The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion It’s a good bet Trump pardons his felon allies. Here’s when that’s most likely.

President Trump outside the White House on Tuesday. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

The future isn’t promised, but it is a good bet that three felons and close allies of President Trump — Roger Stone (found guilty of obstruction of a congressional investigation, witness tampering and lying to Congress), Paul Manafort (serving a prison sentence for tax evasion and bank fraud) and Michael Flynn (pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI) — will be granted executive clemency. The only question is when.

It might be a tad bit premature for Manafort to start humming “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” But he will be there next year.

To be sure, Trump could free his friends before voters cast their ballots in 2020. But that’s politically risky, as President Gerald Ford’s 1976 defeat can attest. His approval rating dropped more than 30 points after he pardoned Richard M. Nixon.

Trump’s safest course of action would be to wait to do the dirty deed until after Election Day, Nov. 3, 2020. Trump’s impulsiveness, however, is a wild card.

The impeachment inquiry into President Trump has exposed troubling cracks in the political system. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Danielle Kunitz/The Washington Post)

Impeached or not, Trump can still grant pardons without fear of a citizens’ revolt — once the polls close. Even if the voters serve him with an eviction, Trump can still cut his boys loose, provided he acts before turning off the lights in the Oval Office.

The Stone, Manafort and Flynn prediction is offered with confidence because of Trump’s demonstrated disregard for the integrity of the criminal-justice system.

That disdain was on display in his recent chiseling of the military judicial process. Against the advice of experienced, respected leaders in the Pentagon, Trump intervened in three cases involving war-crimes accusations, overturning decisions of military juries and issuing full pardons to two soldiers convicted of war crimes, as well as reversing disciplinary action against a third service member, Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL.

For good measure, Trump also tweeted that the firing of Navy Secretary Richard Spencer was due to the Navy’s handling of Gallagher’s case, when in truth Spencer’s dismissal had more to do with his reaction to Trump’s irresponsible interference in Gallagher’s punishment.

Unlike Trump’s three military honorees, thousands of men and women in uniform have served under equally demanding conditions while abiding by the law and not crossing clearly drawn moral lines.

None of which matters to Trump.

As Spencer wrote in a Post op-ed, “the president has very little understanding of what it means to be in the military, to fight ethically or to be governed by a uniform set of rules and practices.”

Trump’s Thanksgiving Day drop-in on troops in Afghanistan doesn’t change Spencer’s bottom-line assessment of the commander in chief.

Besides, as he has repeatedly demonstrated since assuming the presidency, Trump doesn’t think rules apply to him.

With that presidential mind-set, Stone, Manafort and Flynn can rest easy this holiday season. Help is on the way; it’s only a matter of time.

Would that the same could be said for our democracy.

Consider the impact of Trump’s refusal to accept congressional oversight on the separation of powers. He orders administration officials to refuse to honor congressional subpoenas — they click their heels, salute and hope to hell they did it fast enough.

Think about his relentless, incendiary assaults on a free press. Witness his attack on judges who won’t let him have his way.

“Democratic checks and balances”? In Trump’s mind, his presidency is uncheckable, and no other branch of government equals its power.

He gets caught bribing a foreign country to interfere in a U.S. election — specifically by offering desperately needed military assistance in exchange for that country pledging publicly to dig up dirt on an opponent. A blatant abuse of presidential power. Yet no broad bipartisan coalition in Congress exists to rein him in.

Republican lawmakers avert their gaze from presidential excesses, cowering with tails between their legs in fear of Trump’s wrath — and tweets.

He is rightly confident that articles of impeachment approved by the House will fail in the Republican Senate because his manipulative majority leader, Mitch McConnell, and South Carolina’s homegrown chameleon (or is it snake?), Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey O. Graham, will do his bidding.

Faced with Trump and his obstructionists, an aroused, outraged electorate must bring this nightmare to an end on Election Day.

Because even if the House of Representatives finds that he has committed bribery, high crimes and misdemeanors, Trump will — constitutional experts notwithstanding — likely pardon his own impeachment.

Read more from Colbert King’s archive.

Read more:

Evan Thomas: When his party rebelled, Nixon went quietly. Trump probably won’t.

Richard Spencer: I was fired as Navy secretary. Here’s what I’ve learned because of it.

Fareed Zakaria: It’s hard to be an optimist about America right now

Danielle Allen: Stand and deliver, Senators

Marc A. Thiessen: Democrats’ impeachment obsession is backfiring