Trump’s Follies: Ethical? Legal? Impeachable?

My Bereans colleague Mark Smith wrote a blog post the other day that has irritated some people and made others quite happy.  In this post, I hope to irritate both sides of the Donald Trump “crisis.”  By now, we have all read or heard about President Trump’s misdeeds, or alleged misdeeds, depending on your perspective: firing FBI Director James Comey, “giving” classified information to Russia, and lately, inviting Comey to the White House before he was fired and then pressing him to drop the Russian interference investigation and its associated investigation of fired National Security advisor General Flynn.  The pundits are all over the map on how to react to these actions and allegations.  Moreover, some of the information we have on the firing, the classified information and the supposed journal Comey kept in which he recorded the Trump conversation, was leaked to someone in some agency or the White House to news media (curiously, of course, only to anti-Trump media), who then published it as if all of it were true.

I see my task here to bring some balance to the discussion.  To begin, I will say that I do not love President Trump.  I don’t even like him.  He is by no stretch of the imagination a paragon of virtue—perhaps anti-virtue would be more accurate. I also don’t agree with all of his policy ideas, particularly his apparent protectionism.  Finally, I think he has made a few rather silly decisions, and tweeting is one of those.  But every person in the world from the fall to now has done something silly, and many something unethical, and many too even illegal.  I don’t say those are right.  But when it comes to President Trump, I believe we need to remember that our basic legal-cultural disposition is to presume each person accused of some unethical or illegal action as innocent until we bring sufficient evidence to show guilt.

President Trump may be guilty of abusing his authority with regard to James Comey.  But we have so little evidence that can help determine one way or the other at this point.  It seems we ought to reserve any judgment, even knowing the president’s predispositions beforehand.  All we know is that there is an alleged memo/journal entry somewhere, allegedly written by Comey and allegedly read by some of his staffers (?) or others (?), and allegedly detailing Trump’s attempt to influence Comey in some way to drop an investigation.  All of this is uncorroborated and comes from “unnamed” sources—hardly a reassuring case if you were a prosecutor.  Now of course there IS an independent counsel, whose job will be to get the facts, not to speculate.  I want him to succeed in that job, but I do not want to pre-judge the investigation.  Impeachment talk is way off.   The apocalypse has not arrived.

As to giving classified information to the Russians, first the president IS the ultimate determiner of what remains classified even after it was so-labeled by another agency.  In other words, when he gives it away that’s it.  He gets to decide whether he can or not, whether we like it or not.  Second, we don’t even know what was given.  One side claims it was sensitive information that might endanger real people embedded in ISIS.  The other says it was already known information and not sensitive at all.  Third, some also say it had come from Israel in the first place.  Fourth,it is just possible that the information (if given) was actually given in the nation’s best interest.  That sounds far-fetched.  But who knows?  None of us knows, though we will likely find out soon enough.  In the meantime, let’s not rush to judgment.

Last, why did President Trump fire Comey? After so many reasons advanced, by media and by even Trump himself, I don’t know.  A very good argument however can be made that Comey should have been fired long before he was (that is for another day).  And the president has the absolute authority to fire him.  Presidents fire officials all the time.  Yes, it is rare to fire an FBI director.  So what?  There almost has to be a second or third time at some point in history.  It happened to come during the presidency of a controversial president.  But we don’t all have to become dark conspiracy theorists about it.  Now to be fair, it is possible that the president’s real motive was, shall we say, not one we would embrace.  Again, that doesn’t make it wrong.  As I said, he alone has authority to remove those officers at his will and pleasure.

In conclusion, I am not defending President Trump, but nor am I condemning him.  This is not the time for either.  In the meantime, I wish we would at least try to see what good we can in this presidency—after all, we are “stuck” with it for the time being.  I see some positives—regulatory changes, the beginnings of health care reform, tax reform (hopefully), an excellent Supreme Court nominee, etc.  Even the worst person is there because God wanted him there, for His inscrutable reasons. We don’t have to agree with that authority, and in America, we can even engage in action to change authorities.  But to do so blindly would be a mistake.

20 thoughts on “Trump’s Follies: Ethical? Legal? Impeachable?”

  1. Thank you for the most logical assessment of the Trump situations because you can see that no one knows the facts and so many are quick to jump on him because of his personality and if he had the support of his party in Congress in both houses the agenda he has proposed would benefit our nation in many ways. Until the liberal media and Dem’s cease their attacks and lies our nation will suffer. He may not be the poster boy but neither was Obama and unfortunately the Bereans did not blog half as much about how he was destroying our nation and setting up the divisions we are experiencing in our nation. Trump is our President and we need to show respect to the office even if the person is not what or who we wanted. Glad you posted your blog.

