A Ripple, Not a Wave Joe Biden’s Almost Impossible Task

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DER SPIEGEL Printtitel 46/2020 Der Hausbesetzer

Even if Joe Biden emerges victorious, the peaceful transfer of power still isn’t yet a foregone conclusion. And as president, Biden would face the almost impossible task of reuniting a deeply divided nation.

By Matthias GebauerRoland NellesRené PfisterRalf Neukirch und Alexander Sarovic

He is, on this Thursday, just as he has been so often in his almost four years as president: huffy and cynical. More than anything, though, he is front and center, demanding attention. Donald Trump walks up to the lectern in the press briefing room at the White House and begins spewing invented accusations of voter fraud. “If you count the legal votes, I easily win,” he said, “if you count the illegal votes, they can try to steal the election from us.” He claimed to have won the election with “historic numbers.”

His message was clear: I’m not going anywhere. And essentially, he’s not wrong. He isn’t going to simply disappear — indeed, there is little in the election results to indicate that he should.

In this nerve-wracking, at times chaotic election, Trump received 5 million more votes than he did in 2016, with around 48 percent of the American electorate casting their ballots for him – and many of them are loyal fans who worship him as a demigod.

Even if he ends up losing this election to his Democratic challenger Joe Biden – and there are certainly strong indications, if not proof, that he will – one thing is certain. Donald Trump will remain an important figure on the American political landscape.

Trump has almost 90 million followers on Twitter. There are conservative media outlets that will continually invite him in for interviews and commentary. He has a following that is more loyal than that of any of his predecessors. Leading Republicans, to be sure, have begun jumping ship, with both of his sons, Donald Junior and Eric complaining on Twitter of insufficient support from the GOP. And even Fox News, the president’s personal propaganda outlet, is carefully moving away from him. But his core voters remain largely devoted to him and his ideas, with his approval ratings among Republicans still extremely high. Even if loses this election, he will be able to continue playing an outsized role in American politics – as the leader of a furious opposition that doesn’t recognize his successor. A squatter who settles into the people’s consciousness. It can’t even be ruled out that he will run again in 2024 at the age of 78.

And maybe he’ll just stay.

The Battle Will Continue

Those hoping that the election on Nov. 3 would result in a rapid return to something approaching normality are likely bitterly disappointed. The battle for the most important office in the world’s most powerful democracy will continue to be fought, including in court.

And as this grueling election week comes to an end, the only thing clear is that much is unclear. Biden, to be sure, appears to have a slim lead in important states like Arizona and Nevada, which would be enough for a victory, and by Friday afternoon, media reports suggested he had also taken over the lead in Pennsylvania and Georgia. But Donald Trump and his Republicans aren’t ready to accept defeat. Many of them still believe that the tide can be turned. And the margins are razor thin in a number of key states, even if the trend seems to be in Biden’s favor as the final votes are counted.

The president and his allies have thus launched a slew of legal challenges in an effort to reverse that trend and to prevent purported election fraud, for which there is thus far no evidence whatsoever. In Wisconsin, for example, Republicans want the votes to be recounted. And the struggle could occupy various courts for several weeks.

In the worst-case scenario, it could be up to the Supreme Court to decide who won the election. During his term, however, Trump was able to install three conservative justices on the court, bringing the total of conservatives to six, against just three liberal justices. On Thursday, Trump pledged on Twitter that his team would mount legal challenges to the results in important states that have been declared for Biden. And he tweeted: “STOP THE COUNT!”

Neither Trump nor many of his supporters are apparently concerned about the fact that his behavior is a direct attack on the democratic norms of the United States. Never before has a U.S. president proclaimed himself the victor before all the votes have been counted and branded the continued counting of legally cast votes as “fraud.”

The election has highlighted once again the deep divide in American society – indeed, it looks as though that divide has now grown deeper and wider. Trump fans and Democrats are irreconcilable. There is hardly any nuance anymore in the shrill political debate in the country, hardly any self-reflection and virtually no listening. There is only anger, hate and mutual contempt.

In a number of states, the two candidates are only separated by a few thousand votes. America, it seems, is divided almost exactly in two halves that having nothing in common except for the same nationality. Those who support Donald Trump tend to do so unconditionally, loyal and ardent. On the other side, Trump’s opponents are hardly any less passionate in their hate for him.

