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The Globe and Mail

Think Mueller will topple Trump? Think again

Here in Powertown, which voted over 90 per cent Democratic in the last election, the buzz once again is all about special counsel Robert Mueller having U.S. President Donald Trump in his cross-hairs. There is much excitement over the guilty plea from former national security adviser Michael Flynn who may now be ratting on the President, assuming he has much to rat on.

Many now feel it's just a matter of time before Mr. Trump himself is ensnared. More likely, it's a matter of never.

It won't be the fault of top sleuth Mueller. He has assembled a crackerjack investigating team which is scrupulously examining every lead. No stone unturned, as they say. This isn't Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden.

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But in all likelihood, no matter what the inquiry turns up, it is not going to stand. Mr. Trump has too many escape valves at his disposal. He can claim legal immunity, he can use presidential pardons, he can discredit or shut down the inquiry.

Laws on presidential wrongdoing are blurry, subject to varying interpretations. We just got a sample when Trump lawyer John Dowd went so far as to declare that the President has the right to obstruct justice. This is so "because he is the chief law enforcement officer" and "has every right to express his view of any case."

The statement brought to mind a pronouncement by Richard Nixon in a 1977 interview with David Frost: "Well, when the president does it, that means it is not illegal."

The Dowd claim came in the wake of a Trump tweet saying Mr. Flynn was fired because he lied to the FBI and the vice-president. That prompted all kinds of consternation. If the President knew Mr. Flynn had lied to the FBI, did he not then obstruct justice by asking then-FBI director James Comey to go easy on Mr. Flynn and by subsequently firing Mr. Comey? Running White House cover, Mr. Dowd avowed that he was responsible for the Trump tweet and that it gave the wrong impression.

Legal experts are all over the map on the Dowd claim about presidential prerogative. Celebrated criminal lawyer Alan Dershowitz says Mr. Trump does indeed have such powers. But Mr. Trump's own Attorney-General Jeff Sessions appears to believe otherwise. As a senator, he fought hard to bring down Bill Clinton on obstruction of justice charges in the Monica Lewinsky affair.

There's also a legal haze over the question of whether Mr. Trump could pardon himself of any charges brought against him by the Mueller inquiry. The Constitution allows pardons, though not in cases of impeachment. All sorts of complications could arise if Mr. Trump pardoned himself before any impeachment process could take place.

Yet another way out for Mr. Trump is to discredit the Mueller inquiry or, as has been often speculated, go so far as to close it down on the grounds that it is biased. Mr. Trump appears to be laying the groundwork for such possibilities. In an extraordinary weekend outburst, he tweeted that the FBI's reputation for fairness was "in tatters," that its standing was now the "worst in history."

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While the claim is hogwash, it doesn't matter. Mr. Trump's base of supporters appears to believe any and all bunk he chooses to deliver. No one should make the assumption that, as in the past, facts matter. What Americans believe seems to be determined more by partisanship and political tribalism than by empirical evidence. The bloviating Mr. Trump knows he can get away with creating alternative realities.

That he will have to go to extremes presupposes that the Mueller inquiry will find him guilty of grave misdeeds in the first place. That's far from certain. There's a good chance some evidence of collusion with the Russians will be found. But whether Mr. Trump can be tied directly to it is a dubious proposition, as is the notion that the findings will be serious enough to merit impeachment proceedings.

Impeachment is a political process, requiring passage in the House of Representatives and a two-thirds vote in the Senate. Republicans currently hold a majority in each House, making a successful impeachment vote very unlikely.

But it won't even come to such a vote. Against potential charges stemming from the Mueller inquiry, Mr. Trump has more wiggle room than a dance hall. The only way to get rid of him will be through the ballot box.

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