    1. “unfortunately the Bereans did not blog half as much about how he was destroying our nation and setting up the divisions we are experiencing in our nation.”

      Really? Well, have to disagree there. Before the advent of Trump, there was a long string of Obama-critical posts from our Bereans.

  2. I agree with the overall point made in your article – we cannot make judgments without evidence. However, I also think Trump’s past troubled relationship with the truth makes him an easier target. The boy who cried “my inauguration crowd was bigger than Obama’s” is now experiencing the fact that lying about small things over and over again makes it harder for people to give you the benefit of the doubt when it really matters.

  3. “In conclusion, I am not defending President Trump, but nor am I condemning him. This is not the time for either. In the meantime, I wish we would at least try to see what good we can in this presidency—after all, we are “stuck” with it for the time being”

    The words I should have included in my comments on the other post. I do not desire to defend or condemn him, I just want him treated fairly, or in other words, doing the Christian thing and treat him like I would want to be treated in his place.

    And since I was pretty much the only one disagreeing with Dr. Smith on the other blog, I want to dispute right now the notion that his comments “irritated” me. They did not. I can disagree without being irritated. Even if I do not see everything exactly as he does (and alot we do see the same) I am very rarely irritated with Dr. Smith and most of the times I can remember being “irritated” with him was when he “killed” me in Call of Duty multiplayer years ago. 😉

  4. Ah, bringing “some balance to the discussion.” A dispassionate observer well above the fray, taking careful stock of the evidence with equanimity toward all.

    With respect, this strains all credulity. Your last paragraph to whit. Since God is sovereign and every human depraved, surely our civic/Christian duty is to reserve judgement & focus on the opportunistic “good” Trump’s accomplished instead of declaiming actions you “don’t say are right.” Huh?

    Seriously Dr. Clauson, is there any other context where you’d apply your theology that way? How often can you recall making broad theological arguments for postponing judgement on “not right” actions by President Obama? For fellow Christians whose souls are wearied by precisely such “pragmatic” moral equivocation on Trump, what in this line of reasoning gives any evidence that there even *is* a time when you’d see fit to condemn Trump or his actions?

    1. Methinks you are a bit too sarcastic. So, then, what is your position on this. Are you ready to accept whatever alleged “facts” have been reported? Before an actual investigation? I don’t know whether I would want you to be a judge or jury in any case I would be involved in.

      And if you go back to read all of the many blogs I have written, you will see I never accused former President Obama of anything without corroborated evidence, and only spoke to issues of a policy nature with which I disagreed. I did not address any alleged wrongdoing by Obama at all.

      I just made an asserted proposition of fact. Now please read all of my blogs to confirm it.

      1. Clear enough that neither of us minds sarcasm all that much. I’ll admit it’s a crude rhetorical tool at times, but it’s more communicative than feigned objectivity any day of the week.

        I’m perfectly willing to let Trump’s legal guilt/innocence be explored through appropriate channels. [Is *anybody* arguing against this?] What I’m not willing to do is to craft theological arguments to deflect scrutiny/critique from a self-incriminating and morally objectionable leader. Dr. Smith’s post seemed to understand this difference well enough. Yours conveniently leads with the former and devolves into the latter, while expecting your audience to accept them as one in the same.

        Naturally I’ve missed some of your posts along the way, but I do recall a lot of lament about a “fallen world in which individuals will inevitably make choices (and vote) to satisfy their own narrow agendas.” So when I watch you try to leverage depravity as an argument for pragmatic optimism, it seems reasonable to assume that there’s something going on besides theological wrangling or a fascination with “corroborated evidence.”

  5. “Last, why did President Trump fire Comey? After so many reasons advanced, by media and by even Trump himself, I don’t know.”

    What you are saying here is that you do not trust the president. He already said why he did it, and yet you claim not to know.

    And yet you say “In conclusion, I am not defending President Trump, but nor am I condemning him.”

    We have a president that you clearly do not trust, and yet you are staying on the fence, neither defending nor condemning him?!

    If you cannot trust him, that itself is condemnation. Why not just be honest already and come out with it?

    Oh, my, what mental gymnastics you as a clear partisan Republican have to undertake. Really, really sad.

    1. Next time Dr Clauson writes about something I’ll just ask you for the intended meaning/interpretation since you obviously can analyze his inner thoughts. It takes mental gymnastics to understand your thought process at times.

