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Trump’s Follies: Ethical? Legal? Impeachable?

18 May 2017

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.