HuffingtonPost – September 8, 1974. It’s not a date that rings a bell for most of us, but it’s a day that came to define an entire Presidency. President Gerald Ford issued a sweeping pardon to Richard Nixon that day, absolving him of all of his crimes, and ensuring he’d never face the music for his many crimes.
Mention of Watergate is in the air these days, it seems. You can’t throw a stone in Washington without hitting somebody making a comparison between Donald Trump’s Russia misdeeds and Watergate.
The parallels to Watergate are inescapable. Watergate was, after all, about a break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters, and today’s Russia scandal is, at least partly, about a digital theft from the DNC headquarters.
There has been, and will be, millions of words of digital ink devoted to the likelihood of Donald Trump being impeached, and we won’t rehash most of it. Instead, we ask, what happens after a potential impeachment? No U.S. President has ever been prosecuted for high crimes and misdemeanors after leaving office. Could President Trump be the first?
Two things are true in regards to a potential Trump impeachment:
- There already is enough evidence to impeach President Trump if there is the political will. The emoluments clause alone is likely sufficient.
- Impeachment is, as Republicans showed during the impeachment of President Clinton, a fundamentally political act and Republican house members will only impeach Trump if it becomes politically necessary.
Ever since President Ford pardoned Nixon, it has been a widely held assumption in American politics that any Vice President would likely pardon their President in the event of a scandal-based impeachment. Certainly it would have happened if any President since committed similar crimes.
As is the case in so many areas, Donald Trump changes everything.
Mike Pence had little or no relationship with Donald Trump prior to being nominated as Vice President – from the start, they had an arranged marriage. In fact, Pence backed Senator Ted Cruz in the Indiana GOP Presidential primary contest over Trump. That said, this is hardly unprecedented – numerous Presidential tickets have included uneasy bedfellows – but the degree to which Pence and Trump come from different wings of the party and different walks of life can hardly be overstated. Pence is an individual whose principal motivation in public life appears to be social issues, while Trump’s positions on abortion and other issues seem to be little more than a matter of convenience (indeed, he has held every position conceivable on abortion).
With the possible exception of Vice President Dick Cheney, nobody agrees to serve as Vice President unless they have at least some hopes of becoming President. In the case of Pence, that rings especially true; he has been repeatedly publicly humiliated by Trump, and the only plausible reasons that he has stood by Trump are:
- He deeply, profoundly wants to become President
- He is the ultimate sacrificing loyal soldier on behalf of his party
It’s for these reasons that there is a good chance Vice President Pence will not pardon Donald Trump.