Saturday, June 9, 2018
"As has been stated by numerous legal scholars, I have the absolute right to PARDON myself, but why would I do that when I have done nothing wrong? In the meantime, the never ending Witch Hunt, led by 13 very Angry and Conflicted Democrats (& others) continues into the mid-terms!"
-- President Trump on Monday
I have the absolute right to jump out of a tall burning building. That is nothing to brag about.
Anyone who reads my columns knows I am no fan of the president. Yet even I am appalled at the terrible legal advice the president of the United States is getting during the most important investigation going on anywhere. I first said so in this space on Dec. 30.
The problem reached a new low last weekend. I never saw such an awful case of lawyers telling their client only what the client wants to hear as the "leaked" memo by the president's attorneys .
To summarize that masterpiece: The president has done nothing wrong but he can pardon himself for it. Oh, and we lied before about how the statement on meeting Russians was drafted but are telling the truth now about that and everything else.
Asserting your client's innocence along with his ability pardon himself is like asserting his ship is in no danger while he sits in a lifeboat. Let the legal experts haggle over whether it is possible for a president to pardon himself. Whether he can or not, he is indisputably worried enough to have his lawyers claim the right.
Argue the president and his legal all-stars are only trying to send a signal here. After all, the president says in Monday's tweet "I have done nothing wrong?" OK. Say he only did this week's leak-the-memo-and-tweet thing to discourage the "Witch Hunt."
Suppose I was suspected of witchcraft. Standing in the village square loudly threatening to cast one of my most powerful spells would not discourage my hunters.
Now suppose -- and this is my theory -- that the president and his legal eagles beat the drum about pardons and to even grant some flamboyant ones to encourage people who have committed serious crimes to not testify. He is promising to let guilty people off the hook. If that is not obstruction of justice, it certainly is undermining it.
The letter's claim the president cannot obstruct justice "by virtue of his position as the chief law enforcement officer" is the dumbest argument I have ever read. Who could possibly be better placed to obstruct justice than the guy in charge?
Donald Trump would be all over TV and Twitter if Hillary Clinton -- or Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, John Kasich, Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Gary Johnson the Libertarian or Gloria La Riva, 2016 candidate for the Party for Socialism and Liberation -- had won the election and had lawyers say this.
"If I were president of the United States and I had a lawyer that told me I could pardon myself, I think I would hire a new lawyer," Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, sagely advised Monday. Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., still holds the prize for the best legal advice the president ever got. Earlier this year he shouted out in an interview about something dumb done and said by then-presidential lawyer John Dowd: "If you have an innocent client, Mr. Dowd, act like it."
Not even Richard Nixon pardoned himself. Nixon as president was unburdened by scruple and knew how to wield power. He still had Gerald Ford do the deed. So, we now have a president nervously bragging he can do something not even Nixon was willing to do.
Speaking of Nixon, here is the first line from the Justice Department memo that president got four days before he resigned. "Under the fundamental rule that no one may be a judge in his own case, the President cannot pardon himself."
Suppose the president pardons himself anyway. Suppose, after he leaves office, the courts do not uphold that pardon. The attempt to pardon himself would then be evidence of the president's belief in his own guilt.
Now suppose the courts do uphold the presidential self-pardon. The president declares himself above the law and acts on it. Congress is complicit and the voters abide it. Then we shall deserve exactly what we will get -- despotism.
Where are people in tricorn hats and "Don't Tread on Me" t-shirts when you need them?
The president needs just one lawyer -- a skilled one who can get this client to clam up.
Commentary on 06/09/2018
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