President Obama hasn’t publicly made up his mind what he wants to do after his term in the White House is over, but it’s clear he’s not done with Hope and Change. And never before has a sitting president had such a huge lever over his potential successor.
So what is Obama’s plan after January 20th, 2017? I think he’d like to be the president. The shadow president.
Hillary Clinton is likely being investigated by a federal grand jury for her personal “homebrew” server and the secrets she exposed on it. Andrew McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor, speculated on the Justice Department’s granting of immunity to Brian Pagliano, the State Department staffer who set up the server.
This important development raises a question we have considered before: Is there an active grand-jury investigation of Mrs. Clinton and her aides over their mishandling of classified information? The question is critical because (with exceptions not relevant to this discussion) the convening of a grand jury is a necessary precondition to the filing of a felony indictment. And the answer to the question is . . . probably, though not necessarily.
The tension between the FBI and the White House is palpable on the Clinton case. Fox News’ intelligence analyst Catherine Herridge reported on Obama Press Secretary Josh Earnest’s statement about the investigation. “That statement by Josh Earnest has got the back up of our contacts at the FBI and Justice Department for two reasons,” Herridge said. “They are SUPER PISSED OFF to use a technical term.”
Number one, Josh Earnest has absolutely no clearance or visibility in the FBI investigation. Number two, they say it really seems part of a troubling pattern from the White House because the president earlier said he did not see any national security implications to the Clinton emails and then we found out he had never been briefed.
Technically, a federal grand jury is an independent body, which can investigate cases at its own pleasure. In reality, a U.S. Attorney has great latitude in how the grand jury operates. If the president, through the Justice Department, applied pressure to slow the Clinton case—or speed it up—that would definitely have a bearing (again, technically, it shouldn’t happen).
If you remember 1973 (or if you aren’t old enough to remember, but you read about it), President Nixon fired Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox and abolished the entire office of the special prosecutor, turning the Watergate investigation over to the Justice Department. That act, the “Sunday Night Massacre,” fairly well ended his presidency, mostly because the Washington Post had Nixon in its crosshairs.
Obama has learned a lot since 1973. We don’t really know if Hillary is under a grand jury investigation. We don’t know if the Justice Department is truly in the indictment phase or if the FBI is still investigating. We don’t know exactly what the State Department has found because its investigation was officially ended Friday, deferring to the FBI. And Congress is a leaky sieve. The whole thing is an impenetrable ball of red tape and guessing.
We do know that Clinton has committed indictable offenses. We do know that her candidacy would effectively end should an indictment be handed down. Obama is holding this investigation and potential indictment over Hillary’s head like an anvil. He could drop it, or he could keep it off of her. He could pardon her. I think he’s keeping his cards close to the vest (why wouldn’t he?).
Another interesting and convenient fact is that Obama plans to stay in Washington, D.C. “for a few years” after his term, purportedly to give his daughter Sasha a chance to finish high school. That would make him the first president to hang around D.C. since Woodrow Wilson. Former Presidents are entitled to government office space for the rest of their lives. If Hillary wins, Obama’s may just stay in the West Wing, where he can keep an eye on things.
Once Obama leaves office, if Hillary wins (not such a far-fetched possibility at this point) with a federal grand jury investigation in progress, what would happen if they issued an indictment? In short, it wouldn’t matter. But they could defer all their materials to Congress for impeachment proceedings. And Obama could testify. The former president himself could be essentially immune from charges stemming from his own presidency, unless he was a conspirator.
Once she takes office, the newly-former President Obama could threaten to turn state’s evidence on Clinton, leading to her impeachment and conviction. In return for his silence, all Hillary would need to do is listen to Obama’s “suggestions.” This would be no different than the arrangement Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev had during their job swap when Putin became Prime Minister for a time until the Russian constitution was changed.
Every Congressional term, New York Rep. Jose Serrano introduces a bill to repeal the 22nd Amendment. It never gets to a floor vote. The tin-foil hats always worry it will; that somehow Obama would make it to a third term. But as shadow president, he won’t have to.
Having two former presidents sharing the White House with Hillary would be an interesting, unprecedented (for sure) situation. A kind of presidential “three’s company.” But it would be clear who’s really running things, and it wouldn’t be Hillary.
I probably just gave a heaping helping of ammunition to the alt-right people who think Emperor Trump would do a better job than a puppet Hillary. It’s really hard to say which would be worse, but one thing is absolutely certain: Both options are very, very bad for America.