While President Donald Trump earned some laughs at a D.C. dinner on Saturday -- in his words, "nobody does self-deprecating humor better than I do" -- ethics experts warn his commentary earlier in the day, praising the Chinese president's power grab, was no laughing matter.
CNN obtained audio from a closed-door event in which Trump spoke favorably about a recent move by Chinese President Xi Jinping to remain in his post by removing presidential term limits from the state constitution.
"He's now president for life. President for life. No, he's great," Trump said Saturday during a lunch and fundraiser at his Mar-a-Lago estate, the so-called Winter White House. "And look, he was able to do that. I think it's great. Maybe we'll have to give that a shot some day."
The remarks alarmed ethics experts. Norm Eisen, the Obama administration's legal counsel and current chair of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), reacted on Twitter:
Trump’s secret reaction to the Chinese communist dictator changing the rules to serve for life:“Maybe we’ll try that here someday.“ You mean, suspend the constitution and make you a permanent tyrant? I don’t think so. https://t.co/bjvQEQcAOc-- Norm Eisen (@NormEisen) March 4, 2018
The most chilling part of this was the ecstatic cheers of his supporters behind closed doors when he said “maybe will try that someday.” https://t.co/V45wODPvHk-- Norm Eisen (@NormEisen) March 4, 2018
Former White House ethics attorneys Walt Shaub and Richard Painter also quickly weighed in:
The man repeatedly proves he has no concept of public service. Or America. https://t.co/KVFR0dO434-- Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) March 4, 2018
Either he’s losing it, or we’re losing it if we let him stay on after this.-- Richard W. Painter (@RWPUSA) March 4, 2018
How many hints do we need that he wants to be a dictator?
Trump on China's Xi consolidating power: 'Maybe we'll give that a shot some day' @CNNPolitics https://t.co/aQ1KXNT3gm
Others added context by pointing to the current conditions in China under Xi Jinping: