Donald Trump wants to resign the Presidency; he just hasn’t figured out how to frame his exit. We know this because he’s told advisers as much (link). We also know this because he’s begun tweeting the kinds of things that he’s aware will erase the mid-conservative fringe of his support, thus driving his approval rating low enough for a nervous GOP to considering actually forcing him out ahead of punishing midterm elections. But resigning won’t magically get Trump off the legal hook.
Trump’s crimes, whether they be the financial crimes he committed before he got into politics, the collusion crimes he committed during the campaign, or the obstruction crimes he’s committed while in office, will not simply go away. The federal investigation into his crimes will continue if he leaves office, even if the particulars of who and how he’s being investigated might shift in accordance with him becoming a private citizen again. So will the State of New York investigation. The only thing that’ll change if he quits is that the jurisdiction of prosecution will shift from the Republican Congress to the nonpartisan court system.
Some pessimists are of the unshakable belief that if Mike Pence become President, he’ll automatically pardon Donald Trump. But while Pence is many things, none of them good, he’s not earnest and he’s not an idiot. Pence learned what the rest of us did from Gerald Ford’s decision to pardon Richard Nixon, which is that it instantly destroyed Ford’s Presidency from the get-go. Pence is too selfish to sacrifice his own ambitions by pardoning Trump, whom he cares nothing about.
Even if Trump decided to try pardoning himself before leaving office, there’s no consensus as to whether that’s even Constitutional; the Supreme Court could overrule it. And the President can’t pardon himself from state crimes, only federal crimes. So no, Trump won’t be magically free of all charges, or even necessarily any charges, if he resigns.
Donald Trump may still have one weakening bargaining chip remaining. Most Americans are so eager for him to go away that he might try offering his resignation in exchange for immunity. But while that might have worked three months ago, he’s since gone on to commit such serious obstruction crimes that it’s difficult to see the Feds ever agreeing to such an arrangement. It’s not even clear that the Feds could even grant such a deal under the Constitution. And there’s no way the State of New York would let him off the hook.
To be clear, we’d be talking about unprecedented and largely Constitutionally uncharted territory. So not every detail of such a scenario is foreseeable. But all possible avenues in such an endeavor would ultimately lead him to at least partial failure. So if he wants to resign under the delusion that it’ll allow him to slip back into his old life with no remaining legal culpability, he’s welcome to try it and find out the hard way that nothing works that way.
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