July 17, 2019

The Debate Lineup: An Apology and Further Thoughts

It was clear to all that the first debates of the Democratic presidential candidates were unbalanced. Although random assignment was used to determine which candidates appeared on which night, the second debate was more loaded with frontrunners. I wrote about this before the debate and about how the debate assignments could have been improved. (See “How the Upcoming Debates Could Have Been Better Designed.”) Apparently, an apology is in order. No, my analysis has not changed, but in my earlier essay, I blamed the imbalance of the two debates on the Democratic Party. Whereas the party did determine who would fill the 20 slots in the two debates, the lineup for each debate was apparently determined by NBC in what might be considered a less than straightforward manner. According to David Byler, writing in The Washington Post,
The network divided the field into two groups: a top tier of eight candidates who were polling above two percent nationally and a bottom tier of 12 candidates who weren’t. Then it randomly assigned four candidates from the top tier and six candidates from the bottom tier to each debate night. NBC wanted two well-balanced, interesting nights of debates, and it used a random component to remove any inkling of bias from the final decision.
Byler wisely noted that “Random processes, while fair in the long run, are often capricious and weird in the short term.” I had noted much the same thing.

A Vox article describes where the debates go from here. The twenty debaters will be determined today. Tomorrow, on live television, CNN will, in some as yet undisclosed random fashion, assign 10 candidates to each of the two debates. The debates themselves will be televised on July 30 and 31.

Byler offers his own scheme for a better distribution of candidates to debates. It is almost as good (and almost the same) as what I suggested in “How the Upcoming Debates Could Have Been Better Designed.” My own mathematical analysis, however, offers a slight improvement over Byler’s scheme. Either system destroys the value of the live drawing on television planned by CNN for tomorrow night, however.

Apparently, CNN is taken by the live lottery drawings that have become a television staple. It’s too bad it isn’t equally taken by the concept of fairness.

July 16, 2019

Racist Is as Racist Does

In light of President Donald Trump’s Twitter attacks on minority liberal congresswomen, it is refreshing that many news outlets are referring to Trump’s “racist tweets,” not to something like “tweets some have called racist.” The president’s attack is clearly racist and is consistent with other racist statements he has expressed over time. Only GOP partisans can fail to see (or acknowledge) the nature of what Trump has said.

Some have suggested that we cannot know what is in Trump’s heart and that his tweets cannot be used to brand the president definitively as racist. This is nonsense! To this, I can only say
RACIST IS AS RACIST DOES.

July 8, 2019

Facebook and Hate Speech

I woke up this morning to discover that a comment I made in response to a post in a private Facebook group had been removed by Facebook. Facebook informed me that “This comment goes against our Community Standards on hate speech,” provided a link to the reputedly objectionable comment, and offered to review the removal decision. I immediately requested a review and am presently awaiting the result thereof.

My comment was in response to the posting of a Washington Post story, “Aided by a strong economy, Trump approval rises, but a majority also see him as ‘unpresidential.’” I was appalled that, in view of Trump’s ongoing outrageous behavior, his approval rating would actually go up. A number of group members wrote comments indicating that they shared my consternation. I added my two cents to the conversation with this comment:

Americans are idiots.

It did not occur to me, then or now, that this could be construed as an instance of hate speech. Moreover, I was bewildered that Facebook had taken any notice of the comment. Surely, not every comment on the site is read and evaluated by a live human being. No one in the group admitted to having reported my comment as objectionable, and it seems unlikely that anyone flagged it inadvertently. Almost certainly, Facebook software responded to my use of the word “idiots.”

Facebook’s policy on “Community Standards” includes quite specific guidelines set forth in a section titled “11. Hate Speech,” which I reproduce, in part, below:
We define hate speech as a direct attack on people based on what we call protected characteristics—race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, caste, sex, gender, gender identity, and serious disease or disability. We also provide some protections for immigration status. We define attack as violent or dehumanizing speech, statements of inferiority, or calls for exclusion or segregation. We separate attacks into three tiers of severity, as described below.
Tier 2 attacks, which target a person or group of people who share any of the above-listed characteristics, where attack is defined as
  • Statements of inferiority or an image implying a person’s or a group’s physical, mental, or moral deficiency
    • Physical (including but not limited to “deformed,” “undeveloped,” “hideous,” “ugly”)
    • Mental (including but not limited to “retarded,” “cretin,” “low IQ,” “stupid,” “idiot”)
    • Moral (including but not limited to “slutty,” “fraud,” “cheap,” “free riders”)
  • Expressions of contempt or their visual equivalent, including (but not limited to)
    • “I hate”
    • “I don't like”
    • “X are the worst”
  • Expressions of disgust or their visual equivalent, including (but not limited to)
    • “Gross”
    • “Vile”
    • “Disgusting”
    • Cursing at a person or group of people who share protected characteristics
Apparently, Facebook thinks I attacked the mental facilities of all Americans. Obviously, however, context matters. To begin with, if my statement is taken literally (which no well-educated native speaker would do), It entails the following syllogism:

[All] Americans are idiots.
This statement was made by an American.
Therefore, the person who made the statement is an idiot.

And, in that case, the Facebook comment is beneath notice.

More to the point, the Facebook policy makes no room for figures of speech. Any gibbon would recognize my comment is deliberate exaggeration written to express my frustration with the imperviousness of Trump supporters to new and damaging information about their putative champion. Does Facebook intend to limit any hint of literary language on its site, demanding that every statement be literally true and inoffensive?

No doubt, Mark Zuckerberg is concerned with public dissatisfaction with Facebook. The site showed indifference to Russia-based posts clearly intended to affect our most recent presidential election. More recently, a Facebook group for current and former Border Patrol agents was revealed to contain material that many citizens would find objectionable and that, seemingly, should have been the subject of hate speech investigations by Facebook, given its stated policy. Political pressure for the site to “do something” about these apparent problems is mounting, and it is not difficult to have some sympathy for the people trying to define what that “something” should be.

I am a free speech advocate. I recognize that Facebook is not constrained by the First Amendment, but, whether it intended it or not, Facebook has become something of a public square, where Americans have an expectation that they may express their thoughts freely. I worry about Facebook’s becoming our national nanny and censor. The antidote to “bad” speech is more, not less speech. In fact, I think the very idea of hate speech is problematic.

Facebook can hardly facilitate public dialog if it insists on (or is being pressured into) exercising censorship. A fundamental problem with the site, however, is its use of a private, inscrutable algorithm to determine what members see. I have no idea why I never see posts from some Facebook friends, yet seemingly see all the posts from others. The company is not really interested in promoting dialog but in maximizing “engagement” to expose members to as many incoming-producing ads as possible.

I don’t know what Facebook should do about Russian interference in our elections other than to make the sources of questionable posts transparent. As for the obnoxious posts from Border Patrol agents, it is not important to suppress them; it is important to know that they may indicate the existence of a cancer within an important government agency.

It has been more than a full day since I was notified that my comment offended community standards. I am still waiting for adjudication from the Facebook cognoscenti.

Update, 7/11/2019. Today, I received notification of the result of Facebook’s review of my comment. The basic message is that Facebook hasn’t changed its corporate mind and  will countenance no further appeals. In particular, I received this notification:


Note that “Accept Decision” was pre-checked in the message and could not be unchecked. When I investigated the possibilities, the message declared that I had accepted the decision, and the opportunity to provide “Feedback on Our Community Standards” disappeared. I had intended to submit the URL of this blog post as feedback. I will try to communicate that to Facebook some other way, but the kangaroo court has spoken.

This incident makes clear why we don’t want Facebook as our on-line nanny, a view I intend to express to my representatives in Congress. My comment was in no way hate speech, nor did it offend the standards of the private Facebook where I posted it. Clearly, absolute rules of what is and is not acceptable speech on Facebook is subject to absurd conclusions and suppression of rational discussion.

Maybe all Americans are not idiots. Perhaps everyone who works for Facebook is.

June 28, 2019

Thoughts on the Second Democratic Debate

Last night’s debate was, shall we say, more spirited than Wednesday’s affair. In fact, it was something of a donnybrook. Perhaps a formal, dignified discussion is impossible with so many candidates and the fate of the Republic at stake. At times, however, I wanted a moderator to take a ruler to some knuckles to shut someone up.

Happily, NBC avoided serious technical difficulties this time around. The only snafu was some confusion about when questions were to be taken from the audience. Alas, speaker names were still shown only fitfully. I still haven’t learned to recognize all the candidates, which was a problem, as I was taking notes.

