VP Pence Rushing Home Thursday. Can We Look at the 25th Amendment and Wonder Why?

As The Hill puts it:

Pence’s office said the vice president was returning to Washington on Thursday night instead of Friday morning to attend the president’s meeting at Camp David. Those meetings are expected to focus on North Korea.  

Pence deputy chief of staff Jarrod Agen also said the vice president’s other weekend plans had been canceled in case the president needed any follow up.

Pence’s office said the vice president was returning to Washington on Thursday night instead of Friday morning to attend the president’s meeting at Camp David. Those meetings are expected to focus on North Korea.  

Pence deputy chief of staff Jarrod Agen also said the vice president’s other weekend plans had been canceled in case the president needed any follow up.

With an administration this transparent, this should explain it all, but, as the 25th Amendment says in part:

Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President. (Bold added; remainder of section text describes resolution process.)

So, you have to wonder about those plans, particularly since N. Korea is supposed to be cooled down.

You also have to wonder if the lack of cabinet resignations displays a support of Trump, or an awareness that the action moment is approaching, and that for cabinet members staying now makes more sense both personally and for the country.

More info and analysis on the 25th here.

 

 

 

 

I have the Perfect Title For the Best Book on the Trump Presidency: One Million Minutes

While the exact number is subject to change when the nightmare ends, the concept is clear.  The book would begin something like this:

The now concluded Trump Presidency consumed one million minutes, five thousand presidential tweets, 100 million dollars in investigations, and ten cabinet firings or resignations.

Those minutes were perhaps the most fragmented, fast moving, chaotic, destructive, shocking, confusing and testing minutes in our nation’s history.

The damage done to nation, planet, international system and human beings will take decades to assess fully. 

Above all, the story of those endless minutes is the story of the ultimate resilience of our institutions, notwithstanding the weaknesses and failures of so many who were to play roles in those institutions as they faced the test.

I am less confident of exactly how the book will end, but I am confident that the ultimate resolution will put us on the road to recovery.

 

Lets Face It — a Constitutional Crisis Is Certain

Calm, measured, careful David Brooks, on the News Hour Friday night, said something like this (reconstructed, not quoted):

Look Trump is transparent.  He has said — if you want to find my corruption go to the tex returns.  And he has said to Mueller, if you got the tax returns, I will fire you. So, we know exactly what will happen.  Mueller will go to the tax returns, Trmp will fire him, and we will have a constitutional crisis of some king.

I conclude that at this point we all actually know that a constitutional crisis is coming.  All that remains to find out is exactly what will trigger it, how the parties align at that point and perhaps how it will end.  Although I am pretty confident of the ultimate outcome.

This reminds me of my mother, who as 15 at the time of the events, saying that after Munich in 1938, everyone knew that war was coming, and that it was almost a relief when it finally did so.  Then people knew what they had to do.  I think it is the same now.

Now, the crisis could come from an attempted firing, it could be triggered by a refusal to comply with court or congressional orders, or less likely, it could be set off by extra-judicial illegal executive actions.  Nor do we know what the triggering event will be about.  It could be the now essentially admitted as to intent, Russia Collusion, the obstruction of justice claim, financial irregularities, or even the emoluments clause, to name just a few of the options.

But the outcome will depend on the willingness of the Courts and Republican politicians to enforce our constitutional norms. While it is clear that almost none of our Republican leaders have read or internalized Profiles in Courage, at some point the pain barrier will be reached.

Finally, I sometimes wonder what the definition of a constitutional crisis is?  Is it when one when of the corrective measures in the constittuion cuts in and works, as it did in 1974, or is it when that mechanisms are not triggered, or fail, causing a braoder legitimacy problem.  I hope we do not find out.

The Deeply Disturbing Implications of the Washington Post Story of the Inadequate US Response to Russian Hacking, and a Long Term Proposal

It is almost impossible to force oneself to read the Washington Post’s brilliant reporting of the US failure to respond adequately to the Russian election-related hacking.

However, attention must be paid, and the implications go far further than judgements about the Obama administration, that I am sure will go well explored in classic blame the victim manner.

First,  I think we have to admit that the current situation of a largely unpunished and undeterred coup/attack on the US has to be broadly blamed on the entire political process in the US.  While the lack of response, either public or covert, is hard to defend either now, or then, it has to be seen as in part the product of the hyper-politicization of foreign policy.  The Obama administration was operating in a toxic environment in which any honest reporting or respect was, and would be thrown back in the face of the government and the electorate, without any concern for considerations other than short term victory.   The administration could not ignore the reality of that environment.

That must be recognized as a product of Trump active encouragement of hacking, of his trivialization of any reporting, and of his contempt for truth.  The enablers carry as much if not more of the blame.

Second, we must be honest about where we are.  We no longer can be confident that the American people control our own fates through the political process.  It was and has to be assumed to be about to be again, another Pearl Harbor.  (That the US has its own long bi-partisan history of interference in other counties electoral, and political processes, not to mention coups, does not make this any less serious, it only makes it harder to defeat.)  Given the massive reluctance of Trump to take this threat in any way seriously, or even to recognize the risks of the legitimacy this has already lost him, we can have no faith that the governmental system will protect us against more and worse future surrenders of control.  (If Trump is forced out, as I strongly believe he has to be, and will be, this last is no longer true, but issues of trust and legitimacy will long remain.)

