Impeachment Week in Review: Broad Claims of Executive Power

Amid the lead-up to Trump's Singapore summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, this week’s major impeachment story revolved around recent and incredibly broad claims of executive power – including Rudy Giuliani’s amazing assertion that President Trump wouldn’t break the law if he shot the FBI Director (although Giuliani added impeachment would quickly follow, and implied an ex-president Trump could be indicted.)  More generally, Trump’s position is that since he can fire executive branch officials, he can’t commit obstruction of justice.  One critic claims there is no point-on precedent on these questions because they’re so beyond the pale that no prior instance has ever arisen that might have yielded a precedent.  House Speaker Paul Ryan offered up a tepid critique of the recent expansive claims of executive power, and also rejected the idea that a “spy” had been planted in the Trump campaign by the “deep state.”  Trump has also begun what appears to be Season Two of NFL protest-bashing – by disinviting the most recent Super Bowl champions from a White House event when it became apparent that only a few players planned to attend. The G7 summit ended in acrimony and disarray, with the danger of a trade war still very much in the air -- President Trump refused to sign the concluding statement on behalf of the United States, as he headed off to the Singapore summit, which did occur, with early and glowing proclamations of success offered up by President Trump and his Administration.  It is too early to offer up even a preliminary assessment of that summit – except to note that stock markets remained calm as President Trump flew back to Washington, and President Trump apparently raised no human rights issues.  Three weeks after publication, To End a Presidency by Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Tribe and Joshua Matz remains a no-show on the list of top 25 hardcover nonfiction books per PublishersWeekly – meaning weekly sales can’t be much over 3,000 copies – this won’t be reported on further unless some burst of sales occurs.  Special video bulletin – ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos interviews President Trump after his summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.  Here’s the transcript, which featured this exchange (5:26 on the video timeline):  Trump: “His country does love him. His people, you see the fervor. They have a great fervor. They're gonna put it together, and I think they’re going to end up with a very strong country, and a country which has people -- that they’re so hard working, so industrious. I think if you look at South Korea, someday, maybe in the not too distant future, it will be something that.”  Stephanopoulos: “You say his people love him. Just a few months ago you accused him of starving his people. And listen, here’s the rub. Kim is a brutal dictator. He runs a police state, forced starvation, labor camps. He’s assassinated members of his own family. How do you trust a killer like that?”  Trump: “George, I’m given what I'm given, okay? I mean, this is what we have, and this is where we are, and I can only tell you from my experience, and I met him, I've spoken with him, and I’ve met him. And this was, as you know, started very early and it's been very intense. I think that he really wants to do a great job for North Korea. I think he wants to denuke, it’s very important. Without that, there's nothing to discuss. That was on the table at the beginning, and you see a total denuclearization of North Korea -- so important. And, he wants to do the right thing. Now, with all of that being said, I can’t talk about -- it doesn’t matter. We’re starting from scratch. We’re starting right now, and we have to get rid of those nuclear weapons.”  Even this early on, it appears likely that both summits will increase and solidify Trump’s support among his base – his overall level of support could also go up significantly as a result of the Singapore summit. 

The Mueller Investigation; impeachment arguments and prospects –

   AP reports: "President Donald Trump claimed he has an 'absolute right' to pardon himself, part of an extraordinarily expansive vision of executive authority that is mostly untested in court and portends a drawn-out fight with the prosecutors now investigating him."  At the same time, Trump insisted the question was moot because he has done nothing wrong.  AP continues… Trump's:  "lawyers assert in a memo to special counsel Robert Mueller, it’s impossible for him to have done anything wrong in the area of obstructing justice, an issue Mueller has been investigating. That’s because, as the country’s chief law enforcement officer, Trump himself has ultimate control of the Justice Department and executive branch."  One critic responded Trump's legal claims this way: “'There’s a reason they're untested. It’s because they were unthinkable,' said Savannah Law School professor Andrew Wright, who served in the White House counsel’s office under President Barack Obama. 'The president’s game here in part is to take issues that are so beyond the pale that they have never been tested and say, "Look, there’s no [controlling legal] authority here on point."’”

Politico reports: outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan "had seen 'no evidence' to back Trump’s assertion that the FBI wrongfully planted a spy in his campaign. Ryan also panned Trump’s argument that he has the power to pardon himself.  'Obviously, the answer is he shouldn’t, and no one is above the law,' Ryan said."  Ryan was responding to recent and extravagant claims of the Trump Administration regarding the extent of President Trump's executive power.  The Politico report continues... Ryan's comment: "comes amid a simmering debate among House Republicans over whether the retiring speaker should remain in the job through the election, as he insists, or whether the conference should move on and select a permanent leader."

