WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Constitution, as written by the framers, contains seven articles.
President Trump's version goes to 12.
Trump informed lawmakers of his "Spinal Tap" approach to constitutional law three years ago, but current events make it more ominous in the retelling. Asked what he would do to protect the Constitution's Article I powers -- the powers of Congress -- he reportedly responded, "I want to protect Article I, Article II, Article XII."
We now know he had no intention of protecting Article I, and we have a good idea what must be in those five unwritten articles that exist only in the president's imagination:
Article VIII gives Trump the power to solicit and receive the help of foreign governments in his election.
Article IX gives Trump the power to ignore congressional subpoenas and to block witnesses from testifying. (Trump's latest exercise of Article IX powers came Monday; George Kent, a deputy assistant secretary of state, failed to show up for a deposition before three House committees.)
Article X gives Attorney General William P. Barr the power to reach out directly to foreign leaders and intelligence services -- without involving the FBI or the Justice Department's international personnel -- to solicit information that could help Trump's reelection.
Article XI exempts Trump from turning over his tax returns, no matter how many laws or court orders say otherwise. (A federal judge became the third to rule against Trump in the matter Monday, condemning Trump's "categorical and limitless assertion of presidential immunity from judicial process.")
And Article XII gives Trump the power to impose extralegal punishments, including the impeachment of Congress.
Trump appeared to be exercising these Article XII powers Saturday when he said that Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, is a "pompous 'a--" who should be impeached. (Romney had criticized Trump actions as "wrong and appalling.") The (real) Constitution does not provide for impeaching lawmakers, but Trump on Sunday expanded his extra-constitutional demand, saying "Nervous Nancy" Pelosi and "Liddle' Adam Schiff" were guilty of "Treason" and must be "immediately impeached."
It's a variant of Trump's "No puppet, you're the puppet" defense. You can't impeach me -- I impeach you!
Fighting impeachment, Trump employs two familiar arguments. One is to accuse his opponents of whatever he's accused of.
It hardly matters that Trump's new plan to impeach his accusers is not, technically, legal. As during the Russia inquiry, ignorance of the law might be his best (and perhaps only) defense. The ignorance seems genuine: In addition to developing a 12-article Constitution, Trump has mused about attacking migrants with bayonets and alligators, "ordered" U.S. businesses to find alternatives to China, and routinely accused those who criticize him of "treason."
Trump, also calling his critics "spies," recently pined for the "old days when we were smart with spies and treason" and "we used to handle it a little differently." Ah, yes, the good old days, when those accused of treason were summarily shot. Perhaps he'll also use his Article XII powers to bring back the halcyon days of cruel and unusual punishment; he could order that Romney be given 30 stripes, send Pelosi to the ducking stool and crop Schiff's ears.
Even if he did, it's a safe bet Republicans would respond as they are now: by looking the other way or by insisting Trump was just joking. Only unelected Republicans seem to notice how awful they look excusing this behavior. Colin Powell says the GOP "has got to get a grip on itself." Even Trump loyalist Tucker Carlson wrote of Trump's Ukraine call: "Some Republicans are trying, but there's no way to spin this as a good idea."
So what can Democrats do about it? They could always take an article from Trump's unwritten constitution, and assert their newfound powers to brand the letter "R" (for rogue) on Trump's cheek, to chain Barr to the whipping post or to sentence uncooperative witnesses to pillories.
But Democrats don't have to follow Trump into the constitutional wilderness. In the "old days," Congress' inherent contempt powers allowed lawmakers to impose fines and to detain those who ignored subpoenas. Trump's extra-constitutional antics have set off court battles that will, by design, outlast any impeachment inquiry. In the meantime, Democrats would be justified reviving a practice that is both legal and proportional when administration witnesses refuse to testify.
Lock 'em up.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank. His column is distributed by the Washington Post Writers Group.