Can the President do what he likes? Pretty much, I think.
The President is expected to faithfully execute the laws, but the President can veto bills, take exception with signing statements, or direct subordinates to ignore laws. The courts might intervene, but the resources of the Dept. of Justice can be used to formulate an appeal, and the Supreme Court is historically reluctant to intervene when a question of presidential power is debatable.
Can the President do what he likes? Here are some examples:
- President Ford pardoned former President Nixon who had appointed him as VP before resigning. Several Nixon Administration officials were convicted of crimes, served time in jail, and were not pardoned.
- Reagan Administration officials secretly arranged an illegal sale of arms to Iran. They plan to use the money to fund Contras in Nicaragua. Reagan denied ordering this, and defended his subordinates by withholding documents. Reagan Administration officials charged with crimes were pardoned by Reagan’s successor, President G. H. W. Bush.
- President Clinton signed several pardons at the end of his second term. If the only penalty for audacious pardons is impeachment, then there is no effective penalty during the last few months of an administration as impeachment takes time.
- President G. W. Bush instigated two wars, ignoring opposition.
- President Trump continues to profit from his business interests as no other government official can.
- President Trump ordered a missile attack on Syria, reportedly influenced by a TV news program
- Trump Administration nepotism would be illegal for others.
- President Trump’s lawyer argues that he can block whom he likes on social media.
- President Trump reportedly was advised that presidential power to pardon is unlimited; he might even pardon himself. If done at the end of his term, there would be no practical recourse.
Could the President order a nuclear war. It is likely he or she could. It is extremely dangerous for only one person, whomever it might be, to be empowered as our president reportedly is:
Pacific Fleet commander Scott Swift recently told a security conference in Australia that having sworn an oath to obey the US President as commander-in-chief to defend the constitution, he would launch a nuclear attack on China if ordered to do so by President Trump.
Perhaps Admiral Swift wanted to call attention to a problem. If they receive dubious or dangerous orders, I would prefer that commanders would use their best judgement instead of blind obedience.