Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Running on Empty

The mainstream media used up a lot of gas covering the presidential race for the last 18 months. One hopes that they can maintain that energy and now use it for good instead of on behalf of evil, however well-intentioned that may have been. Will the mainstream media be able to see the forest for the trees or will the big picture continue to elude them?
Early signs are not encouraging.

Chris Cillizza in WaPo today writes This is the single most dangerous thing Donald Trump said in his New York Times interview according to Maggie Haberman "The law's totally on my side, the president can't have a conflict of interest."
Cillizza goes on to explain the specific exemptions in the law for the President, Vice President, a Member of Congress, or a Federal Judge including the Politifact article explaining:
"It’s been this way since at least 1974, when the Justice Department issued a letter saying Title 18 Section 208 did not apply to the president. Congress expressly codified the exemptions in 1989.

In the 1974 letter, the Justice Department said the legislative history of this conflict-of-interest provision indicated that it was never intended to apply to the president. Additionally, the Justice Department said placing conflict-of-interest laws on the president could constrain him in a potentially unconstitutional manner, though it did not give specific examples."

Although the Justice Department letter "did not give specific examples" the history since 1974 is clear. The independent prosecutor (counsel) law was established as a reaction to Watergate because the only check on the President is the impeachment power of Congress, which Congress feared would not be enough. The independent prosecutor law was allowed to lapse after the Clinton impeachment. That leaves only the impeachment threat as a realistic threat to Trump. In the 1990s, the Supreme Court ruled that the President could be sued by a private individual in an unusual decision in that the ability of a president to function while in office could be severely constrained by lawsuits. This precedent could be the reason that Trump settled the lawsuit against "Trump University" for $25 million. His foundation tax filing, presumably due and filed by October 15, 2016 and after the Washington Post report of self-dealing. The admission on the tax filing reduces or removes the possibility of tax fraud charges. Surely federal prosecutors have been vigorously investigating Trump and his businesses due to the urgency his electoral victory prompts. A sitting president can not be indicted. A president-elect, maybe not so clear without judicial review.

But I digress. Trump, by his blustering nature, always does whatever he wants on behalf of himself, as if to say to advisors, "Here's what I am going to do, unless you tell me I can't, and then I am probably going to do it anyway. Find a way to solve the problem you have with it."

That reality makes Cillizza's statement that Trump made a dangerous statement to the NYT silly. Of course he did. Of course his election poses a great danger.

The only check on Trump is that the Republican House can impeach  and the Republican Senate can convict. Trump is at greater risk of impeachment and conviction than any President since Nixon because Republicans in the Senate can count on Democrats to join them in the conviction vote that requires a 2/3rds majority. Trump is devoted to extraordinary self-promotion and self aggrandizement. Nothing else matters. The Trumpian Way is the perfect complement to Republican strategy. Their message to Trump is - "give us everything we want in terms of policy and we will give you everything you want to promote yourself and your businesses -- and we will not impeach you and remove you -- the total humiliation that you fear most." This tactic of Republican legislators will dictate policy for at least the next two years and likely four years if they maintain their majority in 2018.  And so it goes.

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