This presidency can’t be saved. It’s all downhill from here.

This presidency can’t be saved. It’s all downhill from here.

President Trump has asked his advisers about his power to pardon people in connection to the Russia probe, according to people familiar with the effort.(Amber Ferguson/The Washington Post)

  July 21

In light of news reports that President Trump’s team is scouring the record for conflicts of interest on special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team (the essence of chutzpah) and contemplating pardons (of aides and/or himself), it is worth considering how this may all play out.
We offer several scenarios:

1. Trump orders Attorney General Jeff Sessions to fire Mueller. Sessions quits, as does Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein and Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand. Eventually someone agrees to fire Mueller. Republicans either will not pursue impeachment or are obliged to begin impeachment hearings but refuse to vote out articles of impeachment. In 2018, Democrats sweep to victory in the House and gain a seat or two in the Senate. Trump cannot be removed (two-thirds of the Senate is required for removal), but his presidency is in tatters. Some aides or ex-aides face criminal prosecution. LESSONRepublicans’ failure to stand up to Trump early dooms his presidency and crashes the GOP.

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2. Trump orders Attorney General Jeff Sessions to fire Mueller. Sessions quits, as does Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein and Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand. Eventually someone agrees to fire Mueller. Republicans, together with Democrats, pass by a veto-proof majority an independent prosecutor statute. Before impeachment proceedings can finish, Democrats sweep to victory in 2018 in the House and gain a seat or two in the Senate. Trump cannot be removed, but his presidency is in tatters. Some aides or ex-aides face criminal prosecution. LESSONFire Mueller, and Congress will hire him back.

3. Republicans join Democrats in warning Trump not to fire Mueller. Mueller remains and keeps digging. Mueller subpoenas damaging documents; Trump refuses to comply. A court orders him to comply. He doesn’t. We have a full-blown constitutional crisis. LESSONCongress cannot delegate all responsibility to Mueller. It must conduct a parallel investigation and, if need be, commence impeachment proceedings.

4. Republicans join Democrats in warning Trump not to fire Mueller. Mueller remains and keeps digging. Mueller subpoenas damaging documents; Trump refuses to comply. A court orders him to comply. He declares this a witch hunt, an attack on his family (or whatever). Then he resigns, claiming he has already made America great. He tells the country that Vice President Pence will carry on in his place. LESSONCongress must protect Mueller and preserve the possibility that Trump may be forced to resign.

5. Republicans join Democrats in warning Trump not to fire Mueller. Mueller subpoenas damaging documents. Trump complies. The evidence of collusion and/or obstruction is overwhelming. Mueller recommends prosecution or impeachment. The GOP turns on Trump, who is impeached and removed (with the GOP by that time possibly in the minority in one or both houses). LESSON: Congress must protect Mueller and pay the price for failure to oppose Trump’s nomination and election.

Is there a sixth scenario in which Mueller exonerates Trump? That’s the least likely outcome after Trump has fired former FBI director James B. Comey and threatened the special counsel. Why would he do those things unless there was something really, really bad to find? And if there is something bad, Mueller will find it. You can understand then why Trump sounds frantic. In no scenario does Trump’s presidency recover.

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