Should Biden emerge victorious, he will have managed to drive Donald Trump out of office after just a single term. He will have managed to free the U.S. and the entire world from this president, one that Biden has frequently referred to as an “aberration.”

That is no small achievement. The last president to only serve a single term was George H. W. Bush, the 41st president. He was defeated by Bill Clinton in 1992.

Should Biden be inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States on Jan. 20, there are high hopes that normalcy might return following the delirium of the Trump years. Without a doubt, Biden would stand for an end to the nepotism that has characterized Washington under Trump.

Biden has been in politics for over 40 years, but in all that time, nobody has seriously accused him of abusing his political office to enrich himself. For decades, he has lived off a senator’s salary, which currently stands at $170,000 per year. He has released his tax returns every year since 1998. He only began amassing more wealth after his tenure as vice president came to an end and he wrote his memoirs and began giving paid speeches. Compared to Trump, Biden’s finances are as clear as a glacial lake, which is likely one of the reasons that the GOP’s unfounded claims – that Biden was involved in dubious business deals in China – never gained much traction.

The Anti-Trump

In contrast to the leftist Senator Bernie Sanders, Biden’s campaign for the White House was not rooted in a vast reform project. From the very beginning, his message was that of ridding the country of Donald Trump. Biden offers the wounded country a kind of group therapy session to cleanse itself of the hate and discord. As president, he wants to be the anti-Trump.

Biden has promised to introduce a minimum wage of $15 per hour, he wants to offer public health insurance to low-wage earners who can’t afford a private policy. His plan also calls for the children of parents who earn less than $125,000 per year to be able to attend college tuition for free.

But all of these plans will remain just that if the Senate remains majority Republican. That, too, remains up in the air. It currently looks as though there will be a run-off election in January between the Republican David Perdue and the Democrat Jon Ossoff in Georgia. In the other Senate race in the state, a run-off has already been assured. The results of these two races will determine whether the Democrats have the say in the Senate.

If the Republicans do manage to cling to their majority, Biden will have a hard time getting any laws through Congress, says Julian Zelizer, a historian at Princeton University. He’ll have no other choice than to govern by executive order.

Trump has shown how that might look. In the first 100 days of his term, he issued more executive orders than all other post-World War II presidents. Some of them were enormously significant.

Biden, too, would be able to push through some of his plans via executive order, such as reversing Trump’s extremely restrictive immigration policies. The more far-reaching reforms that the country so badly needs, however, are not possible without Senate approval – things such as expanding health insurance coverage, educational reform and an aggressive climate change strategy. Without the Senate, Biden would be a less effective president.

It would, of course, be nothing new in U.S. history for a president to face a hostile Senate or House of Representatives. Still, until deep into the 1990s, it was still possible to build bipartisan majorities. Biden himself has negotiated countless deals with the Republicans. But that was a different era. Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell was resoundingly re-elected in Kentucky – and even before the election, McConnell committed his troops to vote against a coronavirus aid package because passing such a bill could help Biden if he in fact wins the election.

If Biden does move into the White House, he would be 78 years old at inauguration, by far the oldest president in U.S. history. Biden has hinted that he would likely only stay in office for a single term, which would mean that the race to succeed him would begin from day one.

Kamala Harris, Biden’s running mate, would be the most obvious candidate, and she is 22 years younger than Biden. The daughter of a doctor from India and an economics professor from Jamaica, Harris was still in elementary school when Biden was first elected to the Senate. In Trump’s narrative, Harris is a radical leftist who would control the elderly Biden like a puppet on a string.

In reality, though, there is plenty of evidence that Biden and Harris will make a good team. They are on the same wavelength politically, with both representing the moderate Democratic mainstream. Furthermore, as a former public prosecutor, she doesn’t exactly support an anti-police agenda.

No Free Pass for Germany

On foreign policy, at least, Biden would have a fair amount of flexibility. As president, he would do what he could to win back the trust of America’s allies that Trump has destroyed. He has already said that he intends to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement and revive the Iran nuclear deal. Furthermore, Antony Blinken, a former deputy secretary of state and the favorite to become Biden’s National Security Adviser should Biden win, has joined Biden’s Europe expert Julianne Smith in publicly announcing that a Biden administration would likely reverse Trump’s plan to withdraw U.S. troops from Germany.

