But while The Times report is not necessarily surprising, it is still shocking, former DOJ officials told me. “I don’t know of anyone who has ever thought that it would be remotely tolerable in any way for a president to instruct DOJ to prosecute his political opponents,” said David Kris, a founder of Culper Partners consulting firm who served as the assistant attorney general for the DOJ’s National Security Division until 2011. “That is just plain vanilla, out of bounds, un-American, wrong.” Vanita Gupta, who served as the acting head of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division until January 2017, agreed. “It is, unfortunately, hard to be shocked anymore by the president and his utter disdain for the rule of law and the independence of the Justice Department,” she told me. “And yet we all need to be continued to be shocked by it.”

It is widely acknowledged that the president has the power to set broad law-enforcement priorities, such as prosecuting more drug cases or stepping up immigration enforcement. But getting involved with independent prosecutorial decisions, especially as they relate to a president’s enemies or to himself, is an extreme departure from institutional norms, experts say. “This case is not complicated at all,” Kris said. “It’s very simple. It is literally the law school hypothetical that is used to illustrate what happens when things go completely off the rails.”