Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Will Trump Survive 2018? Or will the Russian Connection Bring Him Down?

    I wonder if President Trump's presidency will survive 2018.  Readers of my humble blog will recall that I was one of the first to predict that Donald Trump would win the Presidency, and I was also one of the first to suggest that he might be impeached. I hope that does not happen, but I still believe it is a possibility. But I don't think it will be about election manipulation, or at least I have seen very little that is actually going to impale a sitting President.  On the other hand, illegal insider trading might be more of a concern.
      I am not impressed with the argument that Russian "meddled in the election" because that is a very imprecise term, and if Russia did indeed meddle, that doesn't mean that something illegal occurred.  Look, you can't accuse someone of being a thief unless something has been stolen.  By the same token, "meddling" is not a criminal offense.  

      "Meddling" is when a pro football owner orders the GM to draft his favorite quarterback out of college.  Or if you prefer, it's what Mothers in Law love to do to make the Daughter in Law miserable.   But these are far from felony offenses.  The American people should be shown one vote that was changed, one ballot that was falsified, one fake registration, one voting machine that was hacked, one illegal wiretap or something.  If you can't show that, there is no criminal offense to investigate. 
     Dirty tricks, spying, lies and deception were in fact practiced by Russian intelligence, but these acts are simply not naughty enough to bring down the government, and moreover they have been going on since 1917.  They would have still occurred if the election had been between, say, Bernie Sanders and John Kasich (or whomever).  Indeed, the US major parties do all of the same dirty tricks and more.  It's pathetic, but I doubt if this is going to bring down the Trump Administration.    
Did Russian Intelligence "meddle" in US Elections? "Meddling," unless they find something illegal, is  bothersome but nobody is going to jail for it.  But insider trading on oil deals might be more serious.  

Let's ask whether any of the items in the Russia investigation are impeachment-worthy:

     a.  What if the Trump Administration tried to normalize relations with Russia?  Well that's legal, isn't it?  And possibly a good thing.  When did it become conventional wisdom that we should go back to the Cold War? Military and economic cooperation should be the norm.  

     b.  What if Russian intelligence services made fake Facebook accounts and other intrusions into social media to try to influence political opinions? Then they would be doing what the Democrats and Republicans do.  This is disgusting, vile and unethical but not illegal (and by the way, yes, I called your favorite political party disgusting vile and unethical).  
      c.  What if Russian intelligence told outright lies about certain Presidential candidates? Isn't that libel or slander? Hello, this is America!  We always tell lies about political candidates.  Are you kidding?  As a practical matter a conviction is nearly impossible. 

     d.  What if the Russians provided information Wikileaks and the Republicans about Hillary Clinton and the DNC?  That's probably not illegal unless the information was obtained illegally and the Trump campaign knew it was obtained illegally and you can prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. Hacking can be a felony crime, but good luck trying to pin the blame on some entity.  For example Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange have evaded prosecution for years, despite the fact that everyone knows what they are doing..  And even if it's illegal, Russian spying on America has been going on for years--about the same length of time that we have spied on them. I don't see how collaboration with Wikileaks is going to bring down the government. 

     e.  Well, what if the President's family had a billion dollar deal in the works with Russia, and sought to benefit via insider information?  Now, that might be worth looking into.  The greatest potential for illegality, in my view, is not Putin controlling US elections--that appears to be simply a farce promoted by staunch supporters of Hillary Clinton--but insider trading is a different story.

     To date, I'm not aware of any incriminating evidence, but you have to admit it's a bit odd that the former President of Exxon, Rex Tillerson, became Secretary of State in the Administration, and Exxon has been pursuing a 500 billion dollar deal with Russia for several years.
      Oil deals with Russia are not necessarily illegal either.  Muller would no doubt like to know who had money invested, and who stood to benefit from insider information, if indeed it was available. Were there secret deals?  And if so, who stood to benefit?  Depending on what Muller finds, that could impact the viability of the current Administration.
       Even then, I give the Administration a chance to wiggle out of it. He can simply pardon anyone he likes if they get in trouble, so I think he can probably survive even if they catch a family member in an illegal insider deal.  From the beginning I have thought that the President will pardon his entire cabinet as well as his family.  
A very interesting question is whether the President has the power to pardon himself.  Some sources say flatly that he can not, but others are not so sure.  For example,  famed Constitutional Law scholar Alan Deshowitz believes that it is an open issue, and Charlie Savage expresses similar thoughts in a New York Times article:

   It might take years of legal machinations to resolve whether a Trump self-pardon is legal or not.  That might be enough time to complete his term.  
  Regardless of whether the Administration survives its full term or note, when it is time to leave office, I suspect that the President will simply issue pardons for his friends and family. If he pardons himself, it will take years to decide whether he has the power to that, and plenty of time to wriggle off the hook.  Under these conditions, insider trading might be ultimately successful.   


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