The clear winner last night was Kamala Harris. I am beginning to think of her as my candidate. She attacked Joe Biden effectively, and he was able only to mount a weak response. Biden is looking old, and Harris showed up one of his biggest weaknesses—he has a long history, and some of it isn’t pretty. He offers myriad targets for Trump’s barbs. What I have appreciated about Harris from the beginning, on the other hand, is her prosecutorial agility. She is the one candidate I think can clean Trump’s clock.

Harris did seem to make one stumble last night. She raised her hand when the candidates were asked if they would eliminate private health insurance. This morning on “Morning Joe,” she said she misunderstood the question, thinking she was answering for herself, rather than for all Americans. That clarification wasn’t 100% convincing, but the pitfalls of asking the candidates for a show of hands without allowing for follow-on discussion was there for all to see.

I was surprised Wednesday night when Elizabeth Warren said she would eliminate private insurance in favor of Medicare for All. That may well be the direction the country should go, but Americans aren’t ready to go there in 2020. We should offer the public option that got cut from the Affordable Care Act when President Obama was trying—futilely, it turned out— to gain Republican support for the ACA. I think Warren will regret her position.

Trump has been acting as though he thinks Joe Biden is his most formidable opponent. I believe he actually thinks that he can beat Biden, and he may well be right. Trump’s “fear” of Biden may be akin to Br’er Rabbit’s fear of being thrown into the briar patch.

 Although I seldom agree with anything Donald Trump says or does, his tweet this morning was on target when he called Biden “Sleepy Joe” and Bernie Sanders “Crazy Bernie.” “One is exhausted, the other is nuts,” he said. And what can I say about Sanders last night? Bernie is Bernie, the same Bernie we saw in the last presidential election. His ideas haven’t deepened or moderated. With Trump and the GOP having taken to calling Democrats socialists, how could we possible nominate someone who claims to be a real socialist (and an ancient one at that).

Some analysists have argued that Pete Buttigieg did not do as well as expected. He is knowledgable and articulate, but he has problems in South Bend that have put him in an uncomfortable box. He offered some real zingers last night, and he could conceivably make an attractive choice for vice president. New York Times columnist Frank Bruni suggested as much (“And Now, the Dream of a Harris-Buttigieg Ticket”). Unless Buttigieg resolves the situation on his home turf, however, he cannot move forward. He is not now in a position to attract the black vote, which is vital to a Democratic victory.

I wish I could think better of Kirsten Gillibrand. She is the most passionate advocate for the rights of women, but she lacks the fire of a Kamila Harris. And she has gotten a cool reception from Democratic politicians of her home state of New York. On “Morning Joe,” Gillibrand wore a dress and heels. Harris wore slacks, blouse, and jacket. And she wore tennis shoes. Harris is ready for the knock-drag-out fight that will be the 2020 campaign. Gillibrand, I fear, is not.

As for the other candidates—were there other candidates? As was the case the night before, there were some excellent ideas expressed by those other candidates. The ultimate Democratic nominees should draw from that pool of ideas.

One question asked last night was particularly interesting. Should your administration accomplish only one big thing, what should it be? It is hard to know what the right answer is to this question, and several accomplishments were suggested. Addressing climate change is an existential need for the human race, but can we really tackle that problem until we fix our democracy and rein in the influence of corporate greed? Our next president will have to decide what is the most important problem to tackle. I hope that president gets it right.

June 27, 2019

Some Cursory Thoughts on the First Democratic Debate

I leave it largely to others to deliver detailed content analysis of last night’s Democratic debate. I want to make a few general observations.

First, the questioners did as well as could be expected. There was no way to make a 10-person “debate” fair and comprehensive. Complaints that this or that topic wasn’t covered or wasn’t covered sufficiently are disingenuous. The event was a combination meet-the-candidates opportunity and a minor trial-by-ordeal.

No candidate said anything stupid. (Everyone passed the trial-by-ordeal.) This outcome is not a given in such events, and the absence of serious gaffs was gratifying. It did not help narrow the field, however.

That said, I think the overall sense of the answers offered by the candidates showed Democrats to have genuine concerns for the welfare of the vast majority of Americans, as opposed to those of the rich, the powerful, and the corporations. I hope that Republican voters were watching last night with open minds.

Many analysists have remarked on the scarcity of criticism of Donald Trump. This surprised me not at all. It is given that Trump is anathema to all Democrats. Last night’s participants were concerned with introducing themselves to the electorate and differentiating themselves from one another. Debating who hates the president more would not have advanced those objectives.

