The mob-boss presidency

A normal president confronted with a news story suggesting he ordered underlings to illegally transport asylum seekers to so-called sanctuary cities in order to retaliate against political enemies would deny knowledge of such a heinous plot. If need be, he’d make light of it, portray it as if it were idle chatter or a joke. That’s what President Trump’s devoted prevaricators (White Houses staffers) did following The Post account.

Trump, however, is anything but normal. No, he tweeted — of course it was a tweet — that not only was the idea considered but that it is still under consideration. Aides on background hastened to say that nothing was in the works, once more contradicting their boss.

Making matters worse, we learned he allegedly told Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan to close the border despite concerns about the legality of doing so. He allegedly told McAleenan, who is now also acting secretary of homeland security, that he — Trump — would pardon him later if need be.

Making matters worse, we learned he allegedly told Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan to close the border despite concerns about the legality of doing so. He allegedly told McAleenan, who is now also acting secretary of homeland security, that he — Trump — would pardon him later if need be.

Republicans, as they always do when Trump is shredding democracy, remained silent on Friday. Speaking more generally of Trump’s Twitter habits in an interview, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) declared the president to be a “freak.” Actually, if the allegations are true, he’s much worse than that.

Former federal prosecutor Mimi Rocah acknowledged that, if the allegation about a pardon was true and Trump was serious, Trump then “offered a pardon as a bribe to get a public official to commit an unlawful act.” Referring to Attorney General William P. Barr’s exaggerated conception of executive authority, she queried, “Would Barr dare say that’s within his executive power?”

Constitutional scholar Laurence H. Tribe tells me, “If carried out, this offer to pardon high immigration officials if they will break the law on his behalf is the most obviously impeachable action President Trump has taken to date: It would mean this president has seized the power to put not just himself but all who do his bidding beyond the reach of law.” He continues, “That doing so is a high crime and misdemeanor is beyond dispute. Any president guilty of such conduct cannot be permitted to remain in office.”

Now, even if the offer of a pardon were not technically a bribe, “this is still an extraordinary and disturbing abuse of presidential power,” says Joshua Matz, co-author with Tribe of “To End A Presidency: The Power of Impeachment.” “Especially if it were repeated in other contexts, such illegality-inducing conduct may well rise to the level of an impeachable offense, though in my view we don’t yet know nearly enough about what happened here to reach firm conclusions.”

In this, as in other instances, subordinates’ refusal to carry out orders (as former White House counsel Donald McGahn did in refusing to fire special counsel Robert S. Mueller III) provides some protection to Trump from the consequences of his own actions.

However, neither Trump nor the country can count on employees’ continued insubordination, especially in light of Trump’s preference for installing “acting” officials, who remain under his thumb. Swift and forceful action to halt his reckless disregard of the law is required.

Tribe argues, “Without doubt, therefore, the House Judiciary Committee needs to include this matter within its investigatory ambit, subpoenaing all those who may have relevant knowledge unless they appear voluntarily.” Normally, if there is a credible allegation of wrongdoing by the president, the attorney general would appoint a special counsel. Don’t hold your breath. Tribe observes, “it seems unrealistic to expect the blatantly compromised Attorney General William Barr to appoint a special counsel to pursue the issue even if, as appears to be the case, the president has credibly been charged with promising a pardon as a bribe for illegal conduct.”

We’ve now come to the point where Trump is bragging about a plot to abuse power, using federal resources to enact political revenge. We have reason to believe he tried to induce wrongdoing with a pardon offer. “One thing everyone who knows the relevant law has agreed about the otherwise sweeping pardon power is that it cannot be used in advance, to license crimes before they have been committed,” Tribe says.

We’ve now come to the point where Trump is bragging about a plot to abuse power, using federal resources to enact political revenge. We have reason to believe he tried to induce wrongdoing with a pardon offer. “One thing everyone who knows the relevant law has agreed about the otherwise sweeping pardon power is that it cannot be used in advance, to license crimes before they have been committed,” Tribe says.