Of all the people on Biden’s team, Smith knows Germany the best. She spent one-and-a-half years as his deputy security adviser when he was vice president before then moving to Berlin for a year as a fellow of the Robert Bosch Stiftung. During her stay in the German capital, she developed a critical view of the shortcomings of Chancellor Angela Merkel, who she believes has intentionally maneuvered Germany to the global political sidelines. “Merkel has the power to initiate something big,” she told DER SPIEGEL in an interview last year. “But what we’re experiencing is a paralyzed Germany, and that’s bad for Europe and bad for the U.S.”

Indeed, even a Biden presidency wouldn’t be particularly comfortable for Germany, that much already appears to be clear. Should he move into the White House, he wouldn’t sow doubts about the U.S. commitment to NATO, but he would also have little patience for European allies trying to shirk responsibility. His adviser Michèle Flournoy reacted with significant anger when Rolf Mützenich, floor leader for the Social Democrats (SPD), which is Merkel’s junior government coalition partner, demanded that Germany withdraw from NATO’s nuclear sharing, a system that could, in the worst-case scenario, see U.S. nuclear weapons being dropped by German warplanes.

A former undersecretary of defense in the Obama administration, Flournoy’s voice carries weight. If the Democrats win, the 59-year-old could become the first female secretary of defense in U.S. history. In that position, she would likely seek to pursue a more resolute course against Russia and China and invest more money in deterrence. She has little patience for the fact that Germany still doesn’t spend 2 percent of its gross domestic product on defense and she will insist on Berlin fulfilling that promise just as much as Trump has. That is a goal that we have all agreed to, Flournoy told DER SPIEGEL, and it’s not going to change.

Berlin would also be misguided in hoping that a Biden administration will show more understanding for the natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea, an almost completed project known as Nord Stream 2. One of the few things that Congressional Democrats and Republicans agree on is that the pipeline is a completely unnecessary gift to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Even leftist senators like Bernie Sanders have little understanding for why Germany should shower money on Putin, who is doing everything in his power to weaken American democracy. “There are both environmental and geopolitical objections to Nord Stream 2, and they are shared by the left wing of our party,” says Matt Duss, Sanders’ foreign policy adviser.

Domestically, though, this election has made the political map of the United States even more complicated. Trump didn’t just attract support from a large share of his base in the white working and middle classes. He was also able to convince new voters who had traditionally been seen as belonging to the Democratic camp, including Black men and Latinos.

Joe Biden, meanwhile, was able to make advances into traditionally Republican strongholds, including among white voters. In the Atlanta suburbs in the state of Georgia, for example, and in Arizona. He was able to win over conservative voters who weren’t impressed by Trump’s political style.

A Hopeless Divide

It is difficult to see how the U.S. might begin shrinking the divide that currently runs through the country. A second Trump term would doubtlessly lead to a large share of the population no longer feeling at home politically in the country. And if Biden ends up with the most votes, but loses in the Electoral College, more than half of Americans will be frustrated and angry. According to the current count, Biden has received more than 4 million more votes than Trump. It isn’t difficult to imagine protests and unrest should Trump emerge victorious anyway.

In states like California, Oregon and Washington, the debate over secession could even receive new impetus. The conflict between Republicans and Democrats in Washington, D.C., would get even worse and the Congressional stalemate would deepen right in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic and a deep economic crisis.

Should Biden win with a slim majority, by contrast, millions of Trump voters would be unwilling to be governed by a man who Trump has spent months branding as the leader of a dangerous socialist movement. It is uncertain whether deep red states will ever accept a Biden presidency, even if the Democrat wins with a decent margin.

Among Democrats, there is significant concern that right-wing, potentially violent organizations like the Proud Boys could launch a revolt against Washington. Under such conditions, it seems almost impossible for Biden to be the president of “all Americans,” as he promised on Wednesday evening. Many of those Americans want nothing less.

It became clear long before the election that Donald Trump wouldn’t simply walk away. His comments left little doubt that he would do everything in his power to cling on to the presidency – at all costs.

Phase one of this operation has been underway for months, with Trump having repeatedly cast doubt on the legitimacy of the election. Over and over again, he has insisted that mail-in voting – which proved a particularly popular way to vote, given the coronavirus pandemic – is extremely vulnerable to fraud.

At the same time, he consistently urged his followers on Twitter and at his rallies to cast their ballots in person. And that is what they did. Republicans streamed in huge numbers to their polling stations on Tuesday – with a huge number of Democrats, by contrast, preferring to vote by mail in important states like Pennsylvania and Michigan.

