A normal president confronted with a news story suggesting he ordered underlings to illegally transport asylum seekers to so-called sanctuary cities in order to retaliate against political enemies would deny knowledge of such a heinous plot. If need be, he’d make light of it, portray it as if it were idle chatter or a joke. That’s what President Trump’s devoted prevaricators (White Houses staffers) did following The Post account.
Trump, however, is anything but normal. No, he tweeted — of course it was a tweet — that not only was the idea considered but that it is still under consideration. Aides on background hastened to say that nothing was in the works, once more contradicting their boss.
Making matters worse, we learned he allegedly told Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan to close the border despite concerns about the legality of doing so. He allegedly told McAleenan, who is now also acting secretary of homeland security, that he — Trump — would pardon him later if need be.
What?!? That’s the only sensible reaction for someone minimally conversant in the Constitution and the rule of law. This is the conduct of a movie mob boss, not a president. Trump is so brazen he’d rather lie to make himself appear more politically vengeful than tell the truth that his suggestion apparently was rebuffed. Tough guy. Gotta make da Dems quake in their boots, right?
Republicans, as they always do when Trump is shredding democracy, remained silent on Friday. Speaking more generally of Trump’s Twitter habits in an interview, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) declared the president to be a “freak.” Actually, if the allegations are true, he’s much worse than that.
Former federal prosecutor Mimi Rocah acknowledged that, if the allegation about a pardon was true and Trump was serious, Trump then “offered a pardon as a bribe to get a public official to commit an unlawful act.” Referring to Attorney General William P. Barr’s exaggerated conception of executive authority, she queried, “Would Barr dare say that’s within his executive power?”
Constitutional scholar Laurence H. Tribe tells me, “If carried out, this offer to pardon high immigration officials if they will break the law on his behalf is the most obviously impeachable action President Trump has taken to date: It would mean this president has seized the power to put not just himself but all who do his bidding beyond the reach of law." He continues, "That doing so is a high crime and misdemeanor is beyond dispute. Any president guilty of such conduct cannot be permitted to remain in office.”
Now, even if the offer of a pardon were not technically a bribe, “this is still an extraordinary and disturbing abuse of presidential power,” says Joshua Matz, co-author with Tribe of “To End A Presidency: The Power of Impeachment.” “Especially if it were repeated in other contexts, such illegality-inducing conduct may well rise to the level of an impeachable offense, though in my view we don’t yet know nearly enough about what happened here to reach firm conclusions.”
In this, as in other instances, subordinates’ refusal to carry out orders (as former White House counsel Donald McGahn did in refusing to fire special counsel Robert S. Mueller III) provides some protection to Trump from the consequences of his own actions.
However, neither Trump nor the country can count on employees’ continued insubordination, especially in light of Trump’s preference for installing “acting” officials, who remain under his thumb. Swift and forceful action to halt his reckless disregard of the law is required.
Tribe argues, “Without doubt, therefore, the House Judiciary Committee needs to include this matter within its investigatory ambit, subpoenaing all those who may have relevant knowledge unless they appear voluntarily.” Normally, if there is a credible allegation of wrongdoing by the president, the attorney general would appoint a special counsel. Don’t hold your breath. Tribe observes, “it seems unrealistic to expect the blatantly compromised Attorney General William Barr to appoint a special counsel to pursue the issue even if, as appears to be the case, the president has credibly been charged with promising a pardon as a bribe for illegal conduct.”
We’ve now come to the point where Trump is bragging about a plot to abuse power, using federal resources to enact political revenge. We have reason to believe he tried to induce wrongdoing with a pardon offer. “One thing everyone who knows the relevant law has agreed about the otherwise sweeping pardon power is that it cannot be used in advance, to license crimes before they have been committed,” Tribe says.
Trump’s lawlessness is intensifying. Even those such as Tribe who have opposed impeachment, given “the Senate’s fidelity to Trump rather than to the Constitution,” wonder if Trump can be left in office for another year-and-a-half. “I hesitate to say the red line has finally been crossed, but I see no way around that conclusion at this point,” he says.
For now, it’s up to the House to send out subpoenas, have all relevant witnesses testify under oath about what is going on at the Department of Homeland Security and reach a factual conclusion as to what occurred. Meanwhile, Congress must speak with one voice: Under no circumstances can the federal government be used as an instrument to exact political revenge.
You’d think the necessity for such a statement would convince Republicans not to support his reelection for four more years, when he would feel entirely unrestrained. You’d be wrong.