}

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Countdown to exit?

There’s something seriously wrong with the current US president, and whatever it is it could be very dangerous for the country. It’s not just that his behaviour is abnormal for a president, though it undeniably is, it’s that his behaviour is abnormal for a well-adjusted adult male. There’s something seriously wrong with him—could it be his undoing?

To be clear, I have no idea what, precisely, is wrong with him, whether it’s mental illness or defect, dementia, severe narcissistic personality disorder, psychopathy, or any of the other explanations put forward to try to explain his abnormal and wildly inappropriate behaviour. But whatever is wrong with him, he clearly cannot control his impulses or temper, and that’s a very dangerous thing for anyone with their finger on the metaphoric nuclear button.

Last night, Don engaged in yet another of his bizarre Twitter temper tantrums, specifically claiming that he has “the complete power to pardon”, before changing subjects in the same Tweet. In fact, his current fureur quotidienne began with allegations that there had been “leaks” about Attorney General Sessions possibly having undisclosed discussions with the then Russian Ambassador during the campaign. The thing is, the revelation came about at a very convenient time for Don, who had just told the New York Times that had he known Sessions would recuse himself from the Russia investigation, he’d never have appointed him, leading to the impression that Don wanted to fire Sessions so that a compliant attorney general would emasculate or fire the special investigator, Robert Mueller.

The clear reason for Don’s Tweets on the matter was to distract attention from his attacks on Sessions by blaming unknown others—who may not actually exist—for leaking the allegations, while at the same time engaging in a childish “yes, way!” response to those who say he cannot pardon himself.

Thing is, he can’t. As former US Representative Elizabeth Holzman, who took part in the US House’s investigations of Richard Nixon that would have led to impeachment, wrote a piece for the Washington Post in which she said that the vague wording in the US Constitution doesn’t mean that US presidents have unrestricted pardon power. She wrote: “Presidential self-pardoning would violate the basic structure of our Constitution, and the whole history of the pardon power strongly weighs against the concept.” She says the authors of the Constitution deliberately didn’t include a power to self-pardon, and their view must hold today:
A presidential self-pardoning power would seriously undermine the rule of law. If presidents could self-pardon, they could engage in monstrously wrongful and criminal conduct with impunity. That would utterly violate the framers’ belief in a limited presidency and in the idea that no president is above the law.
And, of course, no president—not even Richard Nixon—tried it. As Holzman says, such a self-pardon would be a tacit admission of guilt and would likely be invalidated by a court, meaning “presidents would have the worst of both worlds — they would be open to prosecution, and their guilt would be widely believed.”

One final point, too, is that if Don was involved in the collusion with the Russian effort to affect the outcome of the US elections, and he pardoned others who were, that itself is an impeachable offence. In fact, even he really wasn’t personally involved, pardoning those who were would be impeachable, too.

Ah, yes, impeachment—the one thing pundits assure us is impossible. But there’s evidence that Don could actually be impeached.

While Republicans have good reasons to ignore Don’s bizarre and inappropriate behavior, there’s evidence that they don’t trust him. Congress is currently working on a bi-partisan measure that will impose sanctions on Russia for it’s interference in the US election, the hacking in particular, and includes specific provisions for Congress—the majority and minority alike—to have oversight of Don’s treatment of sanctions. Not even Republicans trust Don to enforce sanctions against Russia, and they want a mechanism to ensure he does. This is a concrete example of how Congressional Republicans are moving to contain and restrict Don, even though they usually refuse to say a word about his many misdeeds and bizarre behaviour.

And, of course, Congress’ hand may be forced if Don himself is indicted. A Clinton-era memo that’s resurfaced makes clear a president CAN be indicted, and that could be what is prompting Don to claim he can pardon himself.

I can imagine two scenarios in which Don tries this out. First, if he thinks he or family members may be indicted, he’ll issue a preemptive pardon. Or, he might issue pardons to shut down the Russia investigation, particularly any investigation of his finances and business dealings (as Mueller has begun) without firing Mueller.

A third possibility is that if he thinks he might be impeached, he might try to pardon himself in advance, though that wouldn’t actually affect anything or stop the impeachment—if anything, it would probably make impeachment, conviction, and removal from office certain.

There’s one final pardon possibility: Don could resign after doing a deal with Mike Pence to pardon him. Mike would probably do it trying to evoke President Gerald Ford’s call to end the “national nightmare”, but without Ford’s decency, humanity—or a soul, of course. The only incentive for Mike to go along with this would be to get rid of Don before he destroys the Republican Party, but it would ensure he couldn’t be elected president on his own. On the other hand, it would avoid both a long impeachment process and the legal coup of the 25th Amendment, both of which would probably be very messy (just imagine the Twitter tirades Don would unleash!) and harm the chances of all elected Republicans.

So, the question now is, who will go next? Much speculation had been on Reince Prebus, who is supposedly despised by Don’s powerful son-in-law, Jared Kushner. But Don’s New York Times interview suggested that Sessions or Mueller could be next. Or, could it be Don himself?

This circus is far from the last act. All we know for certain is that there’s something seriously wrong with the current US president, and that could lead to his undoing.

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