The result was that in states where the votes cast on Election Day were counted first, Trump initially enjoyed a significant lead. But that was before the several hundred thousand votes cast by mail were included, which have tended to be overwhelmingly in favor of Biden. The difference was particularly extreme in Pennsylvania. On Wednesday morning, Trump had a lead in the state of 600,000 votes, but that was before counting of the almost 2 million mail-in ballots had begun. By late Friday afternoon (European time), Biden had moved into the lead in the state by nearly 7,000 votes, with ballots still left to be counted.

The unequal distribution of the mail-in ballots was key to phase two of Trump’s plan, which he sought to implement on the night of the election. In a bizarre appearance before followers at the White House at 2:30 a.m., he claimed that his opponents were doing all they could to steal the election from him and that the mail-in ballots were fraudulent. Yet vote counting was continuing completely normally in many states and Trump could offer up no evidence for his claims. In three of the last five elections, wrote prominent U.S. historian Michael Beschloss on Twitter last Sunday, the winner hasn’t been known until after midnight. That was also the case in 1960, 1968 and 1976. “No one should pretend that there would be anything historically unusual if that happens again in 2020.”

A Flurry of Legal Challenges

Trump’s move to prematurely claim victory has been joined by a string of legal challenges. The legal battle between the Republicans and the Democrats began several months ago, with more than 200 cases underway in almost all states of the union. Since Wednesday, they have been joined by additional lawsuits. In Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania – everywhere the election could be decided – Trump’s lawyers are now active. The hope is that if a court ruling means that Biden loses a few tens of thousands of votes, Trump might emerge victorious after all.

Trump and the Republicans are focusing on trivialities: Were the correct envelopes used in accordance with the instructions? What about the stamps? And the voter’s signature: Did he or she sign on the correct line or is the signature in the spot where the date belongs? The army of Republican lawyers has plenty of money and is extremely well-organized. And they are challenging every single formality, no matter how small.

Most recently, the Republicans failed dramatically in their attempt to get almost 127,000 votes thrown out in Harris County, Texas, because they were cast in drive-thru polling stations. The state supreme court, despite all of its justices having been chosen by Republicans, rejected the effort, with a federal judge affirming the verdict on appeal.

The Electoral College

But it could be that the legal challenges are just a delay tactic to perpetuate doubts about the election results until the next opportunity to undermine the wishes of the electorate. That opportunity comes on Dec. 8, in accordance with the Constitution. By then, all 538 electors of the Electoral College must have been chosen – who will then go on to elect the next president. Should the legal challenges from Trump and his allies succeed in delaying the final results in important swing states until then, the GOP could then invoke Article 2 of the Constitution.

According to that article, state parliaments are responsible for determining the system by which electors are chosen. In recent history, that system was essentially appointing electors in accordance with the outcome of the popular vote. But in the Constitution, there is nothing prohibiting state legislatures from appointing electors directly.

Trump could try to force Republican-dominated legislatures in important swing states to do exactly that. The GOP hold the majority in both chambers of state congress in six of the states where the outcome of the presidential election has been closest. In Arizona and Florida, the governor is also a Republican, while Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have Democratic governors.

According to a report in the magazine The Atlantic, the Republican leadership in Pennsylvania has already explored the possibility of appointing the electors themselves. The danger would be that one or more of the electors might ignore the result of the popular vote in the state and cast their vote for Trump, even if Biden ends up with a majority in the state.

Edward Foley, an expert in election law, has examined precisely this scenario. He believes that in such a situation, the Democratic governors would move to certify the official vote count. They could then declare the selection of electors by the legislature was illegal. The consequence would be that on Dec. 14 – the day on which the electors in the Electoral College come together in their respective state to elect the president – there could be two competing groups of electors in Pennsylvania.

Then, the focus would shift to Congress in Washington. According to the Constitution, the electors must send their votes “to the President of the Senate,” who is Vice President Mike Pence.

In a situation where both Trump and Biden claim the presidency, much will depend on who has control of Congress. The newly elected representatives and senators gather for the first time on Jan. 6. What then happens is only vaguely outlined in the 12 Amendment: “The President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted.”

It isn’t entirely clear who should count the votes, nor is it clear what happens if there is a conflict over who the legitimate electors are. The 133-year-old Electoral Count Act, which was intended to provide clarity, is considered particularly ineffective and unclear.

