Gingrich’s Defense of a Self-Pardoning Administration: From Bad (12.19) to Much Worse (12.21)

On the Diane Rehm Show of 12.19.16, former Speaker of the House Gingrich offered that a Trump Administration could simply pardon its own advisors to remove those advisors’ unlawful conflicts of interest:

I think in the case of the president, he has a broad ability to organize the White House the way he wants to. He also has, frankly, the power of the pardon. I mean, it is a totally open power, and he could simply say look, I want them to be my advisors, I pardon them if anybody finds them to have behaved against the rules, period. And technically under the Constitution he has that level of authority.

An administration like this would be – not merely technically, but in fact – a lawless one (where law was used to negate the demands of the law).

Two days later, Gingrich repeated his assertion that a president could act this way (revealing it as a trial balloon of sorts, “I’m not saying he should. I’m not saying he will’):

The Constitution gives the president of the United States an extraordinarily wide grant of authority to use the power of the pardon. I’m not saying he should. I’m not saying he will. It also allows a president in a national security moment to say to somebody, “Go do X,” even if it’s technically against the law, and, “Here’s your pardon because I am ordering you as commander-in-chief to go do this.”

Under this reading of the Constitution, what couldn’t a commander-in-chief do, in the name of national security?  The answer is that there is nothing he could not do, or (affirmatively formulated) that he could do anything and thereafter pardon those responsible.

Note also the change in circumstances on which Gingrich grounds his remarks: on 12.19 he’s talking about conflicts of interest within an administration, but by 12.21 he’s discussing use of state power under a claim of national security. Perhaps Gingrich thinks the change in circumstances limits the scope of how a president might use the pardon power, but it fact his later example actually expands dramatically the power of the chief executive.

The 12.19 example’s use of pardons might involve wrongful but non-violent business conflicts; the 12.21 example’s use of pardons would exonerate the use of violent force (whether used abroad or domestically) of any possible magnitude against supposed national enemies.

Gingrich’s new second formulation is worse than his first: any location, any amount of force, thereafter subject to pardon by the president of the United States.

Vulnerability of a Restaurant Culture

Whitewater’s publicly-driven marketing may not have amounted to much, these last ten years, but there are few better advertisements for Whitewater than thriving restaurants and taverns. Good restaurants, doing well, are a sign of a successful community.

Some of Whitewater’s newest restaurants also reflect a sensibility that’s significantly more contemporary than older ones that lingered and shuffled along in town for the last generation. Newcomers to the city, especially successful and discerning ones, will notice today good choices that did not exist a decade ago.

One could talk forever about how Whitewater is a great place to ‘live, work, and play,” but no one picks a town because of a tired slogan used too often by too many. No one sensible will choose Whitewater because of what we say, and especially what government, public-relations men, or local notables say about the town.

A sensible man or woman will chose Whitewater based on his or her own direct impressions of how the town appears and what it offers by sight, sound, and taste. Few would buy a house without a walkthrough; equally few will buy a car without a test drive.

All the websites, flyers, commercials, testimonials, etc., are slight when compared with a good meal, in a congenial setting, recommended to one’s friends.

Whitewater talks so much – rightly – about attracting the talented. Good restaurants attract good prospects, people who would help build a hip and prosperous community.

A restaurant culture, however, is a vulnerable and fragile one. It’s hard to run these establishments, and hard to be assured of patrons who, after all, are free to choose one offering – or one city – over another. It’s not so far to other towns that patrons will not go elsewhere, or prospects avoid our city entirely. We are, after all, a people of automobiles, easily able to drive to one place or another (or drive nowhere by dining at home).

One cannot avoid noticing how reduced is our summer traffic, how much smaller the prospects for patronage when campus is out-of-session. No doubt, there are some – including those who rely on a steady public income over private earnings – who would prefer Whitewater were less-trafficked all year long. A steady income from public employment (or a narrow professional clientele), leaves those so happily situated insensitive to the vagaries of the market.

Now, I am not a restaurateur, and I do not experience their daily uncertainties of patronage and opportunity. Nonetheless, like most people, I am able to see that these establishments are often like birds in the winter: they have a narrow margin for movement, lest they deplete their limited, available intake.

Regulatory or enforcement actions that drive those on campus to stay on campus, or to avoid choosing this campus, will leave Whitewater’s establishments with a market far smaller than fifteen-thousand people.

It will reduce Whitewater to a size effectually smaller than nearby towns.

Even a fraction of the total campus population is likely the difference between success or failure for many of Whitewater’s restaurants, including ones that serve (happily, successfully) many long-term patrons who have no connection to the campus.

The lost value to the city from a shift away from patronage at these establishments is far greater than the value of one or two public officials’ contributions. It would be worse than unfortunate if the actions of a public few ruined a thriving restaurant culture for this city. No public official of Whitewater has done more to advance this city’s image and value – not one, ever – than these private establishments do for the city through their own efforts.

We’ve made private gains; they’ll only be preserved and advanced by public restraint.