Finally, we have to build a new layer of institutions that protect the integrity of our political system regardless of short term interest.  For a start, I can imagine a Commission led by prior presidents, with an independent staff, with direct access to the intelligent services.  The Commission would have a mandate to issue public reports, including on the credibility of challenges to our democratic electoral system, and to publicly and privately urge actions of all kinds, thereby making it easier for presidents to take needed actions without being effectively accused of putting partisan interests first.  While hacking will be one part of the charter of duties, all forms of foreign interference and collusion will need to be included.

The problem, as always, and as we learned in the cold war, is that is is almost impossible to give groups power that is not democratically constrained without then in fact surrendering democracy to those powers.  In the absence of the consensus of  the cold war years, the need is even greater than it was then, and the risks are far greater.

It is a measure of what Trump and his enablers have wrought, and what his opponents have failed to do, that we now face this choice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Could the Provisions of the 25th Amendment Make It Possible to Indict Trump While Still In Office

It has been perceived as received wisdom that sitting presidents can not be indicted.  In fact, that was regarded as an open question in the early days of the Watergate.  My impressionistic recollection is that the strategic decision was made by investigators that there was no point in providing Nixon an additional area of defense and distraction.  Now we have a fascinating perspective from Obama’s legal counsel, undercutting the then used public rationale for that conclusion, reflected in 1973 and 2000 DOJ Office of Legal Counsel Opinions, and the conclusion itself.  Bob Bauer on Lawfare:

OLC has taken the position that while the Constitution does not explicitly provide for immunity from indictment or prosecution, and the record on the Founders’ views of the question is inconclusive, the constitutional role of the president requires that he or she be afforded temporary immunity. Indictment and prosecution would have a “dramatically destabilizing effect” on the president’s capacity to discharge his or her duties. The executive’s energies would be diverted into the “substantial preparation” needed for his legal defense. The mere stigma and opprobrium of indictment, and possibly conviction, would result in “undermining the president’s leadership and efficacy both home and abroad.”

However, Bauer argues persuasively, from both the Nixon record and current events that the Opinion, which viewed investigation as appropriate, but not indictment, simply ignores reality:

.  .  .  Mostly the opinion fell back on a comforting image of a grand jury operating silently and (somehow) mostly out of sight and out of the way.

But that is not how it goes with high-profile, high-stakes investigations. We have them or we don’t: there is no quiet, non-disruptive version. And if we have them, accepting the disruptions they entail, then it is difficult to argue that they cannot be brought to one possible conclusion, if justified by the evidence: indictment. If a president can be investigated, then, it seems, a president can be indicted; if not in the second case, then not in either case, because it cannot be said that the government in the throes of a major investigation is measurably or reliably safer from severe “disruption” and massive loss of presidential credibility. The better, more internally consistent view in line with democratic “rule of law” norms is that the president is subject to investigation and, if the evidence supports it, indictment.

Bauer then goes on to bring in the 25th Amendment, and its provisions allowing a president to temporarily withdraw from the presidency, or, more likely in the real world, be declared unable to fulfill the duties of his or her office.

A president who faced what the OLC termed the “substantial preparation” required for a criminal defense, and the “dramatically destabilizing effects” of criminal process on his capacity to govern, would have a clear choice under the 25th Amendment. The same choice is open to the vice president with the support of the Cabinet if they reach this conclusion but the president resists.

Simple bottom line.  Just because the possibility of indictment would be disruptive to a president and governance is not a sufficient argument for forbidding such indictment.  Investigation and impeachment are allowed and are disruptive enough, and remedies exist for the disruption.

As I have argued before, given Trump’s utter self-absorption and unpredictability, the argument for a process that ultimately puts him under some form of restraint is compellingly in the national interest.  Otherwise, who knows what a Trump post-presidency would look like — “Take this plane to Moscow.”

 

“Rants From The Madman”

Famously, when Jimmy Carter was president, the Boston Globe “accidentally” ran a headline over an editorial that read: “Mush From the Wimp.”  There was no Internet to make it go viral, but today surely it would.

Today, to label Trump’s tweets as “rants from the madman” seems almost an understatement, and there is already plenty of obvious commentary.  So here are some addition questions:

When will be start seeing resignations from the national security team?

Is the legal team now obliged to formally withdraw representations that they have made to the Fourth, and Ninth Circuits, and to the Supreme Court.  Remember, lawyers can not make affirmative mis-representations to a court.

Will we see resignations from the Solicitor General’s Office, or just an inability to find staff to do the work?

Is there any chance that the Supreme Court will now grant review in the “travel Ban case.”  The risk of them being dissed during the process, such as after hearing, or after decision, is great.  If I were Roberts, I would take no action till the Ninth Circuit agrees with the Fourth (as it surely will), and then see if I have seven or more votes to put the President firmly in his place.  If not, I would do nothing, at least till there is a split from another Circuit.  I do not see how the Court can afford to be seen to be baling Trump out after today.  And, a 5-4 either way would be an absolute institutional disaster for the Court (US v. Nixon was 9-0).

Does the almost systematic dissing of one cabinet member after another mean that a 25th Amendment majority is starting to build up?  What is Pence thinking tonight.

Many previously loyal Republican commentators seem numb tonight.  Republican politicians have fallen largely quiet.  When will they start raising issues of Presidential inability to do the job? 

Finally, whatever else you can say, you can not argue with the fact that each week, things move faster an faster.   Things that would, the prior week, have seemed crazy to suggest, actually happen.

Our brains are lagging indicators.  Like any tipping point, when it comes, it will come quicker than we can possibly expect.