The End of the Trump Ad­min­is­tra­tion?

Trump may pre­fer to re­sign and se­cure a par­don for all in­volved, rather than en­dure an im­peach­ment process that may well end with him los­ing the pres­i­dency any­way.

Financial Nigeria Magazine - - International - By Jorge G. Cas­tañeda Jorge G. Cas­tañeda was Mex­ico's Sec­re­tary of For­eign Af­fairs from 2000-2003, af­ter join­ing with his ide­o­log­i­cal op­po­nent, Pres­i­dent Vi­cente Fox, to cre­ate the coun­try's first demo­cratic gov­ern­ment. He is cur­rently Global Dis­tin­guish

The world's view of US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump's ad­min­is­tra­tion is chang­ing for the worse. In fact, the chaos and con­tro­versy that have marked Trump's short time in of­fice have deep­ened doubts, both in­side and out­side the United States, about whether his pres­i­dency will even sur­vive its en­tire four-year term.

Europe's per­spec­tive was ar­tic­u­lated most clearly by Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel. Af­ter a con­tentious NATO sum­mit and a dis­cor­dant G7 meet­ing, she con­cluded that the US, un­der Trump, can no longer be viewed as a re­li­able part­ner. “The times in which we could rely fully on oth­ers,” she stated point­edly, “are some­what over.”

Merkel's state­ments were driven partly by dis­agree­ment be­tween Trump and Europe on cli­mate change, trade, NATO (par­tic­u­larly Ar­ti­cle 5, its col­lec­tive de­fence clause, which Trump re­fused to en­dorse), and re­la­tions with Rus­sia. But dis­agree­ment on such is­sues re­flects di­vi­sions within Trump's own ad­min­is­tra­tion, rais­ing ques­tions about who, if any­body, is ac­tu­ally in charge.

Con­sider Trump's de­ci­sion to with­draw the US from the Paris cli­mate agree­ment. The move was ad­vo­cated by Trump's chief strate­gist, Steve Ban­non, and his speech­writer, Stephen Miller. But Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son, as well as Trump's daugh­ter, Ivanka, and his son-in-law, Jared Kush­ner – both of whom are of­fi­cial White House ad­vis­ers – also may not have sup­ported with­drawal from the ac­cord, de­spite Tiller­son's public de­fence of his boss's de­ci­sion.

Trade is an­other in­ter­nally dis­puted is­sue. Ban­non op­poses the ex­ist­ing or­der of global open­ness, as does Peter Navarro, who heads the White House Na­tional Trade Coun­cil. Sec­re­tary of Com­merce Wil­bur Ross sup­ports open trade, but not with­out reser­va­tion. Sim­i­larly, US Trade Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Robert Lighthizer would pre­fer bareknuckle ne­go­ti­a­tions to dis­rup­tion, though he is al­ready in a spat with Ross.

On NATO and Rus­sia, Tiller­son has echoed Trump in pres­sur­ing the Al­liance's European mem­bers to in­crease their de­fence spend­ing. But he has also taken a harder line on Rus­sia than Trump, call­ing for a strong and united ap­proach by the US and Europe. While Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser H.R. McMaster agrees with Tiller­son in the­ory, turf bat­tles be­tween the two posts' oc­cu­pants – a time-hon­oured tra­di­tion – have al­ready be­gun.

Such in­fight­ing has raised con­cerns far be­yond Europe. As one Latin Amer­i­can for­eign min­is­ter told me re­cently, “Ap­par­ently ev­ery­body is fight­ing with ev­ery­body over ev­ery­thing.” Add to that the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the Trump cam­paign's re­la­tion­ship with Rus­sia, as well as the ad­min­is­tra­tion's plum­met­ing ap­proval rat­ings, and it is easy to un­der­stand why some are doubt­ing whether they should bother to en­gage with Trump at all. Mex­ico's Pres­i­dent En­rique Peña Ni­eto has post­poned meet­ing with Trump in­def­i­nitely, and other coun­tries, too, are plac­ing ties with the US on hold.

