May 20, 2019
By Robert Kuttner | May 20, 2019
Impunity: Understanding Trump's Coup d'État. Trump’s categorical denial of any wrongdoing and his wall-to-wall efforts to block all investigations, whether by Congress or in other investigations such as the Deutsche Bank case, adds up to a blanket claim of impunity. As Richard Nixon claimed, if the president does it, it’s legal.
Nixon’s contention, of course, was ridiculed and not allowed to stand. But that was in a different era—with independent courts, a Democratic majority in Congress, and even some principled Republicans. None of those obtain today.
If the president, as Trump claims, is literally above the law, and by definition cannot be investigated in any legal venue, then this has ceased to be a democracy. We are not quite there yet, but we are close.
Congress, as Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland has proposed, could impeach Trump on the narrow ground of contempt of Congress, one of the counts in the Nixon impeachment. If ever there were an open and shut case, it’s this one. Trump has made it all too clear that he and his associates will resist any congressional demand, no matter how legitimate.
It’s also possible that highly damaging information, against Trump, his enterprises, or his family, will emerge from one of the other investigations, such as the Deutsche Bank case, where both Congress and the New York state attorney general have ongoing investigations of possible corruption in the bank’s extensive financing of the Trump organization. Trump has sued Deutsche Bank in an effort to block the bank’s cooperation with prosecutors’ demands for documents. The bank’s loyalty to customer Trump is at odds with its health as a government-regulated institution.
At bottom, there is a race between several investigations and the Republican takeover of the courts, which is not yet quite complete. There is still some judicial independence. But if we lose this race, and Trump manages to place himself above the law by definition, then his coup is complete.
The idea that we must choose tactically between going forward with impeachment and winning the 2020 election is preposterous. If Trump is above the law, then he can steal the election in several key states.
Those of us who want American democracy to survive and thrive need to be waging this battle on every available front.