While the majority of the mainstream media focuses all of their energy on reporting every item they can find which looks like “bad news” for the Trump administration, they’re clearly generating something of a sense of false optimism among Democrats. There still seems to be some sort of (primarily delusional) hope that if these investigations into Russian meddling bear fruit, then last November’s elections can be swept under the rug and Hillary Clinton can be carried on the shoulders of the adoring crowds and installed at the White House. (Or at least Trump could be swapped out for someone else.) This phenomenon shows up yet again in a recent WaPo column by Jonathan Capehart.
In it, the Post editorial board member discusses some desperate questions sent his way by Cheryl Pelicano, a Democrat friend of his from South Carolina. Since she’s asking about fantastic scenarios best left to the Constitution (specifically removing Trump from office over these Russia stories), Capehart tosses the questions over to Laurence Tribe, who he describes as a “legendary constitutional law professor at Harvard University.” (Some of our regular readers may also know him as a legendary advocate for the Democratic National Committee and all things liberal.) What follows is part of that exchange.
Pelicano: If it turns out that the election was heavily impacted, and Trump colluded with Russia, is the presidency illegitimate? If so, what happens?
Tribe: There is no mechanism in the Constitution and laws as they stand today for redoing a presidential election, however many people believe it was rendered illegitimate by treasonous or otherwise unlawful manipulation; and no institutional mechanism exists even for reaching an authoritative determination that a presidential election was illegitimate. Those who have imagined the Supreme Court might entertain a claim of that sort and order a new election are deluding themselves.
In contrast, the question whether Congress might conceivably have authority, under the Constitution as written, to enact a special law for making such a determination and holding a new national election is one that some people have been contemplating, but the odds that any such law could be passed over Trump’s inevitable veto seem much too remote to warrant taking that option seriously.
That’s a refreshing bit of realism to inject into the conversation, even if it’s perceived as generally peeing in the Democrats’ swimming pool. But one element of Tribe’s comments repeats a theme which we keep seeing over and over again. Jonathan describes Tribe as someone who believes that, “to say Trump is illegitimately in the White House would be an understatement.” Tribe also makes reference to, “the apparent existence of evidence … pointing to collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.” He puts the cherry on that dessert dish by describing Trump as having been sworn in “wrongfully.”
This has become something of an article of faith among despondent Democrats, and while we’ve briefly touched on it before, this presents an opportunity to ask the pertinent question which is being widely ignored. Illegitimately how? Tribe half-heartedly slips the word “apparent” into his claim of supposed evidence proving collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians, not one shred of which has been offered up for public scrutiny as yet. But let’s take a stroll into Fantasyland here and entertain the worst possibility we’ve heard thus far. Nobody has credibly suggested that anyone hacked into the voting machines and altered the results, or that Hillary Clinton actually had more electoral college votes. So what we’re left with is the intentional release of information through Wikileaks. Let’s just say that either Donald Trump himself or one of his flunkies acting under his direction “coordinated” with the Russians regarding the timing of the Wikileaks document dumps for maximum political effect. Now what?
The actual act of hacking into the DNC emails, along with those of Podesta, is a crime. (Or at least it certainly should be.) But nobody has even suggested that anyone on Trump’s team did the hacking, nor even any of Assange’s people. Also, the content of those emails, as problematic as they were for Clinton, was never in question in terms of their authenticity. So in this dark, dramatic fantasy scenario, what crime do liberals feel Trump could be convicted of which would bring us into impeachment territory?
The original hacking may have been a crime, but the contents of the emails were news. (Not even fake news.) No matter how dubious the methods of obtaining it, the emails were real. How the timing of their release was handled may have been dirty pool, but obviously nothing which is against the law. What if the origin of the leaked emails had been someone from inside the DNC with an ax to grind leaking it to a journalist? (As has been suggested by Assange’s people repeatedly.) Would that have made the election “illegitimate?” In a similar line of reasoning, we still don’t know who gave that tape of Trump and Billy Bush on the bus to the media. If Clinton had won the race, would that leak have made her presidency illegitimate? If releasing actual information to the public which may impact their voting decisions is “meddling” then every election we’ve ever held has been meddled with.
I think we all know the answers to these questions. It’s good that at least some progressives are coming around to the idea that there won’t be a do-over of the election simply because they didn’t like the results. But they should take the next step on the path through grieving and begin to accept the fact that the smoking gun they are searching for has most likely turned out to be a replica with no firing pin.