Flynn won before an appeals court panel. But when the full court of appeals heard arguments on Flynn’s petition, the judges couldn’t have seemed more bewildered at the Trump administration’s position. The government argued that the district judge couldn’t inquire into the government’s reasons for seeking dismissal even if he’d seen the prosecutor take a bribe, in open court, in exchange for dismissing the case.
The Trump administration has been saying things like that a lot lately — trying to stretch the law in ways that undermine its remaining credibility. It argued that a sitting president’s accountants and bankers can’t be subpoenaed for his personal records during his term in office by either a state grand jury or, without meeting an impossibly high burden, by Congress. It argued that the president’s close aides can’t be called to testify before a congressional committee investigating presidential misconduct. The least trustworthy administration in decades, if not ever, keeps arguing: “You’ve just got to trust us.”
Lawyers have a phrase for the government’s saying “Trust us.” It’s called the “presumption of regularity.” The presumption of regularity means that courts should presume that government officials acted through a “regular” process: that it carefully vetted its policy and scrupulously examined relevant legal precedents.
But, as its name suggests, the presumption of regularity rests on the premise that the government is functioning in a regular way. And the Trump administration is anything but regular.