31 October 2017

Mueller And The Rule of Law

Former FBI Director Mueller indicted President Trump's former campaign director and one of his main deputies for illegal ties to Russia and has already accepted a guilty plead to the crime of lying to the FBI from another person connected to the Trump campaign.

This is really some of the most encouraging news we've had about American political culture for a while.

Also on the encouraging front, because they demonstrate that the political system is not entirely devoid of checks and balances, were the defeat of unpopular legislation to kill Obamacare in the U.S. Senate, the shelving of a law to legalize silencers following the Las Vegas mass shooting, and judicial invalidation of his Muslim ban, his effort to ban transgender soldiers, and his effort to prevent a young women facing deportation from getting an abortion.

Mueller is a special prosecutor, appointed by the executive branch, who is investigating and charging officials from the campaign of a sitting President, the current head of the executive branch, with crimes.

If the cynics were right that our government was hopelessly corrupt, this couldn't happen, and it is certainly happening over the strong objections of the sitting President who is fit to be tied over it. But, so far, Trump has not shut down the investigation by firing Mueller or pardoning the officials from his campaign who were indicated or pleaded guilty.

Trump has the bare legal authority to do either, but if he did, he would be likely tip enough moderate/establishment Republicans and unaffiliated voters into concern about unchecked authoritarianism to cause him to be impeached, to cause the Republican party to lose control of Congress, or to cause Congressional Republicans to cease to cooperate with Trump far more aggressively and openly than it has thus far. It would cement the arguments of Trump critics that he is an authoritarian with no respect for the rule of law, and as President, Trump needs respect for the rule of law to exercise power. Simply put, if he did so, Russia gate would rapidly blossom into Watergate.

The fact that the rule of law can prevail over partisan and political considerations in this case (and Mueller is no die hard liberal), in order to punish corruption, suggests that we haven't reached a constitutional crisis yet, and that a political culture in the country that was reasonable healthy prior to Trump's election, hasn't withered and died quite yet.

It is also reassuring that truly bad municipal judges have twice resigned in recent months when their disregard for the law manifested by their punishments of people who can't pay fines came out (in Mississippi and Colorado).

A blatantly corrupt contract to re-electrify Puerto Rico is a concern, but the backlash and prompt termination of it that has come from FEMA and the Governor of Puerto Rico, is somewhat reassuring as well.

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