Since nothing improper happened between Donald Trump’s campaign and the Russians, why is the president suddenly and loudly touting his power to pardon?
If there’s really nothing there, wouldn’t the whole world be better served if Trump vigorously got behind Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, invited Mueller’s staffers over to the West Wing for chats with anyone they chose, opened his tax files to them and declared not only does he not plan to have Mueller removed but also wishes him Godspeed toward completing the job?
But of course that can’t happen because Trump does not have the capacity to see beyond his immediate impulses and has no fact-based sense of or regard for history.
If he did, surely he could figure out that an exoneration by Mueller — or at least a closure without charges against anyone — would have to be accepted by even Trump’s severest critics.
Unless, of course, Trump’s reflexive, transparent effort to cloud Mueller’s sparkling and bipartisan reputation succeeds even with those critics. In that case, the Russia thing would never go away.
Discouraging Mueller’s admirers is difficult, however. Last week, the spokesman for Trump’s personal legal team, Mark Corallo, resigned partly because of his disgust with the Trump campaign to tarnish Mueller.
Like the anti-Mueller campaign, Trump’s brandishing his power to pardon anyone — even himself — might reinforce his Superman self-image but also carries the seeds of his self-destruction.
Presidents can preemptively pardon anyone for any crime; that’s what Gerald Ford did when he gave Richard Nixon a blanket pardon before any criminal charges were brought.
But a pardon can be a double-edged sword. If Trump were to preemptively pardon Donald Jr. or his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, for instance, Mueller then could not indict them but the pardons would not end the investigation. And, perhaps worse for all of the Trumps, Mueller could still subpoena the pardoned people and they could not invoke the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination because they would be unindictable. Neither could they refuse to answer questions from Congressional committees on Fifth Amendment grounds.
Thus Trump’s distorted ethical construct and self-destructive impulses have reached another extreme place that most Americans could not have imagined and certainly do not need to be in.
It’s become an ongoing civic horror story, a 24-hour cable television nightmare that tempts us to avert our eyes and turn off our consciences. But we must not do that.
America’s culture and spirit, and democracy’s future, are under siege by a man who thinks of the nation as a great big private company and believes that he owns it. As sole proprietor, he gets to establish the principles under which he operates and make up the rules governing others as he goes along.
The conventions and aspirations under which the country has operated for 250 years are irrelevant to him; the accumulated self-governing ethos that matured over those centuries dismissed; the inconvenient limits on abuse of power ignored.
This is not tolerable. Only Congress can do something about it. At the very least, it is time for a bipartisan group of leaders to tell him that it is not tolerable and make clear to him that he is not above the law by reminding him that they, not he, are the final judges of whether he remains on the throne he has imagined for himself.
Davis Merritt, Wichita journalist and writer, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.