Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, and How Presidents View Impeachment

memo that his lawyers had prepared last year, for the special counsel, published by the Times over the weekend, which says that, because the President can legitimately stop investigations—by methods including his pardon power or by the firing or hiring of certain law-enforcement officials, which can be part of the President’s job—his actions “could neither constitutionally nor legally constitute obstruction because that would amount to him obstructing himself.” As the President’s lawyers see it, Trump, in effect, is justice.

.. what the President and his lawyers seem to be saying is that there will, or can, be no “high crimes or misdemeanors”—the standard for impeachment—for Mueller to report to Congress, because Trump can make them vanish.

.. What is especially jarring about this argument is that it posits that the President does not have to pardon himself for any potential crime to disappear; the idea that he could, maybe, someday pardon himself makes a crime un-criminal. The concept is meta-Machiavellian: it is not just that a theoretical end—a Presidential pardon or a firing of the special counsel—justifies the means; it erases the means. That which may never happen (a pardon) is treated as something that already has.

.. the part about pardons in the Constitution reads like this: the President “shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.” (Emphasis added.)

The President may not be willing to read the parts of sentences that he doesn’t like, but one wishes that his lawyers would. The pardon power is not absolute

.. Whether a President can pardon himself or herself for anythingis not clear, in part because no President has ever tried

.. And should an investigator just assume that anything that harms the President won’t be prosecuted, and thus needn’t be investigated?

.. Does once having been Trump’s campaign chairman mean, for example, that Paul Manafort can, as Mueller’s team alleged on Monday, engage in witness tampering?

.. That is the logic of societies that have given up on the rule of law—leaving investigators and judges and juries always guessing about whether they are obliged to ignore plain facts in order to maintain the illusion of Presidential innocence.

.. there is no question that a President can, in the course of doing things that he is allowed to do—such as hiring and firing people—commit crimes, for example by taking bribes.

.. In Trump’s view, in other words, Sessions’s very conflict—his involvement in the campaign, which is presumably what Trump was referring to when he said that he “knew better than most”—was a reason for him to stay involved.

.. The reason that there is a Russia investigation, in other words, is a failure of the President’s subordinates to use the power that his office gave them. This, for Trump, seems to be the definition of a “hoax”: people pretending that Trump is not as powerful as Trump is.

..  When NBC’s Craig Melvin asked President Bill Clinton, this week for the “Today” show, whether it would have been better for him to resign, rather than fight it out, when he was impeached on charges that he had perjured himself and obstructed justice in relation to the Monica Lewinsky and Paula Jones cases, in 1998, Clinton said no and argued, “I defended the Constitution!”

.. He referred vaguely to “imagined facts” and to unspecified real ones that had been “conveniently omitted.”

..  It might seem surprising that Clinton was not better prepared for such questions ahead of his book tour. But then his wife’s Presidential campaign did not seem well prepared for such questions, either

.. “The American people, two-thirds of them, stayed with me,” he said—as if polls provided the ultimate pardon.