely federal law. The president is not so much showing the majesty of the federal government—this is not its finest hour—as reveling in the knowledge that no one can or will stop him. It is a flex for its own sake, and at heart, that is his message about what he will deliver in a second term, too.

On Tuesday, first lady Melania Trump spoke from the newly redesigned Rose Garden. Donald Trump used the convention to perform the functions of the presidency, taping videos at the White House in which he pardoned a convicted bank robber and took part in the naturalization of five new American citizens. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered a speech to the convention from Jerusalem. On Thursday, the president will deliver his nomination acceptance speech from the South Lawn of the White House.

Each of these is potentially a violation of the Hatch Act, a federal law designed to prevent officeholders from using taxpayer money, and staffers working on the public tab, to further their own political campaigns. (The president and vice president are exempt.)

In theory, it’s possible that the administration crossed every t and dotted every i to follow the law. Perhaps no executive-branch staffers were involved in any of the work to set up the White House events. Perhaps Pompeo didn’t spend any government money in flying to Jerusalem to deliver an election speech trading on his position as secretary of state. Perhaps the naturalization ceremony was standard practice, and it just happened to be taped and broadcast at the RNC.

Continued in The Atlantic