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Editorial: The Clock’S Running On This Polarising President

With the month of June just around the corner, American electoral politics is beginning to heat up along with the weather. While there have already been some very expensive and highly newsworthy bi-elections and early primary votes in a few states, the most meaningful phase of the 2018 congressional election season is just beginning.

For many months, commentators have wondered how much more of Donald Trump the American voter can really stomach. We won’t know until November, of course, and the signs have been confusing. Those who have confidently predicted that an administration so corrupt, dysfunctional, incompetent and different as is Trump’s could not prevail have been knocked back by Trump’s slowly growing poll popularity numbers.

But there is another side to those numbers. Democrats are registering new voters much more successfully than Republicans, and large numbers of political newcomers, including many women, are enrolling to compete in primary elections across the country. It has been reported that a majority of these hopefuls seem likely to fail in contests against entrenched, mostly Republican, incumbents. Still, observers who despise Trump note that no one really thought Trump could win the election 18 months ago, so maybe most of what we thought was political orthodoxy is out the window anyway.

In any case, nearly half a year separates the American voter from answers to the many questions raised by this amazingly polarising president.

One of the most perplexing and significant of those questions concerns the one-year-old Robert Mueller investigation into Russian election meddling and the Trump campaign, the obvious beneficiary of that meddling. More and more people are wondering if the Mueller probe will somehow lead to the impeachment and conviction of Trump in the Congress, or will Mueller actually indict Trump and cause him to tried and convicted in a court of law and thus removed from office?

Millions of Americans increasingly feel Trump and what he has enabled have begun to undermine American democracy. They want him gone and look to the Mueller investigation to set in motion his departure from the White House. But is this even realistic?

In the United States, the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel is charged with interpreting the law. Its interpretations are binding on the executive branch of the American government, including the White House. Robert Mueller, appointed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, is also bound by this executive branch interpretation.

The Office of Legal Counsel has twice issued opinions that sitting presidents are immune from prosecution. According to these opinions, criminal proceedings against an incumbent president may only go forward after the president has already left or been removed from office.

Is that the last word? Not in this era of Trump. According to the New York Times, “nothing in the Constitution or federal statutes says presidents cannot be indicted while in office, and no court has ever ruled that (presidents) enjoy immunity from prosecution.”

Is there a lesson from history? In the Watergate scandal 45 years ago and the impeachment of Bill Clinton 20 years ago, special counsels left to Congress the question of what to do with the evident misconduct of the chief executive.

Now, even loudmouth Rudy Giuliani, the once admirable New York City mayor who has now morphed into just another aggravating voice in the present cacophony, has basically confirmed that Mueller won’t indict Trump.

Assuming that Giuliani is correct, the matter of removing Trump falls to Congress. This, surprisingly, is bad news for both American political parties. Republicans running for office in November face the reality of Trump and his profound lack of appeal to many voters. They may be judged on their loyalty to this president.

The Democratic left is braying for impeachment. But Jerrold Nadler, a constitutional lawyer and the putative chair of a Democratic majority House Judiciary Committee, has said there would have to be “overwhelming” evidence of misdeeds or an impeachment effort “would tear the country apart”.

So there appear to be two possibilities. One is that Mueller presents so much overwhelming evidence that impeachment or resignation become inevitable. The other is the US and the world will have to deal with Trump for another 30 months at least.

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