President Donald Trump has the examples of predecessors Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan to navigate successfully through the Scylla and Charybdis of his stormy political seas.
President Ford testified before a House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on October 17, 1974, approximately five weeks after he had pardoned former President Richard Nixon for, among other things, obstructing justice. Mr. Ford’s purpose was to dispel a crescendo of suspicion that the pardon had been corruptly promised in exchange for President Nixon’s resignation. He succeeded; and, the Ford presidency moved forward unchained from scandal.
To dispel suspicions about personal culpability in the covert arms sales to Iran and the diversion of the sales proceeds to the Nicaraguan contras seeking to overthrow the dictatorial Sandinista Daniel Ortega, President Ronald Reagan waived executive privilege before the Joint Congressional Committee on Covert Arms Sales to Iran to strengthen public confidence that he had not approved the diversion. (That would arguably have violated the Boland Amendment).
Neither the Ford nor the Reagan precedents weakened the presidency.
The loudest clamors against President Trump pivot on a putative memorandum of former FBI Director James Comey’s alleging that he was asked to cease the investigation of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. Many high octave pundits or Democratic Members of Congress have asserted and alleged that President Trump is guilty of obstruction of justice and should be impeached.
Decisions to drop criminal investigations to advance non-criminal justice goals are not obstruction of justice. Various presidents ordered the Department of Justice to stand down from investigating the Seven Sisters for antitrust violations in negotiations over the price of oil in the Middle East for national security purposes. Prosecutors every day decide to drop investigations for extenuating circumstances. The practice is known as prosecutorial discretion — a cornerstone of Anglo-American jurisprudence for centuries.
According to published reports, the President remarked to Comey, “I hope you can let this go.” The words carry no threat. They suggest no corrupt motive. No quid pro quo with Flynn. Comey’s conspicuous tardiness in indirectly disclosing the remarks after his firing suggests he did not interpret the remarks as alarming, i.e., an attempt to obstruct justice. Nothing President Trump has done after making the alleged remarks to Comey has impeded the FBI’s investigation of Flynn according to the Acting Director Arthur McCabe — including the firing of Comey himself. Trump has done nothing like President Nixon during the Saturday Night Massacre when he abolished the office of special prosecutor and sealed the files of the Watergate Special Prosecution Force.
But as Plato taught in his Allegory of the Cave, appearances are reality. President Trump’s erratic defenses and clumsy actions have created an appearance that he might have something to hide. Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller will take all the oxygen out of the Trump presidency. Mr. Trump needs to right his capsizing presidency by emulating the Ford and Reagan bold precedents.
He should ask to testify publicly before a Joint House-Senate Intelligence Committee about his communications with Comey and the reasons for his firing (as President Ford did regarding his pardon of Nixon). He should waive executive privilege for the ongoing FBI or congressional investigations into Flynn or Russian collusion with the Trump presidential campaign to influence the 2016 presidential election. If President Trump forgoes these sunshine initiatives to extinguish the embers of suspicion that he has unwittingly helped to kindle, his presidency will be paralyzed indefinitely while Special Prosecutor Mueller delves into every nook and cranny of the Trump campaign and prepares a final report. It may be unfair to Trump, but it is still political gospel.
Whom the Gods would destroy, they first make furious.
Armstrong Williams is the author of "Reawakening Virtues." He is a political commentator who writes a conservative newspaper column, hosts a nationally syndicated TV program called "The Right Side," and hosts a daily radio show on Sirius/XM Power 128 (6-7 p.m. and 5-6 a.m.) Monday through Friday. He also is owner of Howard Stirk Holdings Broadcast TV stations. Read more reports from Armstrong Williams — Click Here Now.
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