Trump accuses news organizations of 'illegally smearing' him

As Trump suggests everything he dislikes is "illegal," it's hard not to wonder what he and his politicized Justice Department intend to do with the claims.
Image: President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr leave the Rose Garden on July 11, 2019.
President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr leave the Rose Garden on July 11, 2019.Jabin Botsford / The Washington Post via Getty Images file
Get the Msnbc newsletter.
SUBSCRIBE
By Steve Benen

For Donald Trump, it's not enough to condemn his political opponents; he consistently finds it necessary to accuse them of unidentified crimes. As we discussed last week, the sitting American president has publicly called for criminal prosecutions of his former presidential rival, his presidential predecessor, and his current presidential rival, among many others.

But as Trump sees criminals lurking in every corner, his focus isn't limited to public officials. Late yesterday, for example, the Republican published a tweet that was apparently directed at CNN's Jake Tapper.

"They, and the Lamestream Media (including Jake), have spent 3 1/2 years illegally smearing me. They got caught!"

Note, the president could've simply accused news organizations of "smearing" him, or made an argument about reporting he considers unfair, but for Trump, that's not good enough. He instead felt the need to argue that American news organizations are guilty of "illegal" coverage.

A day earlier, Trump wrote that the "radical left" controls a variety of tech companies, adding that his administration "is working to remedy this illegal situation."

The president also, of course, recently condemned the investigation into the Russia scandal and his impeachment as "illegal."

On the surface, the rhetorical shift is itself unnerving. Just as "judicial activism" has become the go-to phrase for the right to refer to court rulings conservatives disagree with, and "socialism" has been adopted by Republicans as a label for any progressive policy measure they oppose, the president apparently believes "illegal" is little more than a synonym for "stuff Trump doesn't like."

For an American leader whose authoritarian instincts have been well documented, the knee-jerk assumption that everything that bothers the president is illegal is unsettling.

But making matters slightly worse is the problem that sits alongside Trump's misguided rhetoric: he and Attorney General Bill Barr have abused federal law enforcement in ways without modern precedent. When the president falsely labels routine developments, including White House coverage from a free press, as "illegal," it's hard not to wonder what Trump, Barr, and their politicized Justice Department intend to do with the absurd allegations.

If the attorney general ever agrees to congressional testimony, perhaps someone should ask him.