It’s the ultimate Trump challenge to the rule of law. Even if you did something wrong; even if you got caught; even if you were tried by a jury of your peers and found guilty; and even if you went to jail; and even you are still there—don’t worry. All is forgiven. The President of the United States will pardon you—if—he likes you, or you were on The Apprentice, or you lied to the government as part of your crime (Martha Stewart and Rod Blagojevich). Or is all this talk about pardoning criminals really something else? Is Mr. Trump really sending out a signal to all who might testify against him? It is OK to lie to the government for if you do, and get caught, I will pardon you. In fact, I might even pardon myself.
It is now evident that the President of the United States is likely to tolerate no check or balance on his unbridled power. His lawyers must be petrified that if he testifies to Mr. Mueller, he will trip up, make a mistake, or really lie and set himself up for a charge of lying to the federal government, which, after all, is what got Bill Clinton impeached. In order to avoid the possibility of being accused of lying under oath, Mr. Trump is going to avoid testifying at all. Either he will, in the end, ask Assistant Attorney General Rosenstein to fire Mueller, or he will fire Mueller himself (which he supposedly cannot do), or he will fire Mr. Rosenstein (which he can do) for resisting a direct order, and install someone who will then fire Mueller.
What is he hiding if he has nothing to hide?
The likely guesses are that he has been working with the Russians during the 2016 campaign and/or laundering money for them in exchange for favorable loans to his company. It is unlikely that legitimate sources of capital in New York wanted to deal with Trump after his bankruptcies in Atlantic City. He may have had to get in bed with the Russian oligarchs and then become susceptible to Putin’s powers of persuasion–Kompromat.
Either way, it is likely that the current chief executive of the most powerful democracy on Earth is beholden to enemy forces and they are turning the screws and have been since Trump’s campaign for President began.
This leaves us where?
There are only three sources of restraint on Mr. Trump’s exertion of power.
Mr. Mueller is first. If his investigation clears the president of wrongdoing, the crisis is over. If not, it falls to the second bulwark of democracy, the Congress, to assert itself through impeachment and conviction. This is unlikely as long as the Republicans run the House. The third protection against Mr. Trump trampling on democracy will be the Supreme Court. If his legal team asserts that he does not have to testify for Mr. Mueller, even if subpoenaed, or that he is pardoning himself, the Court will have to determine the constitutionality of such a maneuver.
I don’t pretend to know what the Court will do in the case of Trump or in the case of any other defendant who might be found to be criminal by Mueller like Michael Cohen. I think we are heading toward a showdown between the desire of the President to stay as far away from Mueller as he can and the desire by the Special Prosecutor to hear what the President has to say when Mueller asks Trump questions to which he already knows the answers.
This should be fun! And all that is before we even see the Trump tax returns and really find out what he’s worth.