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Why no leader is above the law

Lies, lies, damn lies: the events around Michael Flynn’s dismissal as United States national security adviser has left the White House and Donald Trump’s presidency on the back foot (File photograph by Susan Walsh/AP)

America is reeling in a political nightmare with the highly controversial factor that no leader in a democracy should be above the law of the land.

Democrats and Republicans are engaged in verbal warfare as president Donald Trump has become embroiled in tweets attributed to him that he knew Michael Flynn, his former national security adviser, had lied not only to vice-president Mike Pence but also to the FBI.

Among the hundreds of tweets the president has pumped into the stratosphere of social media on a wide range of subjects, with many described by various news outlets as far from the truth, this latest tweet involving Flynn touched a nerve in the legal profession — especially when Trump indicated that he fired Flynn for lying to the vice-president and also the FBI. It was that the president in that tweet acknowledged that he was aware that Flynn had lied, which if true also meant he knew what the consequences for that could be for America’s judicial system.

What happened next was nothing short of a James Bond-type incident. Trump lawyer John Dowd set off legal sparks that could lead to a political and constitutional firestorm, which would not help an administration that is already deeply troubled by continuing investigations into alleged meddling by the Russians into the 2016 presidential election.

Dowd, according to reports, said he was the one who drafted the tweet, which according to a number of legal experts, could lead to even more serious developments connected with the presidency and the lingering question of obstruction of justice still hanging over the White House.

Flynn admitted guilt in lying to the FBI before his dismissal by Trump and subjected himself to a major probe by the Robert Mueller investigations into a number of matters related to the already expanding examination into what extent others in the White House may have been linked with events to assist the Russians in a highly complex scheme to influence the election outcome. Out of that tweet, which has caused legal heads to swirl, are words from that White House lawyer that the president could not be charged with obstruction of justice because he is entitled to give his view on any case.

That in the eyes of many would place him above the law and in violation of the Constitution, which clearly states that no one — not even the president — is above the law.

What America has to be really careful about is that there appears to be a general acceptance of rogue behaviour from the new president, who during his campaign for the Oval office said once in Washington, he would drain the political swamp. Having never held office, he quickly discovered that the inner complexities of workings in Washington, with Republicans and Democrats, was far from the world of real estate and the television entertainment circuit, where reality often mixed with fantasy.

In the real world, the only people who operate above the law are dictators who openly crush resistance and rule with an iron fist, making it clear that no one is to question their policies without fear of very unpleasant consequences.

America is still a great and powerful democracy with many people holding values of decency and respect for one another regardless of race, religion, ethnicity or political persuasion. In other words, it is doubtful that America would sit back and allow anyone, even the president, to operate above the law.

Democracy thrives on good leaders who place values for good, above trying to establish a political image where only one side is right. No one is right all the time, and that includes leaders of any free nation.

While America struggles to regain international credibility, it will do well to remember that basic values really do matter and that political status should never be placed above the law.