There is a danger that Americans become so inured to President Donald Trump's indifference to rule of law that they forget how a president who respected public service and the Constitution — and had nothing to hide —would speak and behave. In the interest of jogging memories, we have matched a few of Trump's Wednesday (July 19) comments to the New York Times with imagined quotations of what an ethical president might say.
What Trump said: "Well, Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job, and I would have picked somebody else. . . . I think [it] is very unfair to the president."
What an ethical president might say: "Jeff Sessions was very involved in my campaign, so of course he had to recuse himself from any matters having to do with my campaign. Once it came out, after his confirmation, that he had given inaccurate testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee about his meetings with Russian officials, it was doubly a no-brainer.
"Very properly, he didn't give me a heads-up. After all, an attorney general is supposed to enforce the laws, not be part of a president's political team. And frankly, if he hadn't recused, I would have called him up and said, 'What are you waiting for? We can't have the slightest appearance of impropriety in my administration!' ''
What Trump said: "I then end up with a second man, who's a deputy . . . and that's Rosenstein, Rod Rosenstein, who is from Baltimore. There are very few Republicans in Baltimore, if any."
What an ethical president might say: "Fortunately, we had in place a highly respected deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, who consistently in his career — you know, he was the U.S. attorney in Baltimore for many years — has had the support and respect of senators and other politicians from both parties.
"By the way, Baltimore is a city in the United States. I'm president of all the United States — blue state, red state, makes no difference."
Question: But did that email concern you, that the Russian government was trying something to compromise ...
What Trump said: "I just heard there was an email requesting a meeting or something — yeah, requesting a meeting. That they have information on Hillary Clinton, and I said — I mean, this was standard political stuff."
What an ethical president might say: "Concern me? You better believe I have taken Junior to the woodshed over that one. I mean, someone sends a message saying a hostile foreign power is offering opposition research through a government lawyer, what do you do? What does anyone do? You call the FBI and run the other way.
Instead Junior takes the meeting and brings my campaign manager along to boot. What was he thinking? As we find out how deeply implicated Russia was in interfering in the election, this only becomes more alarming."
Question: Last thing, if [special counsel Robert S.] Mueller was looking at your finances and your family finances, unrelated to Russia — is that a red line? . . . Would that be a breach of what his actual charge is?
What Trump said: "I would say yeah. I would say yes. By the way, I would say, I don't — I don't — I mean, it's possible there's a condo or something, so, you know, I sell a lot of condo units, and somebody from Russia buys a condo, who knows?"
What an ethical president might say: "You know, I don't think I should say anything about what Mueller should or shouldn't do, because his independence is paramount. But let me just say this: I've got nothing to hide. Whatever he wants to look at, he is welcome to look at, and the sooner the better, because the sooner it will prove that I've done nothing wrong.
"And to show you how strongly I feel about that, I've got some documents here you can take on your way out. Here's copies of my tax returns for the past 10 years, and here's my business records, showing every real estate deal I've done with Russian oligarchs, the prices they paid me compared with market price, and so on. Please — read them carefully and report on them.
"Why wouldn't I make them public, after all?”