In one of the most memorable scenes from the classic movie Casablanca, Police Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains) is ordered to conduct a raid on the nightclub/backroom casino owned by Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) – a casino in which the good inspector, himself, had been gambling. With an expression of mock sincerity on his face, the inspector says, “ I am shocked – SHOCKED — to find that gambling is going on in here!”
Like in our current political melodrama, the raid on the casino was not the result of the rule-of-law — or the gambling joint would have been closed long before. It was an arbitrary political decision based on the political desires of the establishment at that moment. What was once overlooked by the local gendarme, was suddenly recognized as a crime
With Special Counsel Robert Mueller taking up the Louis Renault role, we are told of the shocking news that President Trump may have told a few fibs about his alleged assignation with cinema slut Stephanie Clifford playing in the role of Stormy Daniels — and that these prevarications were crimes against the people. Breaking campaign finance laws, to be specific. We are to be shocked – SHOCKED – by these revelations.
Unlike Casablanca, where the crime of gambling was tangibly evident, the crime of obstruction of justice is much more ethereal – a crime based on the state of the mind. IF, as the President’s critics argue, Trump paid off “the mouth that whored” SOLELY to prevent her from undermining his chances of becoming President, It COULD BE – note, that is “could be” – construed as an illegal campaign contribution.
However … IF the payment was to protect Trump’s general reputation – such as it is – or keep his adultery from his family, then it is not specifically a campaign issue and, therefore, no violation of the campaign laws. And that is even true if the concern about the campaign was, in fact, one of Trump’s reasons. The money must have no other purpose than to support the campaign, or the law does not apply.
There is also the issue of prosecutorial discretion. The same issue can be charged as a technical civil infraction by the Federal Election Commission – which would result in a fine – or a criminal felony. This is just another example that we do not live under the much-proclaimed rule-of-law, but under the arbitrary interpretations of law by prosecutors and judges.
That is why most prosecutors say it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to actually convict Trump on violating campaign laws. Many go further to opine that no prosecutor would even attempt an indictment on that charge based on the inability to prove intent.
There is also the issue of obstruction of justice. The recent court filing by the Special Counsel states that “Individual 1” (obviously Trump) was engage in preliminary talks with Russian business interests through attorney Michael Cohen at a time when candidate Trump said he has no deals with Russia. According to the armchair quarterbacks, in concealing his alleged dealings, Trump was obstructing the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and any possible collusion with his campaign.
In the court-of-public-opinion – ruled over by the lords of the Fourth Estate – accusation, when consistent with preconceived narratives, is equivalent to conviction. In that spirit, MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell – whose “Last Word” is never such (sigh) – is prodding Democrats to take up the impeachment of the President. He notes, that no President in history has ever been accused of a federal crime without an ensuing impeachment. In fact, O’Donnell told the Huffington Post that Trump “must be impeached.” I am sure if you asked him, O’Donnell would also endorse having the President “hanged, drawn and quartered.” Among the unhinged Trump haters, there is not even the presumption of a presumption-of-innocence.
And is there even a standard for obstruction of justice – or is it just whatever a prosecutor wants it to be? If Trump saying that he did not have business “deals” with Russians – a word with a wide range of interpretations – is evidence of obstruction of justice, what in God’s name was Bill Clinton’s public statement that he had never “had sex with that woman?” In the days of Clinton, it was widely held that fibbing in public to protect oneself was an understandable sin, but hardly a crime – and certainly not enough to consider removing a President from office.
Despite all the sound and fury surrounding the various Mueller investigations, it is unlikely – based on what we know today – that Trump will be convicted of any of the crimes he is accused of committing. Accusations are the cheapest currency of politics – and even one of those too-easy-to-obtain indictments is a matter of opinion to be tested in court. Much of the work of the Special Counsel is more of a shadow game to influence the political process.
At best, Mueller could name Trump as an “unindicted co-conspirator.” Why no indictment? One reason that likely will be given is that under the current rules of the Department of Justice, a sitting President cannot be indicted. However, this may be nothing more than political cover for the fact that any indictment on the evidence would be unsuccessful in court. Mueller has no winnable case to bring.
Just as FBI Director James Comey admitted that he leaked negative information about Trump to provoke the appointment of a special prosecutor, his good buddy Mueller could gratuitously have included the “co-conspirator” language simply to provoke an impeachment hearing.
So, there ‘tis.