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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 6/6/18

Going "Full Dictator"? Trump Claims He Has Right to End Mueller Investigation or Pardon Himself

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JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, of course, even the fact that a president can pardon someone, Trump claims, including himself, doesn't mean that a crime was not committed, because you're obviously being pardoned for having broken the law in one way or another. I wanted to ask you about the issue of forbearance, that you talk about in your column --

WILL BUNCH: Yes.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: -- in the Philadelphia Daily News Could you expand on that? Explain your approach on the issue of forbearance.

WILL BUNCH: Yeah, absolutely. You know, this is a term, in terms of politics, that I wasn't familiar with until this really excellent book came out this year called How Democracies Die. It's by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. They're two political scientists from Harvard. And, you know, they talk about how democracies die and what the road to dictatorship looks like. And one of the important things is, forbearance means, basically, you may have some powers that are not denied to you in the Constitution or that you theoretically could exercise, but forbearance means you don't use all your powers to the hilt, because that puts you over the edge.

So, pardons are a perfect example of that. The Constitution really doesn't make clear -- you know, gives the president absolute power to issue pardons, so he can pardon his best friend, he can pardon Michael Cohen, theoretically, under the law. But, you know, tradition has restrained us from doing that. What's actually happened over the last 242 years is we've developed a system. People, generally, who want pardons from the president make an application. It goes to the Justice Department. There's a lengthy review process. Things are taken into consideration, like whether that person has redeemed themselves in some ways. Trump's pardon process is none of this. He's playing a game of Celebrity Apprentice with the pardon process, in terms of people he knows, people who are powerful, people who are political allies, like Joe Arpaio.

I mean, you know, when I say democracy has eroded over 500 days, go back about halfway through his term, when he issued that first pardon to Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who hadn't even been brought to justice yet for violating the rights of immigrants down in Arizona. Basically, that was the first challenge, to say, "You know, this pardon process is completely abnormal. You know, he hasn't even been sentenced yet, and I'm issuing him a pardon." He basically was challenging the system: What are you going to do about this? And the answer was nothing. You know, Joe Arpaio is a free man. I think he's even running for office down there. So, you know, this emboldens him. So then he can pardon Dinesh D'Souza. He can pardon Scooter Libby. And when there's no uproar about that, it just makes it so much easier for him to pardon someone like Michael Flynn or someone like his own lawyer, Michael Cohen. And so --

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Will --

WILL BUNCH: So that's forbearance. You know, it's kind of going past the guardrails of democracy that all of Trump's predecessors have followed.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what can people do? For example, Congress. What do Democrats, in the minority, have the power to do? And what would happen if they became the majority in November? And what about Republicans, if the president has absolute power?

WILL BUNCH: Well, in the short term -- you know, November, unfortunately, seems like a long time away in Trump years, right? So, you know, I think it's possible that the Democrats could peel off some moderate Republicans for certain measures, such as legislation that would prevent Trump from firing Robert Mueller. I think that could get some Republican support. You know, whether the leadership would allow a vote on that is another thing. But, you know, I think the Democrats really need to make it clear to the people that if they can gain a majority in the November election, that they're going to start a full-blown investigation of the Trump administration, with impeachment on the table. I don't think -- I don't think you can run right now and say, "I'm a yes vote on impeachment," because we haven't had the process yet, that we had in 1973 and 1974, of hearings and producing the evidence. But the evidence is there to be produced. You know, a Democratic Congress is going to have subpoena power and more power to gather the information that the public needs.

And, you know, the abuses of the Trump administration have been so dramatic, it really probably shouldn't take that much time to develop a case for impeachment. And, you know, there's an argument against impeachment, obviously, which is that you'll never get enough Republican votes in the Senate to convict and remove Trump, and so what's the point? But on the other hand, when you look at everything Trump has done -- you know, his violations of the emoluments clause, his selling our foreign policy to the highest bidder, whether it's Russia, whether it's Saudi Arabia, whether it's the United Arab Emirates, and now his obstruction of justice in the Mueller case--if Donald Trump can't be impeached, then why do we even have an impeachment provision in the Constitution? Because he's just a prima facie case.

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