Trump: Presidents Should Be Above the Law So They Can Drop Nukes

It’s just the latest wild argument the former president has rolled out as he seeks to stymie the four criminal cases against him.
Former US President Donald Trump during a New Hampshire primary election night watch party in Nashua, New Hampshire, US, on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024.
Former US President Donald Trump during a New Hampshire primary election night watch party in Nashua, New Hampshire, US, on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024. Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Former President Donald Trump and his lawyers have made some eyebrow-raising claims in pressing their case for putting presidents above criminal law, including that they should be able to assassinate political opponents unless Congress disapproves.

Now you can add one more to the list: Trump thinks presidents need total freedom from prosecution so they don’t have to worry about personal consequences when deciding whether to fire off nuclear weapons. 


In a New Hampshire campaign speech shortly before he won Tuesday’s GOP primary in the Granite State, Trump told a rally that former President Harry Truman never would have had the nerve to drop atomic bombs on Japan during World War II if he’d been concerned he might be charged with a crime later. 

“They have to be given immunity, otherwise they’ll be unable to act,” Trump said. “The opposing party will indict them for anything they do.” 

“Take a look at Harry Truman,” Trump said. “Hiroshima… not exactly a nice act, but it did end the Second World War probably, right?” (Japan surrendered following the bombing of a second city, Nagasaki.) 

Trump claimed Truman would have second-guessed himself, and thought: “I do not want to do that because my opponents will indict me!” 

Trump concluded: “You have to give a president full and total immunity!”

Trump glossed over the question of whether dropping the atomic bomb was clearly the right call in the first place, and simply assumed that everyone agrees with him that it was. In fact, Truman’s decision—which killed an estimated 214,000 people in 1945 alone, and left many more with leukemia, cancer and other deadly side effects—has stirred up plenty of controversy and criticism since, including from many historians who argue the war could have been won without that devastating attack on civilian populations. 


Legally speaking, Trump’s argument is “ridiculous,” said Mary McCord, the former Acting Assistant Attorney General, in an episode of MSNBC's "Prosecuting Donald Trump" podcast. 

"He's trying to convince the American people that doing things like what is considered by our military and our government to be necessary during war could be thwarted," McCord said. "You don’t need to commit crimes to be president. You don't need to commit crimes in order to prosecute a war during a declared war.”

Actions in wartime are governed by the law of war, which is based on international treaties, McCord said. And the U.S. criminal code does sometimes provide for application to acts that take place outside the United States, she said. 

Regardless, this is hardly the first anxiety-invoking argument Trump has raised for putting him above the law. 

He also likes to suggest that lots of presidents will be charged with crimes in the future by their political opponents after losing elections—even though this hasn’t been a problem in the past. To illustrate his point, Trump likes to say that his own opponent, President Joe Biden, could be next.

“As an example, when Biden gets out, I mean, has that guy got a list you could go after?” Trump said during the same event when he raised the Truman example. Trump and House Republicans frequently assert that Biden has engaged in corrupt activities with his son Hunter, but the exact details of these supposed offenses have remained hazy despite ongoing GOP-led investigations in Congress.   

Trump has been charged with 91 felonies in four separate districts, including for actions that occurred while he was president, and Trump presently has a case pending in the Washington D.C. Court of Appeals over his claim of presidential immunity. Trump’s legal team has asserted that presidents should be immune from criminal prosecution except after a successful impeachment. 

Trump’s lawyer, D. John Sauer, asserted during oral arguments earlier this month that presidents should even be able to order commandos from SEAL Team Six to assassinate a political rival without having to worry about being charged with a crime unless they are impeached by the House of Representatives and removed from office by the Senate — something that has never happened in U.S. history. 

Many observers expect the question of presidential immunity to be ultimately decided by the Supreme Court in the coming months.