MSNBC host Nicole Wallace reports from her contacts, “I understand his chief motivation for running for re-election is to avoid possible indictment and legal jeopardy.”
Which should give Robert Mueller one more reason to indict Trump, if he can.
But wait, doesn’t everyone say that a sitting President cannot be indicted? No, not everyone. It’s true that a 1973 rule from the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel makes that Justice Department policy. But it’s not in the Constitution. And no one has ever tested the issue in the courts.
Twice, since that rule was made, a Special Prosecutor asked his team to determine whether it would be permissible to indict a sitting President: Leon Jaworski tasked his team to make that judgment back in the days of Watergate, and Kenneth Starr asked his own team when he was investigating Bill Clinton.
Both teams came back with the opinion that it was indeed permissible. The Special Prosecutors in both cases just decided not to take that route.
But wait, isn’t Robert Mueller a by-the-book kind of a guy? Yes, so everyone says. And doesn’t the book – regarding a Special Counsel like Mueller – say that he is bound by the DOJ rules? Yes, but that book also makes provision for the Special Counsel to ask the Attorney General for an exception if it served the public interest.
(Whether new AG William Barr would grant that exception is, of course, another question. But I still suspect, as I’ve written before, that Barr may have snookered Donald Trump and will show himself the protector of the Constitution and not of the President who appointed him.)
So the indictment of a sitting President is possible.
Back in the early months of Mueller’s investigation, I predicted that Mueller would indict Trump. But one of the main reasons for that prediction is no longer operative: namely, Mueller would know that with the Republicans in control of both houses of Congress, there was little chance that appropriate action would be taken in Congress regardless of what “high crimes and misdemeanors” on Trump’s part the investigation uncovered.
But Mueller’s investigation has lasted beyond the 2018 midterm elections. And now that Democrats control at least the House, impeachment is quite possible – even likely – even if removal from office by the Senate is doubtful. Removal or not, at least there would be a full public hearing regarding the Presidential misdeeds.
But if Nicole Wallace’s report about Trump’s motivation for running for re-election is valid, Mueller (and the rest of us) have a new and important reason for wanting to indict the President while he’s still in office: just think what it would mean for the nation to have a President seeking re-election to the presidency for the purpose of escaping prosecution.
It has been widely reported that Trump originally ran for the presidency not to win but as a self-marketing strategy, a way to boost the “Trump brand.” According to these reports, moreover, he did not expect to win. Maybe even didn’t want to win.
Consider how Trump campaigned then, even though – assuming those reports to be accurate – he was expecting, maybe even planning, to lose: he planted most poisonous seeds in the American body politic by claiming to his followers, with no basis whatever, that if he lost, it would be because the system had been “rigged” against him.
In other words, he deliberately chose –in the event of a loss he expected– to inflame the rage of millions of Americans against the “rigged system,” i.e. against the American system of government.
If we knew nothing else about Donald Trump than that he chose to cultivate rage, division, and possible insurrectionary violence in the event of a loss he thought would naturally occur, we would know enough to know what a terrible human being he is.
If that is what he did when he faced nothing worse than coming in second in a normal presidential contest, in which he was running just for a chance to make himself more prominent in the public mind, we must ask:
What would this man do if he was running as a means to escape prosecution and imprisonment?
How much could he damage the nation as he acts – as a candidate, and an incumbent President — from the intense desperation one might reasonably predict if indictments were hanging over his head, and only being a “sitting President” kept him out of prison?
How much damage could he do if he were to lose the election, yet not accept his loss, or lash out at the system that lay in wait to bring him to justice?
(We all know how much damage he can do if he were somehow to actually win another four years in which to wield
In view of all this, it seems clear enough that the nation would do well to deal — without delay — with any crimes this President has committed, so that the desperation of a destructive and altogether amoral man does not turn the 2020 presidential election into a major threat to the integrity and well-being of the United States.
If Donald Trump has committed crimes – and no one paying any careful attention can seriously doubt it, since some of them have been committed right before our eyes – Mueller should do everything he can – with Barr, and all the way up to the Supreme Court, if necessary — to indict this sitting President.