“The Constitution is clear on only one point,” says Edward Foley. “The president’s term comes to an end at noon on Jan. 20.” In theory, even the speaker of the house, the third person in the hierarchy according to the Constitution, could claim the presidency on an interim basis. At the moment, the position is held by Nancy Pelosi, a passionate Trump detractor.

The “What If” Scenario

If Trump were to manage to stay in office, he would likely use his second term to continue foisting his “America First” doctrine on the world. And that would mean a number of difficult years ahead, particularly for Europeans. In the last four years, the president has made it more than clear just how little he cares about established relationships and about allies who can rely on each other. When a senior German diplomat visited Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner in the White House and raved about of the durability of the German-American friendship, Kushner’s response was: We don’t have friends, just business partners.

At the time, the Germans discounted it as a comment born of inexperience, but soon it became apparent that Kushner really meant it. Trump levied punitive tariffs on European steel and French wine, he called the European Union “a foe,” and if Trump were to only slap tariffs on German cars, that would be tantamount to escaping relatively unscathed for most German states.

There is, after all, much more at stake than just a few billion euros in trans-Atlantic trade. Should he end up leveraging a second term, Trump could completely destroy the entire postwar order. Even at the July 2018 NATO summit in Brussels, Trump’s advisers say he had wanted to threaten America’s departure from the alliance if not every member state immediately began spending the equivalent of 2 percent of GDP on defense. John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser at the time, had his hands full with convincing the president not to issue such a threat.

Trump already went much further in his first term than most of his predecessors: He fired five independent auditors in government ministries in addition to asking his Attorney General to open an investigation into his challenger Joe Biden – as though William Barr were his personal servant instead of a crucial official in charge of upholding the rule of law.

If Trump were to manage to stay in office, it would mean a number of difficult years ahead, particularly for Europeans.

He awarded Rush Limbaugh, one of the worst rabble-rousers on American radio, the highest civilian honor and declined to distance himself from QAnon followers, who believe that the Democrats are part of a demonic cult that kidnaps children and drinks their blood.

It seemed impossible to go any lower than all that, but in the final days of the campaign, Trump showed that it was. On Sunday, he praised those of his followers who had tried to force a Biden campaign bus off the road. And he announced that if he won re-election, he intended to fire Anthony Fauci, the widely respected head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

It was just the latest indication that Trump has no qualms about transforming the U.S. into an autocracy. From his very first day in the White House, he demonstrated an extreme aversion to accepting the democratic ground rules of the office he held. Instead, his admiration was reserved for autocrats like Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who had managed to secure a life-long hold on power. The authority of the president is “absolute,” Trump insisted at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, ignoring the fact that the Constitution said otherwise.

Little Aptitude for Strategy

Trump didn’t get particularly far in transforming the U.S. into an autocracy during his first term because he has very little aptitude for strategy. He never had enough patience to focus on technicalities, despite their importance when it comes to securing power. And at the beginning of his tenure, he appointed business and military leaders like Rex Tillerson and James Mattis to his cabinet – people who tried to save the country from Trump’s most dangerous propensities.

Before long, though, Trump had managed to eliminate almost all of the independent thinkers from his team. The only one remaining is Defense Secretary Mark Esper, whose fate has been sealed ever since he publicly countered Trump’s suggestion that the military be used to quell the protests in American cities. Richard Grenell was seen as his possible successor, a Trump lackey who gave up his position as ambassador to Germany to campaign for his boss.

The president learned that political appointments have a direct effect on his power. He managed to establish a stable conservative majority in the Supreme Court, and though Republicans didn’t offer Trump much resistance in his first term, they would no doubt fall completely silent in a second. GOP leadership said nothing when Trump sought to blackmail Ukraine into producing dirt on Joe Biden. And they said nothing when Trump referred to North Korean President Kim Jong Un, one of the cruelest dictators in the world, as a personal “friend.”

The U.S. does, at least, have newspapers that are critical of the government, such as the New York Times and the Washington Post, but the pro-Trump channel Fox News is so mired in propaganda that it makes Chinese state TV almost look serious by comparison. With the help of Fox, Trump was able to convince a significant number of his followers that truth no longer exists. Echoing Trump, Fox News tells its viewers night after night that the “mainstream media” consistently lies.

