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Despite Donald Trump's use of 'executive privilege' to stop unredacted Mueller report, climbing US economy may firewall threats in 2020

It's hitting 75°F in Washington, and not just on the streets. Even as people perspire their way to work, tempers in Congress and elsewhere are flaring as a seemingly endless chapter of revelations on Trump's alleged misdemeanours continues. The New York Times ran a damaging story about the president which showed him to have rather conveniently suffered $1 billion in losses in his businesses over the last ten years. That seemed to point to tax evasions and dubious business practises.

 Despite Donald Trumps use of executive privilege to stop unredacted Mueller report, climbing US economy may firewall threats in 2020

File photo of US president Donald Trump. Reuters

At another time, that could have brought down a president. But #RealDonaldTrump was anything but fazed. His tweet simply admitted — what everyone knows — that real estate developers 30 years ago were entitled to write off’s and such like, in a practise which was tantamount to tax shelters. In other words, entirely legal, but certainly not anything like a suit in shining armour.

The story ran in banner headlines and was the subject of news channels across the board. The story itself will probably not harm the president’s chances of re-election. Indeed, it might even improve it. Remember that his constituency includes businessmen enthusiastic about this tax cuts, and whites over 50, who will see this as smart footwork and sassiness in an already unusual president.

The Congress, however, is not amused, especially since the president seemed to block Special Counsel Robert Mueller from testifying before it. The so-called Mueller report, which was tabled in a highly redacted form in Congress, earlier exonerated the president from charges that members of his campaign “Conspired or coordinated” with the Russian government in its election interference activities”. What it did not do however is exonerate the White House from charges of obstruction. To quote it said, “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” Trump chose to interpret that as a statement of complete innocence. It was not.

The Mueller report served to Congress through Attorney General William Barr in a highly concise fashion however threatened to come to a boiling point when the president used “executive privilege” to prevent the unredacted report and other materials subpoenaed by the House Judiciary Committee from reaching Congress in an exercise that has been called a "blanket defiance"  of Congress’ constitutional rights. That play by the White House is rather similar to Nixon’s manoeuvres on Watergate. But here’s the trouble. Executive privilege only covers confidential conversations between the president and his advisors. The Mueller report concentrates almost entirely — barring the obstruction issue — on events that occurred during the phase of elections. That is before he ever became president. Whether this is legal would need to be decided eventually by the Supreme Court. In most countries, that’s a big ‘if’.

The high drama was captured by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who had no hesitation in calling it a constitutional crisis. But when asked by media whether Congress was considering impeachment, she merely remarked: “This is very methodical. It’s very Constitution-based, it’s very law-based, it’s very factually based. It’s not about pressure — it’s about patriotism.”

She went on to warn about the highly divisive exercise that was the prelude to impeachment, and that the country had witnessed in pressurizing president Richard Nixon to resign. Those with a memory of those years are inclined to agree. Impeaching a president is no easy task. It's one that requires the meticulous gathering of evidence, and more importantly, presenting it before the American people. Such an exercise could easily end up burning the fingers of the party or persons initiating the probe. Pelosi summed up the situation in one stringent remark. Every day in every way, Trump was goading the House into impeachment. That’s not surprising.

Take a look at the US economy. As the White House pointed out approval ratings on the economic performance of the government have climbed with 56 percent of those polled giving him a thumbs up. Certainly, the US economy has been growing steadily since Trump took over. It’s a different issue that this rise was also seen in the last two years of the Obama administration. It may be that Trump is reaping what Obama sowed.

However, as reports note, a fiscal stimulus and a regulatory rollback during his tenure have helped continued growth, with no recession in sight. True, there are many who predict that the tariff war with China — and others — will hurt the US in the end. But that’s yet to come. And the ‘yet to come’ doesn’t influence voters. Meanwhile, the president is using all of these issues to appeal to his supporters. In Florida, he squarely blamed House Democrats for refusing to give disaster relief following the devastating hurricane. If the size of the crowds were any indicator, the president has this sensitive state within his grasp. His consistent theme has been ‘make America great again’ if only Congress would let him.

Meanwhile with about 22 men and women aspiring to enter the presidential race in 2020 — one of the largest presidential fields yet — things can only get more interesting. Four of those 22 are in their 70s – Trump himself, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. Age doesn’t seem to be a limiting criterion here, which is another thing that India shares with the US when electing its heads of government. We generally like them to be old. That’s not all. Indian politicians fume in Hindi or Tamil or particularly loudly in Bengali. In the US, it’s an all American twang. The content is not that different. If anything, Trump’s jokes on his opponents are even less tasteful than those on a certain not so young opposition leader. Buck up though. India still has a little time to catch up.

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Updated Date: May 12, 2019 10:08:55 IST