The Annotated AP Interview

Donald Trump’s interview with Associated Press correspondent Julie Pace is transcribed for historical reference.

A pronounced egotism runs throughout the hour-long interview: the excessive and whiney complaints about unfair media coverage as if he is immune to criticism; boasts about “great” relationships with members of Congress and world leaders; puffery about making deals and threats to Lockweed and NAFTA; hoopla over ratings associated with TV appearances. As a marker of his self-importance, he used the first person pronoun (I) over 300 times. That’s five times a minute during the 60 minutes’ transcribed.

There’s his refusal to disclose on foreign policy issues: everything from the Iran deal to fighting ISIS to conversations with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British PM Teresa May. He hints that such conversations are necessarily secret, as if foreign affairs are confidential matters better enacted in cloistered rooms and removed from the public’s attention.

On discussing the Iran deal with other heads of state: “I mention it, but it’s very personal when I talk to them, you know, it’s confidential.”

On his ISIS strategy: “We have a very strong plan, but we cannot talk about it, Julie.”

There are the distortions of reality, some of which sound remarkably similar to the palaver that came out of the Bernie Sanders campaign. You see his lies. He still claims that Rep. Elijah Cummings said he’d be a great President, despite the disavowal by Cummings. He states that Dreamers are safe despite their deportation by ICE. And he outrageously claims he knew nothing about Wikileaks, and yet there’s this:

And there is his inability to move past the campaign: coveting the rallies and his base, throwing shade at his predecessor President Obama, criticizing Hillary Clinton and demeaning the Democrats. He is still dividing the United States into hostile camps and friendly territory. For Donald Trump, it’s all about who shows him love versus who levels criticism.

But mostly, you hear the President of the United States rambling in broken sentences, half-finished ideas, elliptical thought patterns and outright gibberish. His vocabulary deficit is demonstrated by the repetitive use of fifth-grade superlatives (very, very very, great). I counted at least 65 of these childish adjectives. Then there are the vague mumblings, indicated as “unintelligible” in the transcript. The President of the United States was unintelligible sixteen times in an interview that will be broadcast and disseminated internationally. And that tally doesn’t included the blocks of speech that simply make no sense. Like this:

TRUMP: It could be an increase, then an increase. But not many more. I want to do the job, but not many more. … This is an important story. I’ve done a lot. I’ve done more than any other president in the first 100 days and I think the first 100 days is an artificial barrier. And I’m scheduled … the foundations have been set to do some great things. With foreign countries. Look at, look at President Xi. I mean …

Donald Trump is temperamentally unfit to be President of the United States. Hillary Clinton was right.

The buffoon in the White House should follow the lead of Ted Cruz and read fairy tales to pre-K children. Who knows – they might applaud. And that would please him. Bigly.

 

The Terrifying Possibilities of the Presidential Pardon Power

Five days after Donald J. Trump won the electoral college vote, an attorney made a prediction.

Robert Kelner recorded that forecast. He now represents Lt. General Michael Flynn, the retired Army general, former Defense Intelligence Agency director under Obama and recently fired head of the National Security Agency under Trump.

Three months after Kelner made his projection, Flynn was outed for secret talks with Russian Ambassador Kislyak, exposed in his botched cover-up of those chats, and placed under investigation by the Army for possibly violating the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution. The general was accused of lying to VP Pence, accepting cash from the Russian government, violating protocol by negotiating with an adversary during Obama’s administration, and endangering national security as a blackmail risk.

But let’s return to that Kelner tweet and the many questions surfacing after-the-fact.

In the history of presidential pardons, there are few that fit a “novel and unusual” profile. The one that stands out is Ford’s pardon of Nixon in 1974 following the Watergate scandal. Nixon resigned before he was impeached and was not charged with a crime. Nonetheless, Ford took the extraordinary step of issuing a “full, free and absolute pardon… for all offenses against the United States which he, Richard Nixon, has committed or may have committed or taken part in…”

The situation today is similar but not the same. To duplicate Ford’s pardon, it would be Pence (not Trump) issuing the order. Thus, Kesler’s prediction would be off the mark in this instance.

What is possible is frightening. Trump could pardon attorney Kelser’s client even if Flynn is not charged with or convicted of an offense. This would equate to Ford’s forgiveness of Nixon. For that matter, Trump could issue all-encompassing pardons for anyone embroiled in the Russiagate scandal – with qualifications.

The pardon privilege granted to the president is sanctioned in Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution:

The President…shall have the power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.

The president can only forgive federal offenses, including violations of civil and criminal laws. The second qualifier is that impeachment cases are excluded from the privilege.

Therefore, if Trump followed Ford’s precedent, he conceivably would have the power to forgive federal violations against Flynn, Paul Manafort and Carter Page. He could pardon VP Pence, Jared Kushner, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, Rep. Devin Nunes, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell  – literally anyone caught up in the ongoing investigations of Russian collusion – even before they are charged with a crime. The two exceptions: these individuals cannot be impeached and Trump cannot issue pardons if he is impeached.

