Archive for the 'Impeachment' Category

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The power and politics of pardon

Sunday, September 9th, 2018

Under the US constitution, an American president has a virtually untrammelled power to pardon, or commute the sentence of, anyone convicted of a Federal offence (but not offences under State law). It is a power completely personal to the president, who can exercise it for any reason, or for no good reason, and it has been used surprisingly often: 1,927 times by Barack Obama, for example. Although there is a government department, the Office of the Pardon Attorney, through which applications for presidential clemency are usually routed, there is no obligation on the president to follow that process.

In many cases, the power is used to redress obvious injustices or excessive sentences in the US criminal law system. For example, few people would quarrel with Trump’s order to release Alice Marie Johnson (who was convicted to life imprisonment in 1996 for drug dealing offences), even if it required celebrity intervention to get the president’s attention. Sometimes the power is used to help heal national divisions, as in Carter’s pardon of all Vietnam draft dodgers. Some examples are purely symbolic, the most recent being Trump’s posthumous pardon of boxer Jack Johnson for the quaintly American (but racially supercharged) 1912 crime of “transporting a woman across state lines for immoral purposes”.

However, there is nothing to prevent a president from exercising the power of clemency capriciously, for political reasons, or as a favour to cronies or family. When controversial Sherriff Joe Arpaio was convicted of contempt of court for refusing to comply with a court order to stop racial profiling, Trump pardoned him before he was even sentenced. An outrageous example of partisan meddling in the justice system? Perhaps, but not obviously more so than Clinton’s pardon of Marc Rich, coincidentally after Rich’s ex-wife made large donations to the Democratic Party and the Clinton Foundation.

Various of Trump’s staff and associates have already been convicted of or pleaded guilty to crimes, although so far these nearly all relate to matters unrelated to the Trump campaign. Criminal investigations continue, but Trump has made it clear that he regards them as politically motivated. Whatever the outcome of those investigations, Trump can if he wishes simply pardon anyone convicted. The mere existence of this power of pardon blunts the leverage of investigators to coerce potential witnesses into testifying in exchange for immunity or plea-bargaining.

All this means that those looking to the criminal justice system to bring down the Trump administration, via his associates, are probably going to be disappointed, irrespective of who else, if anyone, ends up being indicted; legally, he holds the Trump* card. He can even pardon in advance anyone who might in future be charged with any offence arising from the Mueller investigation.

Of course, it would be shameless to exercise that power for his cronies or his family, but no-one ever accused Donald Trump of insufficient shamelessness. His supporters already think that the investigations are politically motivated so the political cost would be minimal. In any case, since President Clinton used his power to pardon his own brother, and to pardon Susan McDougal (the Clintons’ business partner in the Whitewater land deal), the moral high ground has already been vacated.

Short of impeachment – which looks numerically near-impossible, given the need for a two-thirds majority in the Senate – Trump’s opponents will have to think of something else. How about selecting a compelling candidate for the 2020 presidential election, and mounting a strong campaign? It might just work.

* Beat that pun, TSE!

Richard Nabavi



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Betting on the year of Trump’s impeachment

Sunday, January 7th, 2018

The Democrats might not have the votes to convict but politically it might be helpful for them if the GOP vote to clear Trump.

Paddy Power have a market up on the year that Donald Trump is impeached. The Paddy Power terms are very clear, this bet doesn’t require the Senate to vote to convict, just the House of Representatives to vote to successfully impeach

The current polls indicate that the Democrats are on course to take the House later on this year, and I’m struggling to see how they don’t take the House, barring the tensions with North Korea escalating leading to a patriotic Trump surge as Americans back their Commander-in-Chief.

So what happens if the Democrats take back the House formally in January 2019? Given what has already happened I suspect the Democrats in the House will come under a lot of pressure from their own supporters to begin impeachment proceedings, ‘Lock him up’ might even be a campaign slogan.

There might also be an attractive proposition to screw up the primary process and 2020 election cycle by tying GOP Senators to Trump, with 22 of 33 of the Senate seats up for re-election in 2020 being held by GOP Senators. Those Senators if they voted not to convict Trump might face an electoral reckoning shortly thereafter for clearing Trump and he maintains his current dire personal ratings.

Very rarely does an incumbent President face a credible primary challenge. With an ongoing impeachment, I can see a primary challenge from a very credible GOP challenger. That would eliminate one of the great strengths an incumbent President has. Only twice in the last year 85 years has an elected incumbent President lost in a general election.

If Trump is impeached it might not be for things that happened before he became President but things he had done in office. His mental state, as evidenced by yesterday’s tweet storm, coupled with the potential to illegally obstruct Robert Mueller’s investigations you can see how Donald Trump is impeached for things that haven’t happened yet.

That’s why I’ve backed impeachment happening in either 2019 or 2020, the latter is a lot better chance of happening than the 33/1 odds imply.

Hat tip to Tissue Price for alerting me to this market.

TSE