Writing in Vanity Fair's "The Hive" Tina Nguyen reports and opines on polling that suggests many Republicans back President Trump even to the extreme suggested by his own campaign statement, made in Iowa in January of 2016: "I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose any voters."  This reckless boast has been updated and enhanced by President Trump's attorney, Rudy Giuliani, who claims President Trump, in Nguyen's words: "could literally shoot the director of the F.B.I. and not break the law."  While Giuliani added President Trump "would be impeached the next day" if he did that, the legal claim is that until he is impeached, he would be immune from indictment and prosecution.  Nguyen asks: "Even with slightly-better-than-even odds that Democrats retake the House, who believes a Republican-controlled Senate would vote to impeach Trump when the new standard for impeachment is murder?"  The polling data she cites is truly frightening: "Indeed, the very things that ought to make the president radioactive actually increase his appeal among the G.O.P.: a recent CBS/YouGov poll found that after his handling of the economy and his general policies overall, nearly 8 out of 10 G.O.P. voters in battleground House races said the thing they liked most about Trump is his commitment to 'upsetting the "elites" and the establishment,' a broad term for institutions like the media and civil bureaucracy. Trump’s power is evident, too, in the extent to which he has convinced his allies to despise his enemies— according to Pew, the partisan divide is increasing under Trump, with 45 percent of Republican voters convinced that the Democratic Party is a 'threat to the nation’s well-being.' (Forty-one percent of Democrats believe the same of Trump’s G.O.P.)"

The Nation offers up an extended analysis of California hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer's NeedToImpeach campaign, including this background on Steyer: "Long before he became the biggest spender in American electoral politics, a climate-change crusader, and the most prominent voice urging the impeachment of President Trump, Steyer spent 26 years at the highest levels of big-money investing. His personal fortune—$1.61 billion as of 2018—is one measure of his success. So is the win/loss record behind that fortune: Until the 2008 financial collapse, Farallon averaged annual returns of almost 15 percent, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. Which means that Steyer was right about 'what’s going to happen' a hell of a lot more often than he was wrong."  The point is extended: Steyer's record as a financial fortune teller suggests he may also be right about America's national willingness to consider impeaching President Trump -- and ultimately to demand that Congress take action.

Deadline Hollywood reports: "WGA East president and House of Cards creator Beau Willimon went off on President Donald Trump today, calling the Commander-in-Chief 'treasonous.' Willimon issued a long and rancorous tweetstorm today, bitterly attacking Trump and social media outlets over the course of several hours.  After supporting Sen. John McCain's tweet of encouragement to European allies following the G7 summit, Deadline reported Williamson: "went one step farther: 'Until the Congress is willing to use its constitutionally mandated power to end this presidency due to its rampant corruption and treasonous behavior, the damage will continue. Only actions, not statements, can stop it.'”

In a Morning Joe interview, Professor Allan Lichtman -- who was widely shunned when he predicted Trump would win in 2016 -- has now offered a prediction more to the taste of his former detractors: impeachment "is very likely to happen."  Lichtman added: "Impeachment will only happen if the American people demand it -- or if the Republicans in the House come to believe that Trump is a liability, which they may well… they may be willing to dump him before the 2018 midterms, and remember, Trump has no particularly strong relationships with Republicans in Congress, and they love Mike Pence..."

Trump vs NFL… Season Two, preseason -- CBS News reports President Trump "dis-invited" the Super Bowl XII championship Philadelphia Eagles from visiting the White House after it became clear that only a small number of players planned to come.  Although no members of the team participated in any protest activity during the National Anthem last season, the controversy over player protests that President Trump ignited and fueled last year continued, with on-going criticism from both sides over the recent NFL decision to require players to stand during the National Anthem, or face penalties -- remaining in the locker room was offered as another option.  President Trump repurposed the planned Eagles event; according to a White House statement: "'fans are still invited to the White House to be part of a different type of ceremony -- one that will honor our great country, pay tribute to the heroes who fight to protect it, and loudly and proudly play the national anthem,' it said."

Trump approval and related polling -- CNN Politics reports on the months-long slight-but-steady upward trend in President Trump's approval rating -- up to 44% from 39% in April.  People who strongly approve of Trump have also increased -- from 22% to 26%.  However, this approval rating is comparable to President Ronald Reagan in 1982 and President Barack Obama in 2010 -- both of those years featured significant losses of House seats held by the President’s party in the mid-term elections.  Whether the nation is headed in the "right direction" or the "wrong direction" has also trended towards "right direction" -- at 36% in June compared to 29% last December.  Although "off on the wrong track" has decreased from 62% to 55% -- "wrong" is still outpolling "right" by 19% -- not a good sign for President Trump. CNN also reports: "Almost half of voters, 48%, say they are more likely to vote for a candidate for Congress who 'would promise to provide a check on Donald Trump.'"

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