By Colleen O'Connor
Would President Trump pardon disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein?
This is not a rhetorical question. The presidential powers of pardon are near limitless.
Article II, Section II, Clause 1 states: “The President…shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.”
Once considered an “act of grace” by the great Chief Justice John Marshall, presidential pardons have since devolved into get-out-of-jail-free cards, where “only the wisdom of the President can ensure its appropriate use.”
See where this is going?
On Friday, President Trump stoked the controversy by telling reporters, “I don’t want to talk about pardons for Michael Flynn, yet.” Flynn, the cooperating witness in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, has already pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and is now in the crosshairs of a major scandal.
Add to this rumors of Trump’s possible firing of Mueller, and pushing to shutter the House Intelligence Committee investigation.
According to Rep. Jackie Speier, a Democratic member of that committee from California, “The rumor on the Hill when I left yesterday was that the president was going to make a significant speech at the end of next week. And on Dec. 22, when we are out of DC, he was going to fire Robert Mueller.”
Seems politically plausible. Using the cover of the tax bill and the preoccupation of most Americans with Christmas, Trump is shrewd enough to use just such a moment to execute both scenarios. Timed for midnight Mass on the East Coast and 9 p.m. on the West, it would happen with the “distraction bigly” that Trump likes.
Which leads to the Harvey Weinstein question.
What is to stop the power of a Harvey Weinstein—whose alleged egregious behavior was covered up with threats, payoffs, lawsuits, destruction of careers, decades of co-conspirators’ silence, plus the use of “a private army of Mossad agents” to intimidate his victims—from scoring a Presidential pardon from Trump?
Surely, that could not happen. But it could.
Even Meryl Streep acknowledges that the current wave supporting the #MeToo movement, the outrage over high-profile sexual assault and abuse accusations, and the demands for better workplace protections for women, will lead to a “backlash.”
“I don’t think we move in an easy trajectory towards an enlightened future,” she said. “We’re gonna hit the wall on this one soon.”
Contributing to that possibility are several factors that disturb Trump’s beliefs. First, the Women’s March in January that dwarfed his inaugural crowd. Next, the Access Hollywood tape. Then, the 16-plus women who have accused him of unwanted sexual harassment.
Now the daily roll call of other prominent, celebrity abusers. Also, the stunning loss of deep blue Alabama to a Democrat, Doug Jones (amid sexual assault charges against the Republican loser, Roy Moore). Add all those up and you have the ingredients, not just for Trump’s “meltdown,” but for a Democratic wave election in 2018.
It is now entirely possible that the Democrats can win back both the House and the Senate next November. Can impeachment be far behind?
Perhaps most threatening to Trump’s celebrity status is the move by some of Hollywood’s most powerful and prominent voices creating a special commission to combat “widespread sexual abuse and harassment in the media and entertainment industries” and to “tackle the broad culture of abuse and power disparity.”
Chaired by Anita Hill, the woman who dared challenge Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas over alleged abusive behavior, and was grilled in ungentlemanly fashion by then Sen. Joe Biden, will keep the focus on a topic irritating to Trump—for the entirety of his tenure.
So, why pardon Weinstein? He isn’t even a Republican. Or a friend. But, he is a fellow traveler.
Trump, like Weinstein, denies it all. It was not his voice on the Access Hollywood tapes. His accusers are all “liars.” So too, he might think, with Weinstein. Paint everything in broad enough Trumpisms, and it all washes away.
Or more possibly, as Trump’s co-author of “The Art of the Deal,” said, “Trump will resign and then declare victory” before the Russia probe or impeachment trap him. As things close in, he will double down, fight for survival, and if necessary, quit and declare “victory.”
So, why not pardon Flynn, Paul Manafort, the Kushners and others in the Trump circle who could be indicted by Muller before Trump leaves office? What would it matter? His financial coup is secure in the new tax bill. His delusion of being the “winner” will continue. What could it possibly cost Trump to pardon the unpardonable?
Surely, Weinstein knows all the inside movers and shakers, players and promoters, to get to Trump and get himself one of those pardons before that exit. Who would care? Surely not Trump.
Remember, as Chief Justice John Marshall said, “only the wisdom of the President can ensure its appropriate use.”
Colleen O’Connor is a native San Diegan and a retired college professor.
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