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Interesting Timing

Hard not to notice that within the last 48 hours the President appears to be making a final break with Paul Manafort, now claiming the FBI should have warned him that Manafort was dirty and maybe in league with Russia or pro-Russian forces in Ukraine. (He’s hinted at similar logics before but never been quite this explicit about it.) He is also aggressively claiming an absolute right to pardon himself. Not only are these not the actions of an innocent man. They aren’t the actions of anyone who isn’t seeing their legal jeopardy rapidly increasing. It will be fascinating – in the future – to understand what developments were occurring in the background that made sense of these actions.

The Lawless Presidency

President Trump is up this morning with the audacious claim that he has an absolute power to pardon himself and that all legal scholars agree this is so. Needless to say there’s zero consensus on this point. It’s more of a conceptual black box. It’s not immediately clear what specific constitutional or historical fact would preclude a self-pardon. But I think I’m on safe ground asserting that most legal scholars would agree that this is clearly not the intended use of the power. Indeed, it puts the entire constitutional framework on its head. Below I note a column by Douglas Kmiec in which he notes that the same DOJ opinion which says a sitting President shouldn’t be indicted notes that a self-pardon is similarly a contradiction in terms.) But set that aside, because it’s preposterous that such a thing would even be considered. More salient is the question of whether a sitting President can even be indicted – which precedes the question of a pardon.

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Give This a Read

Very interesting piece by our Investigations Desk reporter Tierney Sneed. The Special Counsel’s office does not leak and they’ve been famously good at keeping major components of their investigation totally under wraps. But in this piece, Tierney pulls together a series of hints and references in different court filings and arguments which seem to point to separate, on-going investigation into Manafort which is not connected to the various money laundering, bank fraud and failure to register charges he’s currently facing. Check it out here.

D'Souza, the Pardon Power and the Question of Norms

The issue of presidential pardons raises an important issue with “norms”. I have written many times over the years that Presidents don’t use the pardon power nearly enough. The pardon power is archaic and in some ways hard to reconcile with our modern concepts of justice and judicial process. But mercy is an important element of justice. Indeed, without a role for mercy there can be no justice. There are many people rotting in prison who shouldn’t be there, even if they were guilty of the crimes for which they were convicted. In the past, the pardon was used sometimes for reasons as simple as managing prison over crowding. Sentences do not need to be sacrosanct. The pardon power is a tool to cut through the harsh indifference of criminal law and right wrongs.

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Let's Remember What Dinesh D'Souza Did

There are people who get convicted of campaign finance violations who you can make a decent case got a raw deal, even if you think campaign finance law is an important democratic safeguard. Here at TPM, we covered a case like that closely: the prosecution of former Alabama governor Don Siegelman, a Democrat who was targeted by Karl Rove and some powerful state Republicans.

Dinesh D’Souza, who President Trump pardoned today, saying he was “treated very unfairly,” definitely doesn’t fall into that category. As Tierney Sneed explains, D’Souza knowingly had his mistress and his assistant make $10,000 contributions to a GOP candidate, with the understanding that he’d pay them back – a clear scheme to get around individual contribution limits. The mistress even told her husband, in a conversation he recorded, that D’Souza had told her that if caught, he planned to eventually plead guilty, though not before first trying to “get his story out there.” That “story,” it seemed, was that he had been targeted by the Justice Department because of his (unhinged and racist) attacks on President Obama – a claim the judge in the case called “nonsense.”

The D'Souza Pardon

The D’Souza pardon affirms a basic point: the heart of Trumpism is not any policy but performative cruelty, inflicting maximum harm on those outside the tribal fold, and extending the benefits of power and the powers of state for those inside the fold. D’Souza is a loyalist so he gets rewarded with the prerogative power at the President’s discretion. The rationale isn’t legal. It is not in spite of but because of D’Souza’s racism and aggression. It is as simple as that.

Watch This One Very Closely

TPM’s Cameron Joseph is spending the week in California (mostly in Orange County) where the state’s unusual jungle primary is severely complicating the strategies for both parties as they battle over a handful of seats that are prime Democratic pickup opportunities. Those dicey, cross-cutting strategic calculations are most glaring in Rep. Dana Rohrabacher’s district, which has made strange bedfellows of the right-wing Russophile seeking his 16th term and national Democrats, as they both try to keep a second Republican out of the runoff. Great exploration of that race in Cam’s report this morning.

This Sounds Right

As you could probably tell if you read my morning item on Gene Freidman and Michael Cohen, I was struggling to figure out how the Michael Cohen raids were related to the much sweeter deal New York State prosecutors offered “Taxi King” Gene Freidman after April 9th. I think TPM Reader JO’s explanation makes perfect sense. In fact, it makes so much sense I’m really kicking myself for not figuring it out myself. But you can’t win ’em all.

From TPM Reader JO

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A Sea Change

This is a fascinating story from The Forward. Israeli has a new quasi-ministry called The Ministry for Strategic Affairs. It calls itself a “start-up” ministry and seems mainly focused on anti-BDS efforts, with at least some in Israel itself seeing it as a kind of rightist or pro-occupation political operation. But this story is about the fact that the ministry approached a number of top establishment Jewish groups in the US offering to fund anti-BDS efforts. Most or apparently all the groups turned down the money, though fundraising is of course a big deal for all these operations. The most immediate concern was that they would have to register as foreign agents under FARA – the law that’s gotten various Trumpers in hot water.

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