By Ralph Nader
The law has never caught up with Trump. In his bullying and bankrupting business career, he laughed at the law – hiding behind corporations, tying up plaintiffs – workers, creditors, consumers, and shareholders – with court battles of attrition. His snarling lawyers either wore down Trump’s pursuers or settled disputes for less than the legitimate claims by those harmed. Trump’s lawyers pushed for gag orders to hide the settlements.
Trump always emerged with the gold by profiting at the expense of those around him. Trump made a profit out of the ruins of his companies, flouted the law by hiring undocumented Polish workers, cheated the students who were lured into the Donald Trump University, and often failed to pay his contractors..
Now, a different kind of law is closing in on the cheating Donald. As the Mueller investigation into Russian or related connections to the Trump campaign advances, Mr. Trump may be wondering what it means to be an unindicted co-conspirator (Justice Department rules prohibit indicting a sitting president). Or, more likely, the Mueller Special Counsel team is reviewing the case for an “obstruction of justice” charge against Trump, who has all but openly admitted that he can obstruct justice, though he would characterize his actions as justified.
Predictions in politics dominate the political discourse. But the proximity of a major constitutional crisis may be only a few months away. Here is why the Mueller team is not going away. They may subpoena Trump – either for documents, or for his deposition under oath, or both. Mr. Trump’s lawyers know the peril of perjury presented by Donald’s lying, cheating M.O.
Several times since last year, Trump, under pressure from Mueller regarding Trump’s associates and dealmakers, has slanderously and publicly lashed out against Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and Special Counsel Robert Mueller. He regularly declares he could fire these government officials.
On May 9, 2017, Trump fired FBI director James Comey. Trump believes, as president, he can fire anybody and pardon anyone, including himself. Bolstered by an ideologically aligned five-judge Supreme Court majority, it is unlikely he is going to accept a dribbling out role as a defendant, especially on the serious charge of obstruction of justice, the charge that led to Richard Nixon’s downfall.
Indeed, Trump could take a chapter right out of Nixon’s playbook to fire the Justice Department officials, and dare this “witch hunt” to use the courts to bring him down, Trump is counting on the Republican-dominated Congress to block any impeachment trial.
Richard Nixon, as you may recall, got embroiled in what he called a “third-rate burglary” in 1972 by Republican operatives at the Democratic Party headquarters inside the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C. There was a lot of interference and intrigue by Nixon and his associates to obstruct the efforts of Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox, working, like Mueller, out of the Justice Department.
As Cox started to subpoena the production of White House documents, Nixon reacted by ordering then-Attorney General Richardson to fire Cox. Richardson, unwilling to comply, resigned, then Deputy Attorney General Ruckelshaus followed suit. Robert Bork, then solicitor general, was willing to fire Cox. The resultant uproar led to an impeachment investigation by the House of Representatives.
Nixon, abandoned by many Republicans, resigned before the House of Representatives could vote for impeachment, believing he was doomed in both the House and the Senate. (Three members of Congress and I had already won a lawsuit against Nixon, with Federal Judge Gesell declaring his firing of Cox unlawful).
Firing Mueller and his superiors, replacing Attorney General Jeff Sessions with Rudy Giuliani, and abolishing Mueller’s office would be uproariously dramatic theater. With his adversaries in divided disarray, Trump can dominate the mass media with hourly tweets to his 50 million followers and distract attention with foreign skirmishes and belligerent threats.
Sure, Mueller could name Trump as an unindicted co-conspirator and lawfully take his files to Congressional committees. The ensuing judicial process could drag on for months.
That said Trump is no Nixon. And today’s cowardly Republicans are not as independent as former Republican Senator Howard Baker of Tennessee. Today’s Congress has abdicated its responsibilities to be a co-equal branch of government.
The moody Nixon hunkered down in the White House in his final months in office, calling the “liberal” press his enemy and wondering how his “base” had dissipated. By contrast, Trump has his own huge social media following and would be all over the country at mass rallies goading his full-throated followers into the streets.
It is conceivable that the open investigations could continue in the criminal division of the Justice Department, as pointed out by Alan Morrison, our counsel in the Watergate era case against Nixon (see: Nader v. Bork). Trump would be clever to let the legal process drag out interminably. For if he tried to shut down the entire investigation, then that would be “the nuclear option,” in Morrison’s words (see: “Firing Mueller Is Only the First Step” ).
But why would Trump have to go that far, already thinking he wields the unlimited presidential pardon power for any contingencies?
Throughout his career, Trump has beaten the law and survived to further enrich himself. He did this as a brazen, foul-mouthed businessman. Imagine, in his mind, now as President and Commander in Chief, with his cowed party holding a veto on any impeachment drive, derisively stomping on the rule of law (see: “Land of the Lawless” ). The towering Trump believes he can defy the law, put toadies in high offices, and rid himself of the Lawman as the needs arise. For, as King Louis XIV said: “L’etat, c’est moi.”
Remember the vestigial Electoral College that selected Trump against the popular voter’s verdict.