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Trump is using Bush’s torture lawyer’s playbook to break laws at will: report

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(AFP / Brendan Smialowski)

In his column for the Daily Beast, David Lurie argues that Donald Trump is working from the playbook developed by John Yoo, who justified torture when he served under former President George W. Bush, with his use of executive orders that allow him to skirt — or break — established laws.

Trump spent the first two years of his presidency when Republicans had control of both the House and Senate getting his way, however, since 2018 things haven’t gone his way with Democrats reclaiming the House and now he has resorted to “governing like a dictator” with the help of Yoo’s legal theories about executive power.

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“Trump’s relied on increasingly aggressive exercises of executive authority, often challenging the lawmaking and budgetary authority of Congress, most notably through his scheme to build ‘the wall’ he promised on the campaign trail with funds that lawmakers had appropriated for other purposes,” Lurie wrote before noting, “But in recent weeks, Trump’s efforts to evade the legal and constitutional limits on his authority have gone beyond just absurdity, and have begun to gravely threaten the government and the nation.”

Credit for that can be directly traced to Yoo.

“Trump’s efforts to evade constitutional checks and balances threatens to work a disaster this summer, as the nation stands at the abyss of a depression and is in the grip of a public health catastrophe,” he explained. “Enter Berkeley Law School professor John Yoo, who came to prominence during the Bush administration for authoring the notorious Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel memoranda opining that the CIA could legally torture al Qaeda prisoners.”

As Lurie points out, Yoo inserted himself into Trump’s controversies with a recent article positing that presidents are not necessarily constrained by laws.

As Lurie explains it, “Yoo’s claim is grounded on an eccentric, and entirely disingenuous, interpretation of a recent Supreme Court decision rejecting Trump’s effort to nullify the DACA program. Trump lost the case because of the sloppy means by which his administration set out to nullify the Obama era program, a move the court rejected because the administration relied on an insufficiently explicated, and improperly shifted, rationale, before elaborating, “But according to Yoo, who’s reportedly been boasting about meeting Trump in the Oval Office, the court decision stands for the proposition that a president is free to implement patently overreaching executive orders, falling outside the scope of his legal power and authority, and then simply dare the courts, Congress, or his successor in office to void them.”

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As the columnist notes, Trump immediately embraced the legal argument and has been going wild using it in an attempt to stave off defeat at the ballot box in November.

“Unsurprisingly, Yoo’s ‘theory’ was catnip to Trump and his coterie, who repeatedly called upon him to expand upon it. Then, a few weeks ago, Trump began to make references to his intention to bypass Congress entirely, and do things like create an entirely new federal ‘health care plan’ to replace the Affordable Care Act via executive order,” he wrote. “Few people took Trump’s musings seriously, until last Friday when, after his team petulantly walked out of the stimulus bill negotiations, Trump signed executive orders he claimed would unilaterally effect a partial continuation of enhanced unemployment assistance and an eviction moratorium, as well as cut payroll taxes for most employees, despite Trump’s utter inability to negotiate those things with Congress. “

According to the columnist, should Trump prevail in November, don’t expect him to stop what helped him get re-elected — including disrupting voting by interfering with the Post Office.

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“The fact that Trump has gotten this far with his power grabs, with little pushback from his own party, is itself a powerful indication of just how debased and hollowed-out our democratic institutions have become during the Trump presidency,” he wrote before warning, “This threat to issue an executive order to prevent many people from voting by mail in the midst of a pandemic starkly exemplifies how far he is willing to go attacking the nation in order to preserve his ebbing power, and what we’d be in for should he claim a second term.”

You can read more here (subscription required).

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