There was no shortage of striking developments overnight in the Trump-Russia scandal, but perhaps the most important was the Washington Post's reporting that Donald Trump and his lawyers have had conversations about "the president's authority to grant pardons."
Trump has asked his advisers about his power to pardon aides, family members and even himself in connection with the probe, according to one of those people. A second person said Trump's lawyers have been discussing the president's pardoning powers among themselves.Trump's legal team declined to comment on the issue. But one adviser said the president has simply expressed a curiosity in understanding the reach of his pardoning authority....
Ah, yes, our "curious" president. Trump hasn't decided to start handing out pardons like candy on Halloween; he's just interested in learning more about whether he could -- you know, in case the circumstances should arise.
The same article added that the president was "especially disturbed" after learning that Special Counsel Bob Mueller "would be able to access several years of his tax returns."
It's almost as if Trump has something to hide.
Also overnight, the New York Times reported that the president's team has begun "scouring the professional and political backgrounds" of members of Mueller's team, "looking for conflicts of interest they could use to discredit the investigation -- or even build a case to fire Mr. Mueller or get some members of his team recused."
With both of these articles in mind, the prospect of a genuine political crisis is becoming increasingly real. Congressional Republicans, who've largely been willing to look the other way in response to the scandal, need to start preparing themselves for the possibility of a president not only waging a political war against the special counsel and his investigation, but also issuing highly provocative pardons to derail an ongoing federal investigation.
If GOP officials were to respond to such developments with a collective shrug, the impact on our system of government would be incalculable.
In the meantime, the presidential legal team weighing these issues is facing volatility of its own. Mark Corallo, the spokesperson for Trump's outside lawyers, resigned yesterday after just two months on the job. Politico reported that he'd "grown frustrated with the operation and the warring factions and lawyers," and was "concerned about whether he was being told the truth about various matters."
And in case that weren't quite enough, Marc Kasowitz, the controversial head of Trump's outside legal team, has reportedly been demoted, following a difficult tenure. Defense lawyer John Dowd will reportedly replace him as the lead counsel, with Jay Sekulow, a lawyer for the religious-right movement, serving as Dowd's deputy.