Trump aides claim he's 'joking' about ordering them to break laws -- but what if they obey anyway?
President Donald J. Trump salutes U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Michael L. Howard. (DoD Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. James K. McCann)

Administration officials often try to explain away President Donald Trump's most egregious statements and requests, but a former U.S. Attorney said that's not enough.

The president reportedly told aides he would pardon them if they broke any laws to get his long-promised wall built, and former U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade, writing for The Daily Beast, said their excuses for Trump were unsatisfactory.

"An anonymous White House source did not deny the reporting, instead explaining that Trump is joking when he makes such statements," McQuade wrote, adding dryly: "Hilarious."

Those supposed jokes fit a pattern Trump employed during his presidential campaign, when he "joked" about asking Russia to hack Hillary Clinton's emails, and at various points during his presidency.

"It has been said that we should learn to take Trump seriously but not literally," McQuade said. "But Trump is no longer just the loudmouth at the country club, spouting off about current events to hangers-on. What might have passed as edgy, off-the-cuff humor from a political candidate is something else entirely when it comes from the commander-in-chief."

"Words have consequences," she added, "and when words constitute orders from the nation’s top government officer, it is reasonable to expect that those words will be obeyed."

McQuade pointed out that federal law considers words to be criminal actions under solicitation and conspiracy statutes, although Trump's experience with special counsel Robert Mueller show he's essentially above the law as president -- despite strong evidence that he has dangled pardons for corrupt purposes.

"If Trump’s promise of pardons was just a joke, it wasn’t very funny," she wrote. "And there is a danger that aides will take Trump’s commands literally and obey them. If so, will Trump’s contribution to the canon of presidential lies be the 'just joking' defense, a new way to falsely claim plausible deniability?"