Constitutional crisis? Trump eyes firing Mueller, pardoning himself, family, and staff
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Revelations last night that President Trump is weighing his options to fire the special counsel, Robert Mueller, and examining the option of issuing pardons for himself, his family and his staff brought the country closer than ever to a full-blown Constitutional crisis.

The Washington Post first, and then other outlets reported that Trump’s lawyers are building a case of “conflict of interest” against Mueller and that they are looking at the option of Trump issuing pardons.

The seriousness of this is not just that it has never happened before in the history of the U.S. but that acceptance of a presidential pardon constitutes admission of guilt in commission of a crime. The Constitution grants the president the right to issue pardons for people who have acted against the interests of or have harmed the United States.

This radical new approach by Trump and his lawyers to fight off the investigators comes as the special counsel directs his scrutiny into the president’s personal finances, including his tax returns. Investigators following the money are finding more and more evidence, apparently, of close financial ties among Trump, his associates, and criminal financial oligarchs connected to Russia and other countries. Those investigations could well expose not just the reasons for possible collusion regarding the elections, but even worse, they could expose Trump and his family’s connection to a web of international criminals, money launderers, and gangsters.

The investigators, in order to follow the money, must go back years before any alleged hacking of the 2016 elections. Apparently, that is what they are doing.

After his fourth bankruptcy, Trump understandably had a hard time finding anyone who would lend him money. As the The New York Times reported this week, however, Deutsche Bank lent him hundreds of millions anyway. It’s the same bank that has been heavily fined for laundering hundreds of millions of dollars for Russian oligarchs, some of them connected to Putin and others running their own criminal empires. Is there a connection there? We don’t know whether the gangster money the German bank was laundering is exactly the same money they lent to Trump but Mueller, if Trump doesn’t fire him, is sure to find out.

The Times also reported last night that Deutsche Bank, says Mueller, is asking for information about those loans that Trump still owes.

The latest revelations about pardons come on the heels of the warning Trump issued yesterday to Mueller when he told The New York Times that the special counsel had no business looking into his (the president’s) personal finances and that Mueller would be crossing a “red line” if he did so. The president is also said to have been beside himself with anger after his lawyers told him Mueller could, in addition, examine his tax returns.

The implications for Trump are obviously serious. At the very least, findings of criminality could result in jail sentences for many of his associates, including members of his administration, his family, and his staff.

Reacting to the news that Trump is gearing up to fire Mueller and pardon himself and his family and staff, presidential historian Robert Beschloss said on MSNBC last night that the news is “unprecedented in American history” and it is “blood chilling.” Beschloss said it would throw the country into a Constitutional crisis that would dwarf anything that happened in the Watergate scandal.

The revelations last night about the options that Trump is examining shed more light on the reasons for his attacks yesterday on his own attorney general. One of the only ways for Trump to get rid of Mueller is to have the attorney general fire him. Sessions can’t do it because he is recused in the matter of the Russia investigations. Regardless of the fact that Trump and Sessions are political bedfellows, Sessions has to be gotten out of the way by a Donald Trump driven only by concern for himself. The attacks on Sessions yesterday would have been enough to get any attorney general to resign. Sessions threw a wrench into the works, however, by announcing yesterday that he would not quit, leaving Trump with only the option of firing him in order to get rid of him.

The president needs the top Justice Department official to fire Mueller because he is not allowed to fire Mueller himself. An attorney general or a deputy attorney general or anyone else down the line in the Justice Department (we don’t know how far down Trump would have to go to find someone who would fire Mueller) needs good cause to fire a special counsel or prosecutor. “Conflict of interest” would be sufficient cause, explaining why Trump has sent his lawyers to dig up dirt on Mueller and why on Wednesday Trump declared openly to the national press that Mueller was “rife with conflict of interest.”

Still another revelation yesterday was that Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, just before he took on the campaign manager’s job, was in debt $17 million to two oligarchs, one in Ukraine and another a bigwig in Russia’s aluminum industry,  an industry that was stolen by that oligarch from the public when the Soviet Union was destroyed.

When Manafort came on as campaign manager for Trump he announced he was doing it for free, taking no salary. Was it an act of charity by a good friend? Hardly. The AP reported in 2016 that for some reason, when Manafort took over the Trump campaign the oligarchs withdrew their attempts in court to collect that money. What’s the connection? Did Manafort take the job of running Trump’s campaign as his payment to the money launderers and if so what was the level of their leverage over Trump himself?

The idea that the president is involved in all this sleaze and that he would be eyeing pardons for himself and his family make even Richard Nixon look good.

Some of Nixon’s aides suggested to him during the Watergate crisis that he consider pardoning his aides and even himself. Nixon, perhaps the poster child for corruption in office, nevertheless rejected those suggestions as demeaning to his honor.

So we now have a Russiagate investigation that is rapidly turning into an investigation of criminal financial activity by Trump and those around him.

To make matters worse, Trump is getting help in his latest schemes from Mike Pompeo, the CIA director. At a forum on national security in Colorado yesterday Pompeo brushed off the seriousness of the entire matter by saying “of course” the Russians interfered in the election, essentially describing the scandal as nothing more than a business-as-usual happening in international politics.

If Trump does indeed choose the options he is looking at – more firings of people investigating him and pardons for all the criminals surrounding him – we could be in a full-blown Constitutional crisis.

Were Trump to pardon himself tomorrow a federal prosecutor might try to prosecute him anyway, arguing that the Constitutional pardon power of the president does not extend to the president himself.

A judge would have to make a decision then.

But the president could argue, as the Justice Department said in the Watergate crisis, that the president can’t be prosecuted while he is in office. Then prosecution would have to wait until Trump is out of office or until he is impeached by Congress.

The best possible outcome for the president would be that he is actually innocent of any collusion or crime. Even if that is the case, however, Trump is guilty of being driven by nothing but concern for himself. That concern overrides everything else for Donald Trump. The latest revelations show that at the very least that much is true.

Innocent or guilty, they show that all the promises Trump made about “making America great,” saving and creating jobs, “great healthcare for everyone,” a massive infrastructure program, remembering the “forgotten” men and women in our society – all those promises were just that – promises. Trump is about making no one but himself great and whoever stands in the way is expendable.

It is that basic truth about Trump, perhaps more than any investigation, that will eventually erode the base of even his most ardent supporters.


John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.