This scenario is indeed “novel and unusual”. The possibility exists that Trump and friends could wreak unimaginable damage to this country, knowing they have a get-out-of-jail-free card and a GOP-controlled House that shows no compunction to bring about the impeachment process.

The ramifications are terrifying.

WHO’S YOUR DADDY? Why Trump Should Fear Ryan.

Donald Trump is too arrogant and too politically naive to recognize many things about his position as the 45th president. However, one reality is clear: his political life is in the hands of Paul Ryan.

This reality is not due to any particular strength of Paul Ryan. It derives from the powers of the Speaker of the House, and Ryan’s decisions in that role. The reality is especially potent with a President under examination for what appears to be collusion with the Russian president.

One fact immediately stands out. The House Speaker is solely responsible for launching impeachment proceedings against a President.

As the third most powerful figure in elected politics, Paul Ryan can make or break this President. He appoints the chair of all select committees and conferences, including the House Intelligence committee now investigating the Trump-Russia connection. It is Ryan who will decide whether to keep Devin Nunes, who is under pressure to recuse himself for his partisan protection of the President. Ryan’s power here is significant. Should he decide to let Nunes go and replace him with a member with no love or loyalty to the 45th, then Trump’s fate becomes a fragile thing.

Ryan’s choice of Nunes, a former member of the Trump transition team, is both partisan and protective. Trump owes his continued office to Paul Ryan, and his pick of Nunes. However, should the popularity of 45 continue in its downward spiral, and public opposition continue in its loud, upward climb, Ryan may break that crucial tie of loyalty.

GOP Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, representing Florida’s 27th District.

If Ryan chooses to oust Nunes as committee head, and replace him with say, Florida’s Ileana Ros-Lehtinen then it’s the beginning of the end for the House of Trump. The Miami-based Representative falls in with the moderate arm of the Republican House, and does not hesitate to break with the party line. She voiced public opposition to the recently failed health care bill, and in 2013, she criticized her party’s government shutdown as political posturing. Ros-Lehtinen, born in Cuba, is a longtime critic of the dictatorship in Venezuela. And, she has no connection to the Trump team. Her ideology would make her a House Intel leader unafraid to pursue the depths of the Trump-Russia connection and incipient authoritarianism.

The House Intel committee is not the vehicle to displace the President. That will be the Judiciary committee, which decides whether there are grounds for a vote on impeachment. Again, Paul Ryan is the man who plays a key role. He designates the chair of the Judiciary committee, and if he has allowed the Intelligence committee full rein, then it is likely there will be sufficient evidence to sway that body. It is then up to the full House to vote on impeachment. Once that is a fait accompli, it goes to the Senate for trial and conviction (or acquittal).

Here is a good place to remind readers that should Trump be removed from office, Ryan would be a strong contender for the office of Vice President, an office appointed by the new president, Pence. Political ambition is a powerful force for anyone in D.C. and the Speaker is no exception. That motivation would also apply to GOP members whose political standing (and future) is stained by the current President. Suffice it to say, the Republicans will abide Trump until he becomes the proverbial albatross around their necks.

But Trump is already creating a divide. In reaction to the healthcare bill failure, he pointed the finger at the GOP’s House Freedom caucus, the moderate Tuesday group and the Democrats. In other words, this dark horse President is limping out of the gate in last place, and blaming everyone else for his loss. Political capital has been squandered. Bridges have been undermined. Trump talks big about “loyalty” yet he managed to alienate significant voting blocs with his blame game, including a pointed threat to Paul Ryan vis-a-vis FOX’s Judge Jeanine who called for Ryan’s resignation.

Trump may or may not recognize that Ryan is the key to his future. Regardless, threats and accusations do not endear Trump to the policy wonk guy who controls the body that acts on impeachment. And for those who doubt Ryan’s ability to marshal his majority caucus, one reality must be kept in focus – the 2018 midterms. Strategizing is well underway. When it becomes clear that Trump is spoiling their chances for re-election, then careers will trump ideology.

The Speaker of the House is also responsible for setting the legislative agenda. It is significant that in preparing the healthcare bill, Ryan originally wrote it to appease the moderates rather than the extremists. The deal-breaking additions were added to mollify the right wingers of his party. This sequence has been attacked by Trump allies. Yet, Ryan’s preference and appeal to the calmer influences may be a harbinger of things to come. And that does not bode well for Trump, who is definitely not perceived as a centrist by his fan base. Tax reform, the next legislative item on the agenda, could break out as another failure for Trump.

We can only surmise whether Paul Ryan will sabotage Trump’s campaign promises through bills that die on the House Floor. However, he is the policy wonk. He is the insider, and he knows exactly what he is doing. Should Trump’s image of “deal maker” become nothing more than empty boasts, then 45 loses the support of the voters. And that is his last leg of support. When that occurs, it will be time to move in for the kill.

Keep your eye on the guy who professed not to want the Speaker’s position.