Donald Trump is making a serious mistake. The FBI’s execution of a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago is, he apparently thinks, of great political benefit to him. Perhaps so—I am not one to judge politics.
But public reports also suggest that he may accelerate his re-election announcement in response to the search. Trump seems to think that running for president makes it less likely that he will be prosecuted by the Department of Justice. That’s wrong. The more Trump stays in the public sphere the more likely he is to be prosecuted.
Say what you will about the wisdom of President Gerald Ford’s September 1974 pardon of Richard Nixon, one thing is clear—it was part of an implicit bargain. In exchange for letting his predecessor go unpunished, Ford was purchasing social peace. Rightly or wrongly, he thought that the pardon would put an end to “our long national nightmare.” And that, in turn, was based on the assumption that Nixon would retreat to San Clemente, drop out of politics, and fade from public view.
Much the same can be said of Independent Counsel Robert Ray’s January 2001 decision not to bring criminal charges against Bill Clinton. It was a decision designed to put an end to public controversy and avoid the uncomfortable precedent of prosecuting a former president. Clinton, in turn, explicitly acknowledged his misconduct and implicitly agreed to step back from public life.
Neither man honored his implicit promise perfectly. Nixon went on to quietly offer advice to Ronald Reagan and sought to re-emerge as an “elder statesman.” Clinton went on to vigorously support his wife’s presidential candidacies in 2008 and 2016. But each accepted the core bargain: Let me off the hook and I will stay out of politics. I get freedom; America gets social peace. [Continue reading…]