Even with evidence of ‘high crimes,’ impeaching Trump would probably fail

History shows it’s harder than it looks to remove a president from office.

Trump’s reported hush payments to women during the 2016 campaign: “It may be an impeachable offense if it goes to the question of the president procuring his office through corrupt means.” 

.. Democrats would investigate Trump’s retaliations against media sources that have reported news about him that he doesn’t like as abuses of “instruments of state power.”

.. three-quarters of self-identified Democratic voters in this month’s elections support impeachment

.. they may well be right that Trump’s actions — on several fronts — could clear the threshold of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” But no one should suffer illusions about the likely result of any impeachment attempts.

.. Being deemed unfit for office — the condition intended by the Founding Fathers to trigger impeachment in the House — has never been enough to get the Senate to remove a president.

History suggests that there wouldn’t be a successful conviction by two-thirds of senators without two other conditions in place:

  1. A chief executive must also be deeply unpopular. And
  2. booting him from office must seem more advantageous for the opposition in the next election than letting him remain there.

.. “High crimes and misdemeanors,” he says, “ought to be held to those offenses which are rather obviously wrong, whether ‘criminal,’ and which so seriously threaten the order of the political society as to make pestilent and dangerous the continuance in power of their perpetrator.”

Lawmakers laid a trap. In February 1867, they overrode Johnson’s veto of the Tenure of Office Act, which required the Senate’s consent for the president to fire and replace identified executive branch officers, including the secretary of war — at that time Edwin Stanton, a strong advocate of U.S. military occupation of the South. On Feb. 21, 1868, Johnson removed Stanton, who refused to leave his office even to go home or to Cabinet meetings.

.. if impeached, Johnson’s successor would have been Ohio’s Benjamin Wade — the Senate’s president pro tempore — who was, to put it mildly, unsuited for the presidency. (For years, he dared challengers to attack him in the Senate, having prominently placed two loaded pistols on his desk when he came into the chamber.)

Stormy Daniels: The Crime and the Cover-Up

When the mainstream media fawned over the Obama administration, I was glad to have the conservative media as an alternative because much of the criticism was pointed and thoughtful. But now that we have an administration I usually agree with on policy led by a president who is, at best, a deeply flawed man, I find the cable coverage almost completely useless. Much of the opposition to Trump is unhinged — though, having had some time to reflect on it, the natural impulse of Trump critics to conflate policy disagreements with personal revulsion over Trump’s character is, if not excusable, at least understandable. Even Trump fans (and there are many we’ve visited with in California) tend to temper their praise with grumbling over the president’s antics. Meanwhile, much of conservative media sounds eerily like the mainstream media during the administration of Bill Clinton, even as comparisons to that deeply flawed man have become the leitmotif of Trump apologia.

.. It is simply not a defense of Trump to argue that Clinton did worse. President Clinton, as Fox commentators were wont to remind viewers not so long ago, was not impeached over sexual improprieties. He was impeached over illegal and unethical actions taken to cover up sexual improprieties, the untimely revelation of which might have cost him the presidency. Parading out Juanita Broderick and Paula Jones as a reminder of how bad Clinton was, and how indifferent the media was to how bad Clinton was, does not improve Trump’s perilous position. In the mid-to-late Nineties, we on the right full-throatedly argued that Clinton was unfit for office not merely because of the tawdry behavior (though that certainly was relevant), but because of the fraudulent abuses undertaken to conceal the tawdry behavior, some of which involved actionable misconduct.

.. the lesson from Clinton’s impeachment that I tried to draw in Faithless Execution: The further removed misconduct is from the core responsibilities of the presidency, the less political support there will be for the president’s removal from office.

