Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Looming Constitutional Crisis

It is now all but certain that Donald Trump will attempt to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The only questions that remain are how and when. Six months into this travesty of an administration and what we have is a West Wing in disarray, cabinet members who are in over their heads and a chief executive who thinks he's still hosting Celebrity Apprentice. America, this is your reality TV show from hell.

Oh I know there are those who insist that Trump would never fire Mueller because of the political consequences. All of these people seem to have forgotten that after he fired Comey, Trump suffered hardly any political fallout. Yes, the firing prompted Mueller's hiring in the first place, but apart from that, Trump escaped without so much as a scratch. Besides, a man who has no regard for the rule of law and who has proven time and again throughout his life that he can't be shamed, certainly isn't going to concern himself with optics, especially not with the entire GOP afraid of challenging him.

But if Trump fired Mueller wouldn't that be the final straw? Certainly enough Republicans would turn on him to force him from office if he took that drastic a step, right? Perhaps, but from what I've seen, it is highly unlikely that the House would vote to impeach and, assuming it did, even more unlikely that 19 Republicans would join with 48 Democrats to vote to convict in the Senate. Face it, if you're looking for a Nixon-like moment, don't hold your breath. For all his faults, Nixon at least had a soul.

So how will Il Duce pull the plug? First, it's important to keep in mind that Jeff Sessions' refusal to resign after he was publicly humiliated by Trump in that New York Times interview has complicated things a bit. What Trump was hoping for was that Sessions would have enough pride to quit so he could appoint a replacement that would immediately take over the Russia investigation. A new attorney general might be able to either rein in Mueller or, if that didn't work, fire him, thus eliminating the need for Trump to do it himself. First rule of a dictator: never get the blood on your own hands.

With Sessions still on the job - but also recused from any involvement in the investigation - Trump would have to direct his assistant Rod Rosenstein to fire Mueller. That would be problematic not in the least because it was Rosenstein who hired Mueller in the first place. He would have little if any cause to dismiss him. So Rosenstein would either have to resign or be fired. I'm guessing it's the former.

Trump would then have to find his own Robert Bork of sorts: someone with no spine and even less ethics who would carry out the deed. Sadly, that shouldn't be too hard. Most of the career lawyers at the Department of Justice - like Sally Yates and Preet Bharara - have already been fired. The truth is that of all the pledges Trump and his henchmen have made since taking office, the one they've delivered on is the dismantling of the administrative state. From the DOJ to the State Department to the EPA, hundreds of job vacancies have yet to be filled. This wasn't an accident; it was done on purpose. And it makes perfect sense. The fewer potential opponents you have, the easier it is to pull off a Coup. As I wrote in an earlier piece, "Not all Democracies die by the sword, some die from a fountain pen."

So when does all this happen? We can assume that Mueller either already has Trump's tax returns or is about to lay his hands on them. Any halfway decent investigator would've followed the trail of bread crumbs this president has been carelessly dropping. We can also assume that Trump and his lawyers know this full well. That's why they're now challenging his integrity as a prosecutor, despite the fact that Trump was considering him for the FBI position before Rosenstein appointed him as special counselor. It's also why Trump went off the way he did to the Times. He may have all the impulse control of a four-year old, but he's not nuts. In fact, everything he's done since assuming office has had its own sort of convoluted logic behind it.

Based on all the information we have, I'd say he makes his move within the next few days, perhaps as early as Monday. In fact, the longer he waits, the more he runs the risk that Mueller might get enough dirt on him to survive even his firing. Let's not forget there are two Congressional hearings going on. The last thing Trump wants to see is Robert Mueller testifying before the world that the Kremlin owns his ass.

But Mueller's firing won't be the event that brings about a Constitutional crisis. That happens afterwards when Trump issues pardons for himself and his entire family. Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort? They can twist in the wind for all he cares. In Trumpworld, family comes first, second and third. There is no such thing as loyalty from the top down, only from the bottom up. Just ask Jeff Sessions, the most loyal man in Trump's entire cabinet.

What would happen next is anybody's guess. Constitutional scholars are divided as to whether Trump has the authority to pardon himself. I submit that they - and we - are all about to find out.

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