I was offended when Beto O’Rourke began an answer in Spanish. Because Telemundo was broadcasting the event in Spanish, this struck me as simply showing off. Spanish-speaking viewers, therefore, understood everything that was said; English speakers, not so much. Julián Castro and Cory Booker also throw in some Spanish, although it isn’t clear whether they were just trying to one-up O’Rourke.

Moderators did not always maintain control, through some of the most interesting moments came when candidates spoke out-of-turn. Again, at some level, the format was hopeless for serious dialogue. Among my suggestions in 2015 was that the microphone of anyone who talks too long should be cut off.

Without offering any justification, I will say that I was impressed (and expected to be) by Elizabeth Warren and (contrary to expectations) Bill de Blasio. I was unimpressed by O’Rourke. Candidates sometimes ducked a question, and I wish that moderators would call them on it.

My biggest disappointment of the evening was with NBC technicians. The video went black for several brief instants, and an unscheduled commercial break was needed to allow time to fix an audio problem. The stage was attractive, but I would have liked the name of a candidate always to appear on the screen below his or her image when the candidate was talking. I still don’t think I would recognize all these people were I to encounter them on the street.

I hope that tonight’s debate runs smoothly. It seemingly includes more heavy hitters and might therefore be expected to be more interesting. (See my earlier post on the assignment of candidates to debates.)

June 17, 2019

How the Upcoming Debates Could Have Been Better Designed

We will soon see the first debates among the myriad Democratic candidates vying for their party’s presidential nomination. How to organize the debate (or debates) is an even bigger problem than that faced by the Republicans in 2015. In that year, the Republicans had a gaggle of candidates to accommodate, but, in 2019, there are even more Democrats running. The GOP solution was to hold two debates, one with the top-polling candidates, the other with the potential also-rans. That latter debate quickly accumulated various unflattering names such as the “kids table.” Democrats, able to learn from history and being more committed to the concept of fairness, tried to avoid slighting any candidate with even a modicum of support.

The Democratic Party solution was to plan for two debates in the same format, each accommodating 10 candidates. As more and more candidates entered the race, their total number exceeded 20, so a few candidates with little visible public support were necessarily cut from the debates. All the major candidates and most of the minor candidates would be guaranteed nationwide exposure on television, however. So far, so good. Next, the 20 selected candidates had to be distributed between the two debates. Here is where the Democrats screwed up. The party decided to draw lots to determine which candidates would participate in which debate.

The random drawing was intended to avoid any favoritism, real or imagined, in the debate assignment. Surely, a random assignment would be fair. Well, actually no. The procedure allowed the producers of the debate to avoid charges of favoritism, but it did not assure a “best” outcome. It did not even assure a reasonable outcome. The random drawing could easily have placed all the most popular candidates in one debate and all the least popular candidates in the other. That did not happen, but, arguably, the outcome was still less than ideal.

Here are the lineups for the two debates:
FIRST NIGHT DEBATERS       SECOND NIGHT DEBATERS
Cory Booker Michael Bennet
Julián Castro Joe Biden
Bill de Blasio Pete Buttigieg
John Delaney Kirsten Gillibrand
Tulsi Gabbard Kamala Harris
Jay Inslee John Hickenlooper
Amy Klobuchar Bernie Sanders
Beto O’Rourke Eric Swalwell
Tim Ryan Marianne Williamson
Elizabeth Warren Andrew Yang
What is odd about these assignments is that the currently most popular candidates largely ended up in the second night debate. Below are the candidates, from most to least popular, ranked by poll results. This ranking is only approximate, but it’s close enough for our purposes.
Joe Biden
Bernie Sanders
Elizabeth Warren
Kamala Harris
Pete Buttigieg
Beto O’Rourke
Cory Booker
Amy Klobuchar
Andrew Yang
Julián Castro
Tim Ryan
Kirsten Gillibrand
Tulsi Gabbard
John Hickenlooper
Jay Inslee
Bill de Blasio
Michael Bennet
John Delaney
Marianne Williamson
Eric Swalwell
Notice that, of the first five candidates, four are scheduled for the second debate. Four of the next five candidates are in the first debate. This assignment is less than ideal. Frontrunners Biden, Sanders, Harris, and Buttigieg will be fighting it out on the second night, but Warren will seemingly be debating lesser lights.