.. A lot of the commentary about Clifford is of the all-or-nothing variety: Staunch Trump critics believe her every word; staunch Trump defenders reject her in toto. In nearly 20 years as a prosecutor, dealing with countless witnesses of suspect character, I learned that things rarely work that way.

.. There appears to be no doubt at this point that: (a) Cohen paid Clifford $130,000 for her silence; (b) the payment came on the eve of an election that Trump appeared to have little chance of winning and won by the narrowest of margins, meaning disclosure would likely have been fatal; and (c) the agreement went to absurd lengths to obfuscate Trump’s involvement, including the use of pseudonyms for Trump (Dennis Denniston) and Clifford (Peggy Peterson) and the use of an obscure Delaware company (Essential Consultants LLC) as a vehicle to make the payment. Even though Cohen has risibly claimed that he paid Clifford on his own accord, with no involvement by his client (Trump) or the Trump organization, at least two Trump lawyers (Cohen and Jill Martin) have been involved in the energetic legal efforts to keep Clifford silent — efforts that President Trump has now formally joined.

.. it does not matter that one may not be a fan of the campaign-finance laws — they are the law, and as we’ve seen, they can be enforced by criminal prosecution. It does not matter that one may not be a fan of the special-counsel appointment of Robert Mueller — he is the prosecutor, and it is a commonplace for prosecutors, and especially quasi-independent prosecutors, to investigate crimes that are disconnected from the original rationale for the investigation (compare, e.g., Kenneth Starr’s shift from Whitewater to the Lewinsky scandal in the investigation of President Clinton).

Inside the FBI: Anger, worry, work — and fears of lasting damage

In the 109 years of the FBI’s existence, it has repeatedly come under fire for abuses of power, privacy or civil rights. From Red Scares to recording and threatening to expose the private conduct of Martin Luther King Jr. to benefiting from bulk surveillance in the digital age, the FBI is accustomed to intense criticism.

What is so unusual about the current moment, say current and former law enforcement officials, is the source of the attacks.

The bureau is under fire not from those on the left but rather conservatives who have long been the agency’s biggest supporters, as well as the president who handpicked the FBI’s leader.

.. Wray’s defenders say there is a more strategic reason for the new director’s approach — by relying on long-standing law enforcement policies and procedures, he believes the FBI can navigate through the current political storms and get back to a position of widespread trust across the political spectrum, according to people familiar with his thinking.

.. “Following established process is important,” one person said. “Process can protect us.”

.. Comey’s firing shocked the FBI’s workforce. In the aftermath, many employees posted pictures of him at their desks or other workspaces.

.. Others express doubts about emulating Mueller’s detached approach, worried that Wray’s calculation not to publicly spar with the president may lead to a gradual erosion of the bureau’s reputation and clout.

.. On Friday, over Wray’s objection, Trump authorized the release of the Nunes memo and declared, “A lot of people should be ashamed of themselves and much worse than that.’’

.. He has called his own attorney general “beleaguered” and claimed the bureau’s reputation was “in tatters.”

.. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said on Fox News there was “evidence of corruption — more than bias but corruption — at the highest levels of the FBI,” and pointed to texts between two key officials who were once assigned to both the Clinton and Trump probes suggesting a “secret society” at the FBI. Those messages about a “secret society” are now widely seen to be a joke, but that has not diminished Republicans’ fervor

.. it conducts criminal investigations independently and without regard to the will of the chief executive. Trump has defied that norm. He asked Comey for a vow of loyalty, then inquired with Andrew McCabe, who replaced Comey after Trump fired him, for whom he voted.

.. The memo itself, though, doesn’t prove the case. It doesn’t have the kind of evidence in it that you would need to see to say that there was an abuse of that authority.”

..  While the president might now feel he wants the bureau under his firm control, Hosko said, he might regret that if a like-minded president took office and ordered investigations of Trump or his family.

.. Current and former law enforcement officials expect the struggle for control of the FBI to intensify.

.. “Republicans think this is just part of the war they are fighting.”