If everyone is pulled down into the filth, Trump seems to hope, then the most scrupulous among them will emerge on top. It is a strategy that brought him a long way. Trump was the first to posit that Barack Obama was a completely illegitimate president because he allegedly was not born in the United States. He claimed that his predecessor had not, in fact, been successful in killing Osama bin Laden. Most recently, he said that every American could receive the same COVID medications that he did at no extra cost – even though the drug cocktail hasn’t even been approved and would likely cost several thousand dollars per dosage.

The central question, though, is whether a president who has lost his re-election bid can pardon himself.

For Donald Trump, a Biden victory wouldn’t just represent the greatest defeat of his life, but perhaps also a reason to use what remains of his time in the White House to sow chaos and commotion. He has around two-and-a-half months left as the most powerful man in the world, and he has a free hand with every decision that does not have to be approved by Congress.

In the past, even presidents who respected the traditions and conventions of the office they held have used the last days of their tenure to push through controversial decisions, not least when it comes to presidential pardons. George Bush senior pardoned six officials mired in the Iran-Contra scandal, Bill Clinton did the same for the financier Marc Rich, who was wanted by the FBI. Barack Obama released whistleblower Chelsea Manning from prison.

What might Trump do? Particularly given that he could be facing legal troubles once his is no longer protected by presidential immunity.

Will Trump Seek Pardon?

In the history of the U.S., no president has ever moved from the White House into prison. But after four years of Trump, that scenario is not completely implausible.

“The possibility that Trump will face criminal prosecution is quite high,” says Bennett Gershman, a legal professor at Pace University and a former New York state prosecutor.

In recent years, numerous Trump loyalists have faced legal difficulties. His former campaign chief Paul Manafort was handed a lengthy prison sentence and Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen was also locked away. New York state prosecutors have charged former chief strategist Steve Bannon with fraud and he is now out on bail.

During the investigation into Russian influence on the 2016 election, Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team looked into 10 different incidents where Trump himself may have obstructed justice. Because Trump was a sitting president, Mueller did not pursue prosecution. But with the end of his tenure, Trump would lose such protection. Federal prosecutors and a new attorney general could revisit the work of Mueller and of various Congressional committees.

All of that raises the question as to how Trump might use his pardoning powers as his tenure approaches its end. He has already issued 44 pardons, including controversial ones such as the pardon of Roger Stone, who was facing three years behind bars.

The central question, though, is whether a president who has lost his re-election bid can pardon himself. “That is absurd,” says Philip Bobbitt, a Constitutional lawyer at Columbia University in New York. The issue has never been decided by the courts, but Bobbitt cites the established legal principle that nobody can act as judge in their own case and also refers to the position taken by Richard Nixon’s Justice Department. In the 1970s, Nixon had asked the judiciary to explore the question. The answer was a resounding no.

Nixon managed to avoid prosecution by a different path. After his resignation following the Watergate Scandal, Vice President Gerald Ford took over, and then pardoned him in September 1974 for all crimes he had been accused of committing while in office.

In Washington, that past has triggered intense speculation this week if something similar could be repeated. The idea is that Trump would resign prior to the end of his term so that Mike Pence could be president for a few days, or maybe just a few hours, so that he could pardon his former boss.

According to Bobbitt, who worked as a legal advisor to Ford’s successor, Jimmy Carter, in the White House, it is unclear if such a move would be legal. In the case of Nixon, there was no pre-arranged agreement, he says. Ford decided on his own to pardon his predecessor in order to preclude harm to the office of the presidency and to put Watergate in the rearview mirror. A “corrupt deal” between Trump and Pence, though, he says, could likely be challenged legally.

But the greatest danger for the president could be lurking in his home state of New York and not in Washington. New York Attorney General Letitia James and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance are investigating Trump for business deals Trump engaged in prior to becoming president.

Vance could prove to be the greatest threat to Trump. He is investigating hush money payments allegedly made to porn star Stormy Daniels and one other woman, both of whom say they had affairs with Trump years ago. The investigations have recently been expanded to include possible banking and insurance fraud committed by the Trump Organization, the holding company for Trump’s business empire.

Joe Biden’s team has apparently prepared for the eventuality that the transfer of power may not adhere to past norms. According to media reports, his advisers believe that the normal meetings between the outgoing White House team and the incoming administration won’t take place this time around. It would likely be his final effort at taking revenge against the man who forced him out.

 

Der Spiegel

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