When I cover President Trump- as I will do with Biden too -I try to see the good, bad, and ugly in him, because he is first a human being before a political figurehead. Some believe Trump can do no wrong. Some believe Trump is, like a Hindu pagan deity, another incarnation of absolute evil. Neither of these views are true, and in all cases, the good, bad, and ugly need to be pointed out.
However, a recent story from the AP originally reported on by the Guardian and elaborated significantly on by the New York Times suggests that Trump may be in real trouble amid serious allegations of a bribery scheme of pay-for presidential pardons.
The Justice Department is investigating whether there was a secret scheme to lobby White House officials for a pardon as well as a related plot to offer a hefty political contribution in exchange for clemency, according to a court document unsealed Tuesday.
Most of the information in the 18-page court order is redacted, including the identity of the people whom prosecutors are investigating and whom the proposed pardon might be intended for.
But the document from August does reveal that certain individuals are suspected of having acted to secretly lobby White House officials to secure a pardon or sentence commutation and that, in a related scheme, a substantial political contribution was floated in exchange for a pardon or “reprieve of sentence.”
A Justice Department official said Tuesday night that no government official was or is a subject or target of the investigation. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation.
The existence of the investigation, first reported by CNN, was revealed in a court order from U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell, the chief judge of Washington’s federal court. In it, she granted investigators access to certain email communications connected to the alleged schemes that she said was not protected by attorney-client privilege. The investigative team will be able to use that material to confront any subject or target of the investigation, the judge wrote.
The order was dated Aug. 28, and prosecutors had sought to keep it private because they said it identifies people not charged by a grand jury. But on Tuesday, Howell unsealed select portions of that document while redacting from view any personally identifiable information.
As part of the investigation, more than 50 devices, including laptops and iPads, have been seized, according to the document.
Pardons are common at the end of a president’s tenure and are occasionally politically fraught affairs as some convicted felons look to leverage connections inside the White House to secure clemency. Last week, Trump announced that he had pardoned his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, even as a federal judge was weighing a Justice Department request to dismiss the case. (source)
There is a lot that one can accuse Trump of doing. A lot of it can be explained or at least, lacks the evidence to be substantiated.
This, however, seems to have both the gravity of the matter as well as the evidence to back it up.
I am not saying that Trump is somehow “unique” to corruption. All presidents are known for pardoning questionable people involved in questionable activities. However, the issue is how it is done, and if one is caught.
The financial aspect makes this all the more interesting because as the New York Times showed, Trump is in major financial trouble and is facing potentially crushing bills from the IRS amid tax problems held up in court for years as well as a mountain of personally funded liabilities that he is directly responsible for.
Now it is yet to be determined what evidence will come out surrounding such a scandal. However, it should not be a surprise if it was to be confirmed true because the circumstances point to a classic case of pay-for-favors. Trump is broke and in trouble. Trump needs money. Pay Trump’s bills, get Trump’s help. This is a standard practice throughout human history.
Again, it is yet to be seen what the Justice Department finds or does not find on him. It is very important to note that in the case, Trump himself is not accused, but officials in his administration are being accused of this. That said, it is almost impossible to argue that Trump himself would not be involved in such a scandal if it is indeed proven that members of the Trump administration did advocate such a plan. This adds another layer of proof that must be ascertained before drawing any assumptions. My point in emphasizing Trump in this is that while there is a “barrier” for now between him and the accusations, it is very thin and could be easily broken if the right evidence was to present itself. The fact that this investigation has been going on since August also means this is not just a “political” thing- that the claims were most likely real and serious enough to have the government spend months investigating it.
Given the arguably insane nature of the administration’s conduct and what is known about Trump, anything is possible, including the potential that after leaving office, Trump may not return to Mar-A-Lago, but to a gilded cage surrounded with armed guards.
From a trends viewpoint, we can say that the saga of the Trump White House is continuing, and may become more intense. To that, it will additionally further the left-right divide under the Biden administration that could eventually explode into political violence on American streets, with both sides accusing the other of crimes and all descending into a kind of chaos out of which a new, and most likely more disturbing order will be formed.