Editorial: With GOP complicity, Trump tramples Constitution
“As president, I, Donald J. Trump, in order to end once and for all this ridiculous witch hunt of a Russian investigation, do hereby grant complete and total pardons to any and all persons named in the investigation, including myself. It is now time to move forward with the important work that the American people sent me to Washington to do.”
You might think a statement to that effect is out of the question. Unfortunately, it’s not entirely clear the president agrees.
So began a Dispatch editorial from July 27, 2017, that questioned the president’s intended use of pardons. He has revealed, since then, that he perceives that powerful presidential prerogative as a tool to reward friends and punish enemies — and perhaps to absolve himself and others close to him from legal peril.
With nary a peep from Republican office-holders, President Trump, in the 10-plus months since that editorial was published, has:
- Granted pardons — without traditional input from the Department of Justice — to undeserving partisans including former Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio and conservative writer Dinesh D’Souza.
- Granted a pardon to early 20th century boxer Jack Johnson at the behest of celebrity friend Sylvester Stallone — a move that became even more suspicious after the latter formed a production company to make a movie about the presidential pardon.
- Dangled the possibility pardoning friends like lifestyle maven Martha Stewart and commuting the sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich — both of whom took part in the president’s “Celebrity Apprentice” TV show.
- And stated unequivocally that he feels he has the “absolute right” to pardon himself.
This misuse of presidential power in the service of friends, allies and, potentially, self is not only nauseatingly self-serving, it tramples upon the rule of law and places the president and his circle above the law.
It also threatens the ongoing investigation of special counsel Robert Mueller into Russian meddling during the 2016 presidential election — sending a signal to targets that the presidential pen may reward them if they remain loyal.
All of this would not be possible, of course, without consistent complicity from congressional Republicans.
As the party in power, the GOP could, at the very least, push back against the legally unfounded position that a president can pardon himself. (In fact, as several reports have noted, the Department of Justice website explicitly states a president cannot pardon himself.) But congressional leaders like Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn of Texas dance around the issue with assertions that the question is academic or a distraction — as if the suggestion were raised by a law school student’s thesis and not by the president of the United States.
Maddeningly, if not surprisingly, Republican senators like Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey have been content to sit idly by as Trump runs roughshod over the Constitution. They gleefully allow the president’s daily tantrums and tweets to provide cover for morally if not legally questionable maneuvers like Toomey’s effort to rewrite decades-old laws by redefining them as requiring congressional review.
As for minority Democrats, they have proven unequal to the task of building any kind of bipartisan support for defending the institutions of the federal government against a president who puts his own interests ahead of those of the nation. The best Democrats can do is offer up public petitions against the president’s abuse of pardoning powers. Well intended but ultimately toothless.
History will judge both parties for their actions during a presidency that has shredded precedent, probity and principled governance.
Congressional Republicans will already come up sorely wanting for turning a blind eye to presidential misuse of office. Their refusal to confront further efforts to abuse the power of the pardon — particularly if it is wielded by Trump in self-defense — would make them grievously complicit in the wholesale destruction of the Constitution.