Opinion: Nixon gives Trump an exit strategy
How does Donald Trump avoid a criminal conviction and possible prison time when he is no longer President?
There are two possible paths for him to follow. He could hope he is re-elected in 2020 and the statute of limitations on what appears to be his crime will have run its course by 2022.
The crime, as outlined in a sentencing memo from federal prosecutors in the Michael Cohen case, is an election violation as candidate Trump ordered Cohen to make hush money payments to two women in order to conceal Trump’s extra marital affairs before the 2016 election.
Cohen himself has admitted that he made the payments as directed by “Individual 1” — Trump. This is a crime.
But Trump will likely not be indicted as he is a sitting President, yet he could be named as an un-indicted co-conspirator as Richard Nixon was in 1974.
Waiting until the statute of limitations on hush money payments runs out in 2022 is a very, very big risk: Trump will have to assume he will be successful in getting re-elected in 2020.
While like many Vermonters, I never though Trump would be elected in 2016, I am somewhat more encouraged that his 2020 re-election will be more doubtful now, after the four years of turmoil he has put the country through.
So, Trump might look at history and choose a second path — the path travelled down by Richard Nixon.
I witnessed first-hand Nixon’s resignation as a young legislative assistant for Sen. George D. Aiken, R-Vt.
In those days, Aiken had been opposed to Nixon’s resignation for high crimes arguing that it would be better if he was impeached and removed from office by a vote in the Senate.
But Aiken’s position collapsed when the U. S. Supreme Court in July 1974, by a unanimous vote, ordered Nixon to release tapes that the former President has been refusing to turn over. These tapes were the “smoking gun” and proved that Nixon had personally ordered the cover-up of the facts of the illegal break-in at the Watergate offices of the Democratic National Committee. In an effort to cover up the crime, Nixon attempted to get the CIA to put pressure on the FBI to shut down the Watergate investigation, as well as stymy the work of the Senate’s Watergate Committee.
With that ruling by the high court, Nixon’s political support in the Congress, including that of the Republican Party, evaporated. Resignation became the only course of action.
Aiken told Nixon directly that he had to resign. It came on Aug. 8, 1974, as Nixon addressed the nation to announce his decision to resign.
The next day he left Washington and Vice President Gerald R. Ford was sworn in as President. A month later, President Ford issued full and unconditional pardon for any crimes Nixon committed against the United States while he was President.
Even Nixon never publicly entertained, as far I remember, any notion that he could pardon himself as Trump has now done.
So, here’s my prediction based on the lessons of history.
At some point between now, and well before noon on Jan. 20, 2021, when Trump’s term expires, he will finally capitulate and resign. This will be especially true if he should not be re-elected in 2020, should he last that long before resigning.
Once he resigns, Vice President Pence becomes President and then issues Donald Trump, and perhaps some of his family members, a full and unconditional pardon for their crimes.
Will we like this outcome? Some of us will and we will remember once again President Ford’s memorable statement on Sept. 8, 1974: “Our long national nightmare is over.”
We will also remember that when Gerald Ford ran for election as President in 1976, he lost to Democratic Gov. Jimmy Carter of Georgia.
This week’s writer is Stephen C. Terry, a Middlebury resident who worked for U.S. Sen. George Aiken from 1969 to 1975. He currently is writing a book on Sen. Aiken and Vietnam.
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