With a little over a month until Donald Trump takes office, the president-elect and his allies have already begun to attack the guarantees of the First Amendment, signaling how imperiled the fundamental freedoms of the Constitution could be under a Trump presidency.
Trump has long shown contempt for the media and, as he prepares to take power, he and his allies haven’t held back.
On Thursday, Corey Lewandowski, who is Trump’s former campaign manager and expected to have a role in a Trump White House, said that New York Times editor Dean Baquet should be in jail because the paper published parts of Trump’s tax return during the campaign.
“We had one of the top people at The New York Times come to Harvard University and say, ‘I’m willing to go to jail to get a copy of Donald Trump’s taxes so I can publish them,’” Lewandowski said, according to Politico. “Dean Baquet came here and offered to go to jail — you’re telling me, he’s willing to commit a felony on a private citizen to post his taxes, and there isn’t enough scrutiny on the Trump campaign and his business dealings and his taxes?”
“It’s egregious,” Lewandowski added. “He should be in jail.”
Even after winning the presidency, Trump has had an almost myopic focus on the Times, criticizing the paper’s coverage of him. He has pledged to sue the newspaper, though, when he met with its staff, he called it “a great, great American jewel. A world jewel.”
But Trump has undermined the press by limiting its access to him, while surrogates have made the absurd claim that facts simply don’t exist anymore. The incoming commander in chief has also suggested that Americans who burn flags should lose their citizenship and do jail time. That would be a clear violation of the constitution, as the Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that flag burning was constitutionally protected speech.
The New York Observer, which is owned by Trump’s son in law and close adviser, Jared Kushner, also published an op-ed this week calling on the FBI to investigate nationwide protests ― a form of constitutionally protected free speech ― following Trump’s victory.
Trump’s statement that Muslims should be banned from entering the United States is also an attack on the First Amendment, along with several other constitutional protections.
But perhaps more disturbingly, there’s been logic emerging from the Trump team that anything Trump does is protected by the office of the presidency.
When he explained the potential conflict of interest with his business, for example, Trump said “the law’s totally on my side, the president can’t have a conflict of interest.”
Kellyanne Conway, another of Trump’s campaign managers, said that his spreading misinformation on Twitter constituted presidential behavior simply because he specifically engaged in it.
“He’s the president-elect, so that’s presidential behavior,” she said.