To be sure, the Democrats did not create a varsity debate and a junior varsity debate as the GOP did, but the Democrats did not completely avoid the GOP error. If we rank the candidates by popularity, as judged by the polls, and number them 1 to 20, we find that the rank of the average participant in the first debate is 10.7, and the average rank of the average participant in the second debate is 10.3. In other words, the second debate has, on average, heavier hitters.

A much more evenhanded distribution would have placed candidates ranked by popularity in alternate debates. Such a procedure would have produced something like the following (first and second night rosters could be reversed):
FIRST NIGHT DEBATERS       SECOND NIGHT DEBATERS
Julián Castro Michael Bennet
Bill de Blasio Joe Biden
John Delaney Cory Booker
Kirsten Gillibrand Pete Buttigieg
Kamala Harris Tulsi Gabbard
John Hickenlooper Jay Inslee
Amy Klobuchar Tim Ryan
Beto O’Rourke Elizabeth Warren
Bernie Sanders Marianne Williamson
Eric Swalwell Andrew Yang
In this assignment, of the top six candidates, three are in each debate. Compared with the assignment actually being used, the above distribution moves five candidates from the first to the second night and five candidates from the second night to the first. This seems like a fairer candidate distribution. On the other hand, one could argue that the second night still is the more popular group, since we began by placing the most popular candidate, Joe Biden, in this group and then alternated selections based on the relative positions of the candidates. Ironically, the average position of the candidates on the first night is 11th, whereas the average position of the candidates on the second night is 10th. The second debate still looks like the more popular group.

This suggests a final “best” sorting of candidates. To compensate for putting the top-ranking candidate on the second night, we then choose the next two candidates for the first night, after which, we alternate debates taking two candidates at a time. This procedure yields the following schedule:
FIRST NIGHT DEBATERS       SECOND NIGHT DEBATERS
Cory Booker Michael Bennet
Julián Castro Joe Biden
John Delaney Pete Buttigieg
John Hickenlooper Bill de Blasio
Jay Inslee Tulsi Gabbard
Beto O’Rourke Kirsten Gillibrand
Tim Ryan Kamala Harris
Bernie Sanders Amy Klobuchar
Elizabeth Warren Eric Swalwell
Marianne Williamson Andrew Yang
In this assignment, three of the top six candidates are in each debate. The average position of a participant in each debate is 10.5. Interestingly, this scheme can be derived from the one being used by exchanging three first-night debaters for three second-night debaters.

One can quibble about whether my final proposal really is the best possible way to divide the candidates into two groups, but I think it’s pretty good and clearly better than what the Democrats came up with by drawing names from a hat (or whatever random procedure they used.)

After the debates, of course, the candidate rankings are certainly going to change. Stay tuned.

June 4, 2019

Can a President Be Indicted?

Despite clear evidence that the wealthy and well-connected receive preferential treatment by our justice system, America nonetheless aspires to a system of legal evenhandedness. We speak of “equal justice under law,” claim to have “a government of law, not of men,” speak of Justice being blind, and assert that “no one is above the law.”

Given this context, it is unsettling that the United States Department of Justice continues to maintain the position that the President of the United States cannot be indicted for actual crimes, whether in office or prior to assuming office. Longstanding Department of Justice policy holds that the president can only be disciplined through impeachment for “high crimes and misdemeanors.” In this process, the House of Representatives draws up charges and the Senate determines guilt, a procedure seldom begun and never carried to its ultimate conclusion by removing a president from office.

In his recent statement before the press, Robert Mueller explained that Department of Justice policy precluded his indicting President Donald Trump for obstruction of justice despite the seemingly overwhelming evidence of Trump’s guilt. Had he been able to determine that the president had not obstructed justice, Mueller explained, he could have said so. He could not assert that Trump did obstruct justice because, given Department of Justice policy, Trump could not actually be indicted and could not defend himself against a publically announced charge absent an indictment. Mueller asserted that indicting a sitting president is unconstitutional.

Surely, the departmental logic explained by Mueller is a kind of Catch-22. It is also maddening in that nowhere in the Constitution is it stated, or even strongly implied, that a president cannot be indicted. That the Constitution provides for impeachment and conviction for “high crimes and misdemeanors,” does not logically entail a president’s immunity to more pedestrian prosecution mechanisms. A simple thought experiment is helpful here. Suppose that President Donald Trump actually shot and killed a citizen on Fifth Avenue. Is it reasonable that he would have to be impeached, convicted, indicted, tried, and convicted again in order to obtain justice?

