What used to be a perfectly polite expression could soon be a full-blown constitutional crisis, thanks to the potential prosecution known officially as the United States of America vs. Donald John Trump.
That became painfully plain over the weekend.
In a confidential, 20-page letter to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, two of Trump’s attorneys argued a bold proposition: that the president really is beyond the long arm of the law. Here’s the money quote: “The president not only has unfettered statutory and constitutional authority to terminate the FBI director, he also has constitutional authority to direct the Justice Department to open or close an investigation, and, of course, the power to pardon any person before, during, or after an investigation and/or conviction.”
Most definitely including himself.
How’s that for a sweet perk of office? Even Catholic priests aren’t allowed to forgive their own sins.
Then, Rudy Giuliani, the latest addition to the Trump legal team, agreed with a shrug, telling ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that the president “probably does” have the authority to pardon himself. Not that Trump would ever think of doing such a thing, of course. “The political ramifications of that would be tough,” Rudy conceded.
Well, sure they’d be. Despite our national cynicism, most Americans still cling to the concept of legal equality. After Rudy spoke, Republicans and Democrats across the country piled the warnings high. “I don’t think a president should pardon themselves,” said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Preet Bharara, the fired U.S. attorney in Manhattan, called such a move “almost self-executing impeachment.”
Clearly, a self-pardon would be dicey business. But compared to what?
Compared to getting impeached by Congress? Compared to getting convicted by the Senate? Compared to being indicted, convicted and sent to federal prison? A little political heat might be tolerable for a man who’s already skated past “Mexican rapists,” “John McCain’s no hero” and “Access Hollywood.”
Since you and I were children, we’ve been hearing that “nobody is above that law, not even the president.”
Well, if Trump’s legal team is to be believed now, we can dump that old expression into the round filing cabinet by the door, along with Rudy’s law-and-order reputation and Roseanne’s NAACP plaques.