A leftover from yesterday. This is the approach Gingrich wants Trump, a self-styled national savior figure, to take towards federal laws that inconvenience him, huh?
Gingrich appeared on The Diane Rehm Show yesterday and said that people shouldn’t be surprised or alarmed by the conflict of interest concerns regarding Trump’s business interests and his family being involved in his transition team. Gingrich said that it was impossible for Trump to completely detach himself from the large scope of his empire, and that his adult children are his children, even if they also act as his business partners.
Gingrich said that “a whole new approach” will be necessary for nepotism and ethics laws, and that Trump could use presidential pardons for anyone in his administration who presents a complication:
“In the case of the president, [Trump] has a broad ability to organize the White House the way he wants to. He also has, frankly, the power of the pardon. I mean, it is a totally open power, and he could simply say, ‘Look, I want them to be my advisers, I pardon them if anybody finds them to have behaved against the rules, period.’ And technically, under the Constitution, he has that level of authority.”
An ethics lawyer who was on the same show noted that, by that logic, Trump could quasi-lawfully assume dictatorial powers since he could always pardon himself from federal criminal liability arising from his dictatorship. Meh. That’s sort of true, but the pardon power wouldn’t give a dictator’s edicts the force of law if a federal court ruled that they were unconstitutional. It would merely shield Trump from punishment, and only until he was impeached. It is true, though, that in less extreme cases of abusing the pardon power — like Trump hiring his kids in violation of the federal anti-nepotism statute and then pardoning them — whether Trump pays a price will depend mainly on public reaction, not on some legal argument that the pardon power can’t be used that way. Is the American public prepared to condone the president knowingly and deliberately violating federal law and then carving out a special pass for himself (or his kids) via the pardon power? That’s an atrocious precedent. “Imagine a Hillary surrogate saying that she could have fixed all her problems by pardoning everyone on Day One,” notes Tom Nichols.
Maybe Newt’s right that the public would go to bat for Trump on that. (Nothing would surprise me anymore.) But this sort of thing should be done, if it’s to be done, by repealing the anti-nepotism law properly so that our new pro-nepotist legal regime applies to everyone equally, not just the Trump royal family. If we’re going to let federal officials start staffing up with their kids banana-republic-style, let’s at least have the people’s representatives sign off on that on the record. Which makes me wonder: Would McConnell and Ryan go for it? Having to vote for nepotism is an awkward position to be in, and Schumer and Pelosi would extract a lot of political pain from it. The GOP could try to do it under the radar by adding a provision repealing the anti-nepotism law as an amendment to a much more important bill, just as they did by tacking a waiver that would let Gen. Mattis serve as Secretary of Defense on to a must-pass spending bill. That put Democrats in the position of either letting the waiver pass or filibustering the spending bill and risking a shutdown in order to stop it. Would Schumer block a crucial appropriations bill just because it contains a rider that would let Trump’s kids serve in his administration? What if it was only a partial repeal of the nepotism law, limited exclusively to White House appointments? Democrats will be inclined to cave but the left might not let them, thinking that’s a battle for public opinion that they might be able to win.
While we’re on the subject of conflicts of interest and nepotism, isn’t the current plan for Trump’s sons to take over the family business while Ivanka joins dad in the White House, possibly as de facto First Lady? If that’s where we’re headed, you would think Eric and Donald Jr would have already begun separating themselves from the Trump political operation, to at least create the appearance that they’ll be independent operators isolated from insider knowledge of government business that might benefit the family finances. Instead, this:
Prospective million-dollar donors to the “Opening Day 2017” event — slated for Jan. 21, the day after inauguration, at Washington, D.C.’s Walter E. Washington Convention Center — receive a “private reception and photo opportunity for 16 guests with President Donald J. Trump,” a “multi-day hunting and/or fishing excursion for 4 guests with Donald Trump, Jr. and/or Eric Trump, and team,” as well as tickets to other events and “autographed guitars by an Opening Day 2017 performer.”
Website TMZ.com first published a brochure hyping the happening. The brochure says that “all net proceeds from the Opening Day event will be donated to conservation charities,” but it does not name the charities or detail how net proceeds will be calculated…
The paperwork for the Opening Day Foundation listed four directors: Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, Dallas investor Gentry Beach and Tom Hicks Jr., the son of a Dallas billionaire.
Trump’s transition team insists that Eric and Donald Jr aren’t involved in any fundraising and that the Opening Day event hasn’t been approved yet, but the possibility of a private reception with the new president could only be arranged by people with the highest access. If Chelsea Clinton set up a new nonprofit promising a high-priced meet-and-greet with President Hillary, with no guarantee that the public would know who the donors are or which unnamed “conservation charities” would receive the proceeds, conservatives would remark that that sounds suspiciously like a slush fund. Imagine how enthusiastic some of these very rich, very grateful donors might be after their time with the president to do some business with the Trump Organization.
Take three minutes and listen to the full audio of Gingrich on the pardon power here.