Wednesday, August 22, 2018 at 8:37 AM

UPDATE: Trump and the Poisoned Chalice of the Pardon Power

Posted by Anthony L. Hall

Washington is abuzz this morning with speculation about Trump pardoning Cohen and Manafort. He has the absolute power to do so, of course. And he willfully laid the predicate for pardoning undeserving criminals like these when he pardoned defiantly racist Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona.

Except that, far from protecting Trump from impeachment, doing so would only provide Mueller more counts for the obstruction-of-justice case he’s building against this unindicted co-conspirator. Indeed, pardoning either or both would be tantamount to a suspect kidnapping someone in a misguided attempt to get away with murder.

Of course, this speculation about pardons pales in comparison with speculation about Trump’s intent to kill the Mueller investigation. To do so, he would have to fire Mueller, Deputy Attorney Rod Rosenstein, and anyone else in the Justice Department who could revive it.

Except that he would then be aping the fateful miscalculation Nixon made with his infamous “Saturday Night Massacre.” More to the point, this miscalculation would provide craven and cowered Republican leaders one last chance to redeem themselves. Because even they would have no choice but to initiate and prosecute impeachment proceedings if Trump pursues this patently ill-fated course.

I hasten to note, however, that Republicans have been all too willing to sacrifice their political ideology and moral conviction at the altar of Trump’s ambition. Therefore, waiting for any of them to play the pivotal role Barry Goldwater played during Watergate might be like Waiting for Godot.

Republicans in the Senate had nominated an elder statesman to deliver to Nixon the news that he could no longer avoid impeachment in the House and conviction in the Senate. Sen. Barry Goldwater (R) of Arizona … had great stature in the party and would tell Nixon what he thought – that he himself would now vote for conviction.

(The Christian Science Monitor, August 7, 2014)

Incidentally, the once self-righteous Republicans enabling and defending Trump remind me of Catholic bishops who enabled and protected pedophile priests. Trump will probably perpetrate wag-the-dog machinations to divert attention from his Nixonian morass. But I doubt even that would bring these Republicans back to Jesus.

Even more ominous, though, is that Trump’s pardon power does not extend to the battery of state crimes Cohen seems bound to implicate him in. Those crimes range from using his charitable foundation as a personal piggy bank to laundering dirty Russian money through his various real estate developments.

Therefore, even if he survives impeachment, New York prosecutors will be lying in wait to disclose a sealed indictment that will make the crimes Cohen pleaded to seem like jay walking. In other words: To pardon, or not to pardon – that is not the question. Because, either way, Trump is doomed.

For the record, Cohen has clearly given the finger to any prospect of a presidential pardon. But Trump will pardon Manafort and anyone else Mueller indicts pursuant to “this Russia thing.” The only question is when:

He dare not do so before the midterms, or before impeachment proceedings that are likely to follow them, or before his re-election bid in 2020, despite his dwindling prospects. Therefore, I think he’ll end up issuing sweeping pardons at some point between the November 2020 presidential election and leaving office in January 2021, when it would be clear he has nothing left to lose. This, because I think, like Bill Clinton, he will survive impeachment.

If all that isn’t unwieldy enough for you, consider indications that Mueller’s investigation will extend beyond November’s midterm elections. Further that Democrats seem bound to wrest control of the House from Republicans.

In that event, the deputy attorney general would not present Mueller’s findings to Republican leaders – who have aided and abetted so many of Trump’s high crimes and misdemeanors. Instead, he would present them to Democratic leaders – who have been salivating at the prospect of impeaching him.

Having said all that, anyone who knows how Nixon’s presidency unraveled can see the writing on the wall for Trump’s. This is why Trump would be well-advised to negotiate a plea deal with the Justice Department:

  • Offer to resign in exchange for the suspension of all state and federal investigations into his presidential campaign, business organization, and charitable foundation.
  • Offer to forego pardons in exchange for suspended sentences and commensurate fines for anyone (most notably his children) implicated in any crime those investigations have already uncovered.
  • Give Vice President Mike Pence enough time to appoint a new VP (Nikki Haley), and the Republican Party enough time to prepare for the midterm elections under his leadership, which would limit the impact of the Democratic “blue wave” coming. This means resigning before the end of September.

Unfortunately, Trump appears too blinded by ignorance and arrogance to see the writing on the wall. And nobody in his inner circle has the balls to point it out to him. Hell, his advisers are so hell-bent on catering to the Trump family’s delusions of royalty, they have Don Jr. and Ivanka convinced they’re entitled to inherit his presidency, respectively.

In any event, stay tuned. Because Washington has not been in the throes of such political unraveling since the dying days of the Nixon presidency.

Related commentaries:
Bad day for Cohen, Manafort, Trump

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