Presidential Power: Is It Unlimited?

By

Leonard Zwelling

The Mueller report in its redacted version is making its way to the eyes of America through the Attorney General’s press conference of lies, through Congress, and out to the cable news venues. From what I can tell the big take home is that Mueller definitely did not exonerate Mr. Trump of obstruction of justice nor really of conspiracy of working with the Russians. Mueller just didn’t have enough evidence to prosecute and saw no reason to try to prosecute when the Justice Department claims that a sitting president cannot be indicted. It would have been a year-long slog up to the Supreme Court and by then we would be in election season. The people will have the final word on the effect of the Mueller probe. Perhaps, that’s as it should be given that the people paid for it.

If the President of the United States is going to be brought to justice, it will have to be via the ballot box or the only other means made available by the Constitution—impeachment by the House and conviction by the Senate. As the latter would never happen even if the former did, my guess is that the focus will shift to the other investigations that are still ongoing, especially the one about the Trump finances and Trump Foundation and Trump campaign and Trump inauguration in the Southern District of New York. If you are going to get Donald Trump, it will have to be by the wallet. One revelation of the Mueller report is that there are 14 total investigations on going so one or two are likely to dig up some prosecutorial gold.

What I also learned again, is a lesson I learned first hand when I was an administrator at Anderson. Presidents have enormous power. It seems that only because several high-minded individuals resisted the orders of Trump or his encouragement to lie to protect him that Mueller learned anything about Russia and potential obstruction. Most of what I have heard described thus far was already known to the press anyway.

I once was the person resisting a president. It was not a happy place to be. I served a president who was knee-high in conflict of interest and closely aligned with a series of people who wound up in jail. In addition, I had a crisis in clinical research that warranted severe IRB action against a faculty member or two but was resisted by the people to whom I reported. That was fun! Not!

As in the Trump White House, my resistance sealed my fate and I was gone soon enough—first I quit clinical research and next I was replaced entirely. Oh well. I had a good run and I needed to go.

What is so troubling to me about the current leadership at Anderson is that it seems to be rewarding some of the very people who enabled the last president of Anderson to do so much damage. Perhaps the new president is unaware of his almost limitless power. He really has no board to whom he must report that has a clue of what he is doing. There is no MD Anderson board. There is only the Board of Regents, political appointments with little background in education or biomedical science. What an ideal position it is to be the president of a place reporting up to such a body!

As Spiderman said, “with great power comes great responsibility.” In my many conversations with Dr. LeMaistre, I knew he was aware of that power and edited himself very well making sure never to abuse it, but also never to be reluctant to use it when need be. His successors did not share his keen judgment.

Mickey is a great role model to emulate. Both Mr. Trump and Dr. Pisters could learn a lot from the LeMaistre legacy.

Instead, Mr. Trump is relying on Mr. Barr to act as Frank Pantangeli and keep the Godfather’s secrets. I fear some of the Frank Pantangelis of the DePinho years are still in positions of great responsibility and power under Dr. Pisters. They have been rewarded for their bad deeds by the current leadership for reasons that escape me.

When a new president takes office, he or she is wise to clean house and start afresh with his or her own team. The current leadership of MD Anderson has done exactly the opposite and in so doing caused some observers to question the wisdom of the leadership’s governance structure. Put me in that camp.

Presidents have great power. They must have great judgment. One without the other is a recipe for disaster and the signs of that are all over the current White House and perhaps in the upper reaches of 1515 as well.

Leonard Zwelling