One of the features of the current administration of Donald Trump is that it has caused the political rumor mill in the US to go into overdrive. There are non-stop speculations about possible personnel changes, squabbling among aides, indictments by the special prosecutor and US attorneys, and so. Most of these speculations can be safely ignored because they are fact-free and largely serve as fillers to meet the needs of the 24/7 cable news channels. But there is one particular speculation that keeps surfacing from time to time that is particularly absurd and that is the one that says the Trump will leave office before his term is over because of the mounting legal troubles involving convictions of his close associates.
This is purely wishful thinking and will never happen, for one simple reason. We have never before seen an administration that consists of a president and his family who are such open grifters, seeking to milk their positions for personal gain at every opportunity. It is not that past presidents were paragons of virtue. But they at least seemed to care about maintaining the appearance of probity and were thus somewhat circumspect about their actions, focusing more of laying the groundwork for cashing in after they left office rather than while they were still in office. But the Trumps are utterly shameless. They are insatiably greedy. They want money, as much of it as they can stuff into their pockets, and they want it now.
Trump and his family are not the brightest bulbs on the Christmas tree but like all grifters they are acutely sensitive to their own needs. They know that they are under scrutiny and what protection they currently have is by virtue of daddy Trump being president. He will know that once he leaves office, he and his family will lose the biggest shield they now have and so he will delay that departure date for as long as he can. So not only will he not quit early, expect him to run for a second term even if nobody in his party wants him to. What will be interesting to see is what he will do in the last days of his office to try and ensure that his grifting is not prosecuted.
He may well do what Richard Nixon very likely did before his resignation and that is negotiate a deal with his vice-president to get a full pardon for him (and his family) after he leaves office. Or it is possible that he will issue pardons for his family, leaving only him to get a pardon from his successor. (He may even try to pardon himself, since nothing it too outré for this bunch of grifters.) But that it difficult too. Such a deal is possible only if he resigns before his term is over and the vice-president becomes president automatically. But if he holds on until almost the end, it will be hard for his successor to argue that there was no deal, the way that Gerald Ford tried to claim with Nixon, though many were skeptical of his denials. Of course, the new president might still brazenly claim it and nothing can be done about it.
One thing that will protect Trump is the practice of presidents shielding their predecessors from criminal prosecution. They all do this in various ways by invoking high-sounding language, such as Ford pardoning Nixon in order to ‘help the nation heal’ after the scandals of Watergate or invoking the need to ‘look forward not backward’ which was Barack Obama’s favored expression for not prosecuting criminality in the Bush administration. But the real reason is that presidents want the freedom to engage in criminality themselves and the practice of each one ignoring the crimes of their predecessor allows them to do that. So it would not surprise me in the least if even in the event that Hillary Clinton were to succeed Trump to the presidency, she did not take any action against him, despite all the humiliations he has rained on her.
The only thing Trump cannot control are the actions of career prosecutors in the states who have some degree of independence because, as I understand it, presidential pardons only cover federal crimes and charges brought by states and local law enforcement agencies under state laws are not covered. That may be where he faces the most serious danger after leaving office.