This was excerpted from the December 3 edition of CNN's Meanwhile in America, the daily email about US politics for global readers. Click here to read past editions and subscribe.
(CNN)One of Donald Trump's services to history will be to underscore just how much the integrity of the presidency depends on the character of its incumbent.
Most presidents at least demonstrate some reverence for the office, understand how easily the public trust on which it stands can be abused and retain a concept of a national interest that supersedes their own. Trump's obliviousness to such rules is on display in an extraordinary debate about his looming use of the president's absolute pardon power.
Departing presidents usually grant clemency to those who suffered miscarriages of justice or who have served long terms for nonviolent crimes. But many have also used this constitutional gift to absolve cronies: Bill Clinton, for instance, pardoned his brother after he pleaded guilty to cocaine charges. President Gerald Ford pardoned his predecessor Richard Nixon, hoping to heal the country after Watergate. But accepting a pardon generally involves an admission of guilt on behalf of the convicted person, a willingness to live within the bounds of the law or the notion that society will benefit from granting mercy.
Trump, who has already ignored the official government pardon process in sprinkling clemency on several political allies, is now considering preemptive absolution for his children Don Jr., Eric and Ivanka, and even — in an incredible constitutional leap — himself. Other presidential operatives, like Trump's legal fixer Rudy Giuliani, are also reportedly angling for pardons.
He is said to fear that a Democratic Justice Department could come after his kin after he leaves office, assuming that President-elect Joe Biden will abuse his powers just as Trump has. But there's no sense that the first family would get clemency for admitted wrongdoing. The aim would be more to shut down any pending investigations they face in civilian life and apparently offer get-out-of-jail-free cards for any past criminality.
While a president can help out whoever he wants, federal pardons would not derail state and local cases embroiling the Trumps.
Still, all his life, the President has proved that if you are willing to trample the spirit of the law, you can get away with almost anything.
Fire and ice
Cleveland and Fraser Island are on opposite ends of the Earth, and it shows.
'A kind of biological jiujitsu'
Boris Johnson stole Donald Trump's thunder.
The British Prime Minister won the race to be the first Western leader to announce the approval of a Covid-19 vaccine -- offering the promise to his people of a return to dearly missed normal life within months. Instead of a Stars and Stripes-draped White House news conference, it was Johnson, flanked by union flags at 10 Downing Street, who got to hail the regulatory green light for the Pfizer/BioNTech dose he said performs "biological jiujitsu to turn the virus on itself." But Johnson, striking a note that Trump would almost certainly have ignored, also pleaded with Britons not to gather in large numbers and let their guard down until the vaccine is widely available.
TV-addict Trump, who had to endure a day full of cable news stories highlighting Britain's regulatory breakthrough, isn't happy. Dr. Stephen Hahn, head of the Food and Drug Administration, which must approve US vaccines, has been hauled into the White House twice in two days to explain why the US wasn't first.
"(Trump) wants to put out as many vaccines as possible between now and January," a person familiar with the President's thinking told CNN. "He doesn't want Biden to get any credit for it."
Britain's move has also irked some across the channel. Peter Lieske, who speaks on health policy for the Christian Democrats in the European Parliament, said the approval was "hasty." The European Medicines Agency is due to discuss vaccine approvals at the end of the month and in January.
Trump once saw the vaccine as a route to a second term. After losing the election, he's seeking victory laps wherever he can find them. Yet the vaccine process ought to be about more than claiming political credit. And US vaccines are expected to be approved within weeks anyway. In fact, a methodical process of approval is actually a good sign — given that millions of Americans are skeptical of a vaccine that will end the pandemic. But politicians — who have spent months delivering bad news and been criticized for lackluster crisis management — dreamed of the day they could announce deliverance is at hand.
The ultra-competitive Trump is mad that he didn't get to go first.