 Two arguments are usually advanced for the president’s immunity from indictment. The most commonly advanced rationale is that the job of president is so demanding that we cannot have the occupant of the office distracted by an indictment. But President Bill Clinton faced a civil suit while in office and was forced to testify under oath. He faced impeachment as well and managed to fulfill his duties without bringing the government to a halt. Would having to deal with a criminal indictment be any more distracting?

In the case of Donald Trump, there is reason to believe that dealing with a criminal indictment might be easier than it would have been for most presidents, as our current chief executive spends an inordinate amount of time playing golf and is known to maintain a light schedule. If Trump found that defending himself against criminal charges would have a devastating effect on his golfing or tweeting, the Twenty-fifth Amendment could come to his rescue, relieving him, at least temporarily from ordinary presidential obligations.

The other argument raised against presidential indictments is rooted in the so-called unitary executive theory. This theory relies on an expansive reading of Article Two of the Constitution and claims that the president can assert power over the entire executive branch. He can therefore direct actions of the attorney general and prevent an indictment of the president from issuing. This theory, though attractive to those favoring a strong presidency—a class including the likes of Richard Nixon and Donald Trump—discounts undisputed powers over the executive branch held by the legislative branch, such as the power to approve or reject cabinet appointments. The Constitution does not say that the president cannot influence the Department of Justice—that department didn’t even exist in 1789—but logic and tradition argue against presidential interference. In any case, the unitary executive theory is rejected by a majority of legal scholars.

Actually, the notion that a president cannot be indicted and that this conclusion follows from the Constitution simply makes no sense. Our Founding Fathers had a bad experience with a king; they certainly did not want to create one to rule over their new nation. Only kings and dictators can do whatever they like without fear of consequences.

Some have argued—Mueller himself seems to believe—that the Constitution’s provision of the impeachment mechanism implies that there is no other way to discipline a president. But, the framers had no need to state explicitly that the president is subject to all the normal laws of the country that any citizen is expected to obey.

In fact, indictment/conviction and impeachment/conviction do different things. The former punishes a president but leaves him in office. The latter removes the president from office with no further penalty. It is conceivable that either process could be executed without the other. A president convicted of a crime could remain in office, though matters would get dicey were he incarcerated. If the crime is serious—certainly if the president were sent to jail—the chief executive would most likely be impeached. It is unclear that an impeached president would necessarily be subject to indictment if the impeachment process uncovered a crime. Nixon avoided impeachment only by resigning; Ford promptly pardoned him. (I thought this was wise at the time, but I’ve changed my mind.)

One final argument in favor of the ability to indict a president: delaying indictment for a suspected crime could mean that the statute of limitations might run out before the president is out of office. Mueller, in his recent public statement, asserted that the president could not even be subjected to a sealed indictment that was not revealed until the target left office. Because of the statute of limitations, this might mean that a criminal president could escape justice completely.

I believe the above arguments strongly support the federal government’s ability to indict a president. On the other hand, I see no move by the Justice Department to change its policy despite suggestions that it should do so. It is worth knowing how the department’s policy originated, however, something uncovered and described by Rachel Maddow on her MNBC show. (I will briefly describe what Maddow discovered, but recommend watching this video for complete details.)

In 1973, Attorney General Elliott Richardson had discovered that Vice President Spiro Agnew was engaged in ongoing criminal activity. He was also aware that President Richard Nixon might well be removed from office because of the developing Watergate scandal. Richardson wanted to get Agnew out of office lest he become president upon Nixon’s departure. Richardson asked Robert Dixon, in the Office of Legal Counsel, to determine if Agnew could be indicted. Dixon discovered that this question was not easily answered definitively. Understanding Richardson’s need, however, he wrote that a vice president could be indicted, but he contrasted this with the situation of the president, whose duties were such as to make indictment problematic. In other words, the Department of Justice’s policy on indicting a president was a kind of footnote to a policy involving the question of indicting the vice president. With Dixon’s memo in hand, Richardson was able to negotiate Agnew’s resignation, though at the cost of letting him walk free. Dixon’s memo has been revisited but retains Dixon’s basic logic. (You can read the successor to the Dixon memo here.)

Whereas I do not expect Donald Trump to be indicted on federal crimes anytime soon, it is worth mentioning another possibility. Trump’s financial activities are being investigated by the state of New York. There seems to be no obstacle to his being charged with a New York state crime. That would be very interesting.


Update, 6/7/2019, 8:54 PM. The text above contains minor additions and corrections.