WASHINGTON — The U.S. Constitution, as written by the framers, contains seven articles.
President Trump’s version goes to 12.
Trump informed lawmakers of his “Spinal Tap” approach to constitutional law three years ago, but current events make it more ominous in the retelling. Asked what he would do to protect the Constitution’s Article I powers — the powers of Congress — he reportedly responded, “I want to protect Article I, Article II, Article XII.”
We now know he had no intention of protecting Article I, and we have a good idea what must be in those five unwritten articles that exist only in the president’s imagination:
Article VIII gives Trump the power to solicit and receive the help of foreign governments in his election.
Article IX gives Trump the power to ignore congressional subpoenas and to block witnesses from testifying. (Trump’s latest exercise of Article IX powers came Monday; George Kent, a deputy assistant secretary of state, failed to show up for a deposition before three House committees.)
Article X gives Attorney General William P. Barr the power to reach out directly to foreign leaders and intelligence services — without involving the FBI or the Justice Department’s international personnel — to solicit information that could help Trump’s reelection.
Article XI exempts Trump from turning over his tax returns, no matter how many laws or court orders say otherwise. (A federal judge became the third to rule against Trump in the matter on Monday, condemning Trump’s “categorical and limitless assertion of presidential immunity from judicial process.”)
And Article XII gives Trump the power to impose extralegal punishments, including the impeachment of Congress.
Article XII powers
Trump appeared to be exercising these Article XII powers on Saturday when he said that Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, is a “pompous ‘[expletive]’ ” who should be impeached. (Romney had criticized Trump actions as “wrong and appalling.”) The (real) Constitution does not provide for impeaching lawmakers, but Trump on Sunday expanded his extra-constitutional demand, saying “Nervous Nancy” Pelosi and “Liddle’ Adam Schiff” were guilty of “Treason” and must be “immediately impeached.”
It’s a variant of Trump’s “No puppet, you’re the puppet” defense. You can’t impeach me — I impeach you!
Fighting impeachment, Trump employs two familiar arguments. One is to accuse his opponents of whatever he’s accused of. The other is to blurt out obscenities. Before branding Romney an “a-” Trump informed 65 million Twitter followers that the Democrats’ case is “BULL----.”
It hardly matters that Trump’s new plan to impeach his accusers is not, technically, legal. As during the Russia inquiry, ignorance of the law might be his best (and perhaps only) defense. The ignorance seems genuine: In addition to developing a 12-article Constitution, Trump has mused about attacking migrants with bayonets and alligators, “ordered” U.S. businesses to find alternatives to China, and routinely accused those who criticize him of “treason.”
Trump, also calling his critics “spies,” recently pined for the “old days when we were smart with spies and treason” and “we used to handle it a little differently.” Ah, yes, the good old days, when those accused of treason were summarily shot.
— Twitter: @Milbank.