With a pre­ma­ture end to Trump's pres­i­dency be­com­ing less far­fetched by the day, it is worth ask­ing how it could come about. There are three pos­si­bil­i­ties.

The first and best-known route is im­peach­ment: a ma­jor­ity in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives would in­dict Trump for “high crimes and mis­de­meanours,” and a two-thirds ma­jor­ity in the Sen­ate would con­vict him, re­mov­ing him from power. Such an out­come – which would re­quire the sup­port of 20 Repub­li­can rep­re­sen­ta­tives and 18 Repub­li­can sen­a­tors, plus all Democrats in both houses – re­mains highly un­likely. But ev­ery­thing could change if the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sia's at­tempts to in­flu­ence the 2016 elec­tion and the pos­si­bil­ity of col­lu­sion with Trump's cam­paign re­veals a smok­ing gun.

The sec­ond op­tion, per Sec­tion 4 of the 25th Amend­ment to the Con­sti­tu­tion, would re­quire the vice pres­i­dent and the cab­i­net or Congress to de­clare the pres­i­dent “un­able to dis­charge the pow­ers and du­ties of his of­fice.” This seems even more un­likely than im­peach­ment, un­less some of Trump's be­hav­iour – like his mid­dle-of-the- night tweets or pri­vate rants against his aides (most re­cently, At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions) – clearly in­di­cates neu­ro­log­i­cal dys­func­tion or psy­chopathol­ogy.

The third op­tion, which some have called the “Nixo­nian solution,” is the most in­trigu­ing. In 1974, Pres­i­dent Richard Nixon re­signed be­fore Congress could vote to im­peach him. Weeks later, Nixon's suc­ces­sor Ger­ald Ford granted him a full and un­con­di­tional par­don for all pos­si­ble crimes.

In Trump's case, such a res­ig­na­tion could be spurred by the de­sire for a sim­i­lar par­don. While Trump can­not be in­dicted on crim­i­nal charges while pres­i­dent, he can be pros­e­cuted for il­le­gal be­hav­iour af­ter he leaves of­fice.

More­over, both Kush­ner, who has been ac­cused of at­tempt­ing to set up a back chan­nel for se­cure com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween the White House and the Krem­lin, and Ivanka would be sub­ject to pros­e­cu­tion if they were found to have en­gaged in il­le­gal com­mu­ni­ca­tions or ac­tiv­i­ties with Rus­sian agents or of­fi­cials. Trump's two el­dest sons, who run his busi­ness em­pire, may also be li­able for mis­deeds. If this threat be­comes salient, Trump may pre­fer to re­sign and se­cure a par­don for all in­volved, rather than en­dure an im­peach­ment process that may well end with him los­ing the pres­i­dency any­way.

But while Trump's op­po­nents might like to re­move him from power, any of these sce­nar­ios could be highly dam­ag­ing to the US and the rest of the world. Amer­i­can par­tic­i­pa­tion, if not lead­er­ship, is in­dis­pens­able to in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion in ar­eas like global trade, cli­mate ac­tion, and re­sponses to all man­ner of crises, whether nat­u­ral, hu­man­i­tar­ian, or nu­clear. More­over, Trump's iso­la­tion­ism doesn't im­ply US ir­rel­e­vance or pas­siv­ity; a dis­tracted or dis­rupted Amer­ica could be much worse.

Given this, Trump's do­mes­tic op­po­nents should be care­ful what they wish for, and Amer­ica's al­lies should try to find a way to en­gage with his ad­min­is­tra­tion more ef­fec­tively. Like it or not, the world's best op­tion is to en­sure that the next three and a half years are as suc­cess­ful – or at least as re­sis­tant to dis­as­ter – as pos­si­ble.

US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump be­ing sworn-in on Jan­uary 20, 2017

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