By Barrie Dunsmore
How will it end? When will it end?
As a geezer with the newspaper column, those are the questions I am constantly asked. (If I knew the precise answers I could start a new career in Las Vegas.) Of course neither I nor anyone else knows how and when the presidency of Donald Trump is most likely to end. But as the stories continue to pile up, one can narrow the possibilities. For example:
• Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election — and the possibility of the Trump administration’s collusion in that meddling — is by most accounts, going to take another year. We don’t know what his conclusions will be. But based on the information that has become public knowledge it looks increasing as though Mueller is not going to give Trump and Co. a total pass. There appears to be a growing case for obstruction of justice — the firing of the FBI director, for instance. And Trump’s tangled web of international business connections is evidently now on Mueller’s radar.
• If the Democrats should pick up 24 House seats in the midterm elections next year — difficult but doable — they would take over the House and almost certainly begin impeachment proceedings.
• Should Trump’s support drop below 30 percent ( it is 35 percent in a major poll this past week) there might even be enough Republicans and Democrats to consider impeachment before the midterms. But remember, removal after impeachment by the House requires a guilty verdict by two-thirds of the Senate.
• Because of its constitutionally untested and complex procedures, I don’t see Trump being removed by the 25th Amendment, which contains a pathway, other than his death, for the vice president to succeed him.
Otherwise, most possibilities seem to be at least a year away. So that is a framework for when we could see the beginning of the end, and how that might happen.
But then, there is the wild card of Trump of himself. He could decide to resign. Tony Schwartz, the co-author of Trump’s book “The Art of the Deal,” thinks that could happen as early as this fall. On the other hand, Trump has sent a number of signals suggesting he will fight Mueller — perhaps by having him replaced, perhaps by granting pardons to those current and former members of his administration, including his family and even himself. Trump’s decision to pardon former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, who had defied a court order demanding that he cease unlawful racial profiling, is seen by many as Trump testing to see how far he can go with controversial presidential pardons. If he were to pardon his cronies, his family and himself, that would seem likely to provoke a constitutional crisis.
Yet Trump is far from the first president to grant controversial pardons. At the end of his second term, Bill Clinton issued numerous pardons, which were an embarrassment and a stain on his presidency. And in December 1992, at the end of his term, President George Herbert Walker Bush did something which Trump may actually be contemplating – he granted pardons with huge political implications to a number of prominent people including six senior members of the Reagan administration who had been found guilty of illegal actions during the Iran-Contra scandal. That was the scandal which involved the exchange of arms for American hostages in Iran and money from this exchange being secretly funneled to the Contras in Nicaragua, contrary to a specific congressional ban against such support. Bush claimed, right or wrong, they were all patriots. The independent counsel, Lawrence Walsh, who had led the investigation into Iran-Contra, decried the Bush pardons saying they were a “cover-up” (which) “undermined the principle that no man is above the law.”
Of course the most significant pardon with high political implications was President Gerald Ford’s decision to pardon disgraced former President Richard Nixon. You can be sure that as little as he knows about history generally, Trump is very much aware of these historical precedents.
In the meantime, the rule of Trump continues and the dangers of his erratic, often unstable leadership continue to mount. The racially fraught events in Charlottesville, Virginia, last month seem to have been a turning point in his presidency, when he decided to throw in his lot with supremacists, neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan. By equating their protests against the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville with the people who were protesting racism, bigotry and Nazism, Trump drew pushback from people in his own Republican Party, and even several members of his Cabinet.
Many people have said a lot of things critical of Trump since that episode. But of all I have read and heard, no one put it more pungently or passionately than David Remnick, the editor of the New Yorker magazine (whom I knew casually in Moscow, while covering the decline and fall of the Soviet Union in the early ’90s and about which he wrote an excellent book titled “Lenin’s Tomb”).
Remnick’s words, put into the past tense, would be appropriate in Trump’s obituary.
“On November 9th,(2016) the United States elected a dishonest, inept, unbalanced and immoral human being as its President and Commander-in-Chief. Trump has daily proven unyielding to appeals of decency, unity, moderation or fact. He is willing to imperil the civil peace and social fabric of his country, simply to satisfy his narcissism and to excite the worst inclinations of his core followers.”
As I said at the outset, I cannot precisely calculate when and how the Trump presidency will come to an end. But for the sake of the country, and dare I say the world, it cannot come a moment too soon.
Barrie Dunsmore is a journalist who covered foreign affairs for ABC News for 30 years. This column and all of his columns can be read on his website barriedunsmore.com.