      1. Jeff isn’t performing mental gymnastics.

        Trump has made several statements, some public, some leaked private conversations, even the letter to Comey, all pointing the same direction.

        Given that, it’s just following through the logic, with one teaspoon of sarcasm to get to Jeff’s comment.

      2. Vader, I am not sure you are understanding what Mental Gymnast meant.

        He was not referring to Jeff’s logic on Trump. but to how Jeff is claiming to know Dr. Clauson’s inner thoughts and what Dr. Clauson is thinking.

        Jeff translated, and then declared his translation as truth, that Dr. Clauson’s comment meant Dr. Clauson doesn’t trust Trump. Actually, what Dr. Clauson said was that since so many differing reasons have been advanced for Comey’s firing by so many different sources we cannot know for sure yet which reason, or which combination of reasons, is correct. As far as using his statement to say he doesn’t trust Trump, the wording could be used to also argue Dr. Clauson doesn’t trust the media, or Comey, or anybody else who has made comments on the matter.

        When two people say different things, to say that “I don’t know yet which one is right” does not mean you are declaring distrust in either party but just that you do not have the information yet to determine which is right.

        What Jeff is doing is declaring “I don’t know” equals “I do not trust” and then forcing his definition of terms into Dr. Clauson’s argument so he can make it into something it is not so as to score political points against him and make more digs at him personally and Republicans in general. It would not be the first time he has done so and unfortunately will not be the last.

    2. For Ben H.
      What is wrong with so-called “theological arguments” in the conclusion of my post? As I have written in the past we do not live in a perfect world, and politics is not a perfect endeavor full of angels (as our own Founders knew well). We take people as they are, hoping they will be better. But we cannot be utopian. And therefore we cannot depend on perfectionism in politics (I am using that term in a technical sense).
      Having said that, there is simply no evidence that President Trump has done anything in his capacity as candidate or president that is illegal, much less unethical. That could change (as it could for any of us fallen creatures) upon further evidence.

      I am saying nothing about Trump’s personal life, which is apparently not pristine.

  6. Mental Gymnasist #2

    I am not reading Clauson’s thoughts. I am merely pointing out the implications of his words.

    1. I know you are not reading Dr. Clauson’s thoughts. But you act like you are. You WANT his words to imply what you said they imply but they do not. That is the point.

  7. “Methinks you are a bit too sarcastic. So, then, what is your position on this. Are you ready to accept whatever alleged “facts” have been reported?”

    These are the facts:

    Three months ago, Trump met with FBI Director James Comey and asked Comey to drop investigations of Michael Flynn and tell the public that Trump’s ties to Russia were not under investigation. At the same time Trump also repeatedly denounced the whole idea of an investigation in public statements and tweets.

    Two months ago, Comey informed Congress and the public that an ongoing investigation was now taking place.

    In April, Trump fired Comey. First he put out an implausible pretext for the firing, and then explained on national television to Lester Holt that he really fired Comey because he was frustrated about the Russia situation.

    Spin them anyway you want, just as long as they help your agenda as a Republican first. :-)

    1. Let me add one more fact to your list. No evidence of collusion between Trump or Russia has yet (and maybe never will be) found. Therefore, I would like a simple, honest yes or no answer to the following question:
      Have you ever considered the possibility that no evidence has been found because there is no evidence because it didn’t happen?

  8. “As to giving classified information to the Russians, first the president IS the ultimate determiner of what remains classified even after it was so-labeled by another agency. In other words, when he gives it away that’s it. He gets to decide whether he can or not, whether we like it or not. Second, we don’t even know what was given. One side claims it was sensitive information that might endanger real people embedded in ISIS. The other says it was already known information and not sensitive at all. Third, some also say it had come from Israel in the first place. Fourth,it is just possible that the information (if given) was actually given in the nation’s best interest. That sounds far-fetched. But who knows? None of us knows, though we will likely find out soon enough. In the meantime, let’s not rush to judgment.”

    Mark, I think we can say much more than this. You correctly point out that he is the ultimate classification authority, and regardless of what other people are saying, his national security advisor, who was in the meeting, has confirmed that nothing Mr. Trump said was related to the sources and methods used to gather the classified information:
    “The president and the foreign minister reviewed common threats from terrorist organizations to include threats to aviation,” said H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, who participated in the meeting. “At no time were any intelligence sources or methods discussed, and no military operations were disclosed that were not already known publicly.”

    1. Very true. So far, as regards the Trump-Lavrov meeting, as far as I am concerned, it’s a non-story. Just Trump doing his job working with another nation, as H.R. McMaster said, on common terror threats.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.