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Newsletter: A frighteningly simple reason for Trump’s lawlessness

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020. Let’s take a look back at the week in Opinion.

It’s fair to say that the consistent theme of Donald Trump’s presidency has been lawlessness, so I have to get far more specific introducing the lead topic of this newsletter than simply saying, “This week, we’ll kick things off with a discussion of the lawlessness of this administration.” That would be a strong enough cue to readers that a major scandal was under way if we were in the presidency of Barack Obama or George W. Bush, but with Trump, it’s just more of the same.

But the banality of Trump’s flagrant maladministration does not make it any less galling, especially when the acts in question are perhaps the most quintessentially lawless of his presidency. This week, he handed out 11 grants of clemency to various white-collar criminals, including the former Democratic governor of Illinois who tried to sell the Senate seat that had been vacated by Obama in 2008. Astute observers have suggested that Trump is signaling his willingness to pardon his recently sentenced former political advisor Roger Stone, but in an op-ed article, Joel Stein suggests a far simpler and more sinister possibility: The president thinks Blagojevich and the 10 others simply did nothing wrong:

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“Trump believes these men did what everyone else does. They just got caught. Sure, they broke the law, but everyone speeds. Everyone leaves the cash they were paid off their tax forms. Everyone tells a children’s hospital that funding will be cut off if their CEO doesn’t contribute $50,000 to his campaign, which is what Blagojevich did. Everyone would try to get some cash if they got to appoint a senator after Barack Obama left his seat to become president, which is what Blagojevich tried to do.

“Selling political appointments, Trump is certain, happens all the time. He first floated the idea of commuting Blagojevich’s prison term in 2018, when he told reporters ‘plenty of other politicians have said a lot worse.’ He was speaking of FBI recordings in which Blagojevich said Obama’s Senate seat was ‘a f— valuable thing. You just don’t give it away for nothing.’”

Which white-collar criminals are next for Trump? This isn’t the first time the president has perverted his pardon power, notes the L.A. Times Editorial Board, but these particular acts of unwarranted mercy raise a troubling possibility: that Trump will pardon or grant clemency to his former campaign associates Stone and Paul Manafort. Readers mostly object to Trump’s mass clemency, but one reader employs the not-exactly-novel defense of “Bill Clinton did it too.”

“The impeachment trial of President Trump has ended, but the threat to our democracy continues.” There are better ways to instill hope than by beginning an op-ed article thus, but Rep. Adam Schiff’s full piece on the reforms proposed in Congress to maintain checks and balances is worth a read. Among the proposals mentioned: a bill to require the logging and disclosure of contacts between the Department of Justice and the White House, and Schiff’s own legislation to create oversight of the president’s pardon power. L.A. Times

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Flying a helicopter in fog is really difficult, a fact of aviation buttressed by the tragic helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant last month. Perhaps most disturbing is how, well, understandably human one probable cause of the accident is: The pilot, trained to fly with his instruments, simply became disoriented without the ground or horizon as reference points. “Most instrument pilots have experienced it at one time or another, often in the form of ‘the leans’ — a sensation of being tilted rather than upright,” writes aviator Peter Garrison. “It can be triggered by something as simple as a rapid head movement. It can be mild or dizzyingly violent.” L.A. Times

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Michael Bloomberg wasn’t ready for his first Democratic debate and fortunately for him, a bunch of other candidates weren’t ready for their ninth. The former New York mayor was only one of several candidates who had cringe-worthy moments in the Feb. 19 debate in Las Vegas. Amy Klobuchar came under aggressive questioning for her momentary failure to name the president of Mexico, something Pete Buttigieg seized on; both came across as petty and ill-tempered. As for Joe Biden, his answers amplified his inarticulateness, although he might come across better to people reading a transcript of his remarks. L.A. Times

Voting begins today at some vote center locations in California, and we’ve got endorsements. A list of the editorial board’s recommendations for judicial candidates can be found here; for the picks in Los Angeles Unified School District board races, go here. Other endorsements include Kathryn Barger, Janice Hahn and Holly Mitchell for the L.A. County Board of Supervisors; George Gascón for district attorney; Christy Smith for Congress; Kevin de León, Mark Ridley-Thomas, Loraine Lundquist, David Ryu, Paul Krekorian, Nury Martinez and Marqueece Harris-Dawson for L.A. City Council; yes on Proposition 13; and yes on L.A. County Measure FD and Measure R. A full list of our endorsements so far can be found at latimes.com/endorsements.

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As always, you can share your feedback by emailing me at paul.thornton@latimes.com.


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