How to Get Away with Mur­der

The Victoria Standard - - Commentary - HE­LEN DELFELD

With some re­lief, Amer­i­can in­sti­tu­tions are show­ing signs of life un­der un­prece­dented crazi­ness, even as Amer­i­can cit­i­zens strug­gle to keep up. It is now near wartime in the States, and the first rule of go­ing to war is that it's go­ing to get worse be­fore it gets bet­ter.

There is a fact. The fact that Rus­sia tried, and suc­ceeded, in in­ter­fer­ing with our elec­tion. There is a fear. A fear that the Trump cam­paign col­luded with Rus­sians to un­der­mine the out­come of that elec­tion. And fi­nally, there's a sus­pi­cion of crim­i­nal be­hav­ior. The sus­pi­cion that Pres­i­dent Trump, the ben­e­fi­ciary of es­tab­lished Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence, is ac­tively try­ing to in­ter­fere with the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of one, or both, of these items.

Col­lu­sion is a very dif­fi­cult crime to prove, as most peo­ple of mod­er­ate in­tel­li­gence try to keep their il­le­gal deal­ings un­der the radar. There may, in fact, have been no col­lu­sion at all. Trump might sim­ply be so up­set at chal­lenges to his elec­tion's le­git­i­macy, that he just wants to sweep all con­tro­versy un­der the rug. That isn't no­ble, but it also isn’t crim­i­nal. Still, it seems odd that Trump has, by all ap­pear­ances, never had a se­ri­ous in-depth con­ver­sa­tion about the Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence, ini­ti­ated an in­ves­ti­ga­tion about it, or even asked for a brief­ing by peo­ple in­ves­ti­gat­ing it.

What is po­ten­tially crim­i­nal is if Trump's ef­forts at rugsweep­ing rise to the level of at­tempt­ing to un­der­mine an in­ves­ti­ga­tion, which is of course ob­struc­tion of jus­tice - a crime re­gard­less of whether there was an un­der­ly­ing crime to cover up. And hence the rev­e­la­tion that the pres­i­dent is in­deed, un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Amer­i­cans tend to be peev­ish about ob­struc­tion of jus­tice.

Fired FBI Direc­tor James Comey added fuel to the ob­struc­tion fire this last week, squar­ing off against Trump by de­scrib­ing events un­der oath to Congress that, if true, have in other cases re­sulted in peo­ple be­ing con­victed. He is an un­likely hero, since it was his im­pli­ca­tion of wrong do­ing by Hil­lary Clin­ton that many be­lieve cost her the elec­tion.

The pres­i­dent is im­mune from civil suits while in of­fice, to keep him (or a fu­ture her) from be­ing bogged down by par­ti­san chi­canery. In terms of crim­i­nal charges, none have ever been lev­eled against a sit­ting pres­i­dent. This is un­tried wa­ters, and the ju­di­cial branch could very well de­cide any such charges should be de­ferred un­til a pres­i­dent is out of of­fice.

So here is where im­peach­ment comes in. Im­peach­ment does not re­quire sus­pi­cion of any spe­cific crim­i­nal act by the pres­i­dent, but can be ini­ti­ated if Congress sim­ply finds the pres­i­dent em­bar­rass­ing or an­noy­ing - as it is cer­tain the more cen­trist Repub­li­cans and all Democrats feel. In that case, the House votes to hold a trial, and the Se­nate then holds it. The Con­sti­tu­tional stan­dard to ini­ti­ate this process? High crimes and mis­de­meanors. The vague­ness of the stan­dard is ev­i­dent. Richard Nixon was headed for im­peach­ment be­cause of ly­ing, ob­struct­ing jus­tice, and us­ing the In­ter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice and other gov­ern­ment agen­cies to pun­ish his ri­vals. Bill Clin­ton was im­peached for hav­ing ex­tra­mar­i­tal af­fairs, and the Se­nate failed to vote to re­move him from of­fice. An­drew John­son, in 1868, is the only other US Pres­i­dent to ever face im­peach­ment.

Funny thing is, a lot of peo­ple be­lieve that the found­ing fa­thers en­vi­sioned fre­quent and vi­cious use of im­peach­ment, roughly once a gen­er­a­tion. They fig­ured if the pres­i­dents were afraid of Congress, they'd be less cor­rupt.

At this point, many Amer­i­cans must wish things would calm down a lit­tle, sim­ply be­cause there is so much more go­ing on in the world that de­serves at­ten­tion. That's un­likely, though. When at­tacked, Pres­i­dent Trump hits back twice as hard. Right now, he's be­ing hit with a Mack truck. As pres­i­dent, he cur­rently has the power to do a lot of dam­age. Oddly, he doesn't seem to care whether the dam­age he does is to him­self or to oth­ers. For ex­am­ple, among the lat­est ideas floated out of the White House is the pres­i­dent fir­ing the uni­ver­sally-ap­plauded in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tor, Robert Mueller. That would push even Repub­li­can al­lies too far, very likely, and bring this whole mess crash­ing to the ground more quickly.

At the same time, one gets used to it. This is called "nor­mal­iza­tion of de­viance." The more fre­quently ex­cep­tional things hap­pen, the less we think of them as ex­cep­tional. And that is the real danger here.

Dr. He­len Delfeld holds a doc­tor­ate in po­lit­i­cal sci­ence, spe­cial­iz­ing in women/gen­der stud­ies and in­ter­na­tional pol­i­tics from Rut­gers Univer­sity. She worked as a hu­man rights ac­tivist and pro­fes­sor for over a decade be­fore turning to pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion and writ­ing. She cur­rently teaches po­lit­i­cal the­ory to in­mates at a max­i­mum se­cu­rity prison. Among other schol­arly con­tri­bu­tions is her book, Hu­man Rights and the Hol­low State, (Rout­ledge, 2014). Her mother is Cana­dian, and even af­ter fifty years in the US, re­fuses to be­come a US cit­i­zen.

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