When Donald Trump first declared that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose any supporters, it was psychotic. It was dangerous. It was possibly an incitement to violence. But it was also a campaign speech. It’s the kind of filth you spew when you’re running for office as the villain, and you’re attempting to bring out the inner villain in the kind of weak souls who might vote for a bottom feeder like you.
But again, it was just a speech. It’s not a legal argument. Except today, Donald Trump’s lawyers tried to turn it into one. In court. To a panel of federal judges. In a case that, as far as Trump is concerned, is for all the marbles. Trump’s legal team tried to argue in the U.S. Court of Appeals today that a New York grand jury can’t have his tax returns because a sitting president can’t even be investigated, let alone indicted.
This is a weak legal argument, supported by nothing other than a stray DOJ memo written forty years ago, which at the time was aimed at pressuring then-vice president Spiro Agnew to resign. But then came the fateful moment where one of the judges turned Trump’s infamous campaign speech around on him, by asking Trump’s lawyers if Trump could indeed be prosecuted for shooting someone on Fifth Avenue. They, incredibly, argued that Trump would be immune from prosecution for murder, for as long as he remains in office.
This will go down as one of the dumbest and most destructive moments in the history of Donald Trump’s downfall. Even if the Appeals Court judges were looking to side with Trump, which they weren’t, there’s now no way they can side with Trump. If they did, they would literally be greenlighting murder. Moreover, Trump just made it a lot harder for his allies on the Supreme Court to overrule the Appeals Court, because again, sanctioning murder in exact words is a bad look.
So what happened today? The most plausible explanation is that when it came down to it, Donald Trump’s lawyers decided to go with what they knew Trump would want to hear, rather than going with the kind of nuanced legal argument that might have played better with the courts. Trump’s worsening clinical derangement is prompting his increasing insistence that his underlings do the stupid things that excite him instead of the smart things that might save him.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report