This piece will be appearing, in the next couple of days, in newspapers in my conservative congressional District (VA-06).
It seems as clear as can be that a constitutional test is coming to America. What is much less clear is whether America will pass that test.
First, it could not be clearer that the Russia/Trump investigation, if completed, will uncover something important. There is nothing “fake” about it.
If that were not the case, why would President Trump have fired a string of major people in law enforcement who showed that they were on the trail: then acting-Attorney General Sally Yates; Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney with jurisdiction over Trump Tower and money laundering matters; and Jim Comey, Director of FBI?
And if there were nothing to hide, why would so many of the President’s men – Flynn, Attorney General Sessions, Jared Kushner, Donald Jr. – have lied, some under penalty of perjury, about their contacts with the Russians?
The picture gets more filled in and darker by the day. (And every day, it becomes a better bet it will prove the largest and most profound scandal in American history.)
Second, as the investigation closes in, Trump gives every indication that he will use every power at his command – and quite possibly some powers that are not rightfully his – to resist being held to account. Trump’s character – far more than Nixon’s – seems to have no place in it for deference to any authority beyond himself. It is not clear what limits there may be, if any, to what this president would do to come out on top.
And so we hear warning shots from Trump that many interpret as his preparing to add Special Prosecutor Mueller to the list of those he’s fired to kill the investigation. We hear also that he’s inquired into whether he can issue pardons to all his people, and to himself (and we see his tweet claiming that he has “complete pardon power”).
(And of course, all the while, Trump continues his war upon the free American press that reports each new development in this ever-uglier picture.)
All of which suggests there’s a collision coming between the American legal process and a President who refuses to yield to the law.
How will that turn out? The answer to that question hinges on two other questions.
The first question is this: What, if anything, could Trump do, or be revealed to have done, that would cause his followers to withdraw their support?
That question is important because the Republicans in Congress — who have the power to check the President — have been protecting him instead out of fear of alienating Trump’s supporters, on whom they, too, depend. If they defect, the Republicans in Congress will need less courage to honor their oath of office.
Most knowledgeable people I hear believe that nothing that Trump could do would shake his support among the slightly more 1/3 of the American electorate who still approve of Trump. According to that opinion, Trump had it about right when he claimed, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”
(An actual poll asked people, “If Donald Trump shot someone on Fifth Avenue, would you approve or disapprove of the job he’s doing as president?” and, amazingly, many more Trump voters said they’d approve.)
Perhaps it’s not true that his support is unshakeable. Perhaps if the investigation reveals that Trump has betrayed the nation to our nation’s main adversary, or that he has been involved hip-deep in organized crime, his support would crack.
But if it’s correct that Trump’s supporters are with him regardless of any wrong-doing on his part, then a second question arises:
What, if anything, could Trump do that would lead the Republicans in Congress to risk arousing the ire of a sizeable chunk of the Republican base in order to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States?
Here, the knowledgeable people I read and listen to seem split.
There are many who believe that nothing would induce the Republicans in Congress to defend the Constitution against Trump. That these Republicans have already countenanced so much, it is said, means that nothing more from Trump would be too much.
But others disagree. The firing of Special Prosecutor Mueller, they say, would be so blatant an assault on the rule of law that Republicans in Congress would turn away from him—at least enough of them to re-establish Mueller and his investigation (and conceivably enough to begin impeachment proceedings for Trump’s flagrant obstruction of justice).
At this writing, indications are that Trump may soon seek to install a new Attorney General for the purpose of killing Mueller’s investigation. (Even the White House is suggesting this.) Would the Republicans in Congress allow the President to achieve that purpose? If they do, the United States will have entered new, very dangerous territory.
On how these questions are answered – on whether the President will be allowed to override the rule of law — hinges whether the United States will remain the nation –where no one is above the law — it has so long been.