Aaron Sorkin never imagined a White House this dysfunctional, or a president this contemptuous of the law. Apparently the circus has gotten too much even for Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who resigned in a huff this morning over the appointment of Anthony Scaramucci to be his boss.
Chait argues that President Trump thinks the entire Federal government should be "operated for his personal benefit:"
Six months into his presidency, foundational republican concepts remain as foreign as ever to Trump. He believes the entire federal government owes its personal loyalty to him, and that the office of the presidency is properly a vehicle for personal and familial enrichment. If the rule of law survives this era intact, it will only be because the president is too inept to undermine it.
Meanwhile, sometime after Chait filed his column, news leaked that Trump asked aides if he could pardon himself. The Washington Post examined that question:
The short answer is that no one really knows. The longer answer is that the reasons he might want to are more complex than we might usually assume.
[T]he Constitution doesn’t say he can’t do it is, itself, a strong argument for his being allowed to. Samuel Morison is an attorney who specializes in pardon law, having spent 13 years in the Office of the Pardon Attorney within the Department of Justice.
“My opinion is that in theory that he could,” Morison said. “But then he would be potentially subject to impeachment for doing that.” Morison’s rationale is simple: “There are no constraints defined in the Constitution itself that says he can’t do that.”
Impeachment itself is specifically carved out of the presidential pardon power within the Constitution, so if Trump were impeached, he’d have no counter to that action.
There’s another clearly articulated boundary in the pardon provision that’s important: It applies only to any federal laws. If Trump were to issue himself a pardon, that would cover only any violations of federal law. And that, Kalt notes, might open a can of worms: State attorneys general (like New York’s, who has been eager to investigate Trump since even before the president was elected) would see the pardon as a signal that their digging might pay off.
University of Chicago law professors Daniel Hemel and Eric Posner make the case that issuing pardons in this case could be construed as prima facie obstruction of justice.
About that impeachment business: as Fallows points out this morning, there are three people in the U.S. who could, at any moment, put a stop to Trump's nonsense: any three Republican U.S. Senators.
With three votes, a Senate majority could issue subpoenas and compel sworn testimony from Administration officials. It could empower its own thorough investigation, even re-hiring Robert Mueller to lead it. It could compel Donald Trump to release the tax returns about which he is so evidently nervous. It could act as if America in fact possessed a system of rule-of-law, rather than whim-of-one-man.
It would take only three. Some—Grassley? Heller? McCain if he is able to vote?—might think: What do they have to lose? They might as well wind up with dignity. Others—Paul, Burr, Johnson, Murkowski—are so far away from re-election that a lot will happen in the meantime. And all of them are senators, part of a body self-consciously proud of its independence, its individual judgment, its role in defending the long-term principles of governance.
A country of 300-plus million people, with the world’s largest economy and most powerful military, should not rely for its orderly stability on the decisions-of-conscience of just three people. But the United States may soon be in that situation. These names will go down in history, depending on the choices they make.
This is entirely the fault of the Republican Party. We have no road map right now, because the last time one party decided that they wanted to take the country into hell, we fought a four-year civil war over it.