June 5, 2018

On last night's "Last Word", guest host Ali Velshi covered Ted Cruz's 18-second gap.

What's the matter, Ted? Can't figure out how to parse this so-called president so you won't lose your Senate seat? Go, Beto O'Rourke!

Afterward, guests Princeton Prof. Lauren Wright and Former Deputy Assistant Attorney General Harry Litman discussed their belief that this isn't actually a constitutional "crisis"...YET.

ALI VELSHI: You might have thought we made a mistake there because there was all this noise of footsteps. That was Senator Ted Cruz waiting a full 18 seconds before telling reporters he wasn't sure if the president could pardon himself. Joining us now is Lauren Wright, lecturer at Princeton University. And back with us at Harry Litman, a former deputy attorney general under President Clinton. Lauren, we should start by saying it's not 100% clear. None of this stuff. The pardoning, the subpoena. there are legal arguments, and sometimes they are led bipartisan but sometimes they are not. Sometimes they are people like you who study this thing and say it hasn't necessarily been well enough tested to know whether or not the president's statements on Twitter today about pardoning himself are true. What does your research tell you?

LAUREN WRIGHT: This is unclear. Man, was that a long silence. That's almost your whole show. It's way too early to call this a constitutional crisis, i do. What we know and saw in the Mueller filing is that this is a presidency in crisis. The president is in very serious trouble. i see this as the culmination of years and years since the founding of administrations of both parties trying to expand presidential power and one of the ways they do that is through vaguenesses in article 2, including the pardons clause. And both parties are to blame for that. when our team's in office we want a strong executive. when they're not we want to reign back those powers. Now we have a president that's willing to go to the very extent of those tendencies, and he's not crossing the line, but he's looking right over it, and that's very different from past administrations.

VELSHI: This is an interesting distinction, because much has been administration doing a lot with executive orders, with the Bush administrations -- Bush 43 administration pushing the limits of executive authority. But that -- to Lauren's point that just could be what presidents do over time. When does it cross over into being a constitutional crisis?

HARRY LITMAN: Right. First, I agree with Lauren that we are not in a constitutional crisis. It's a determine that's been bandied about a lot in the past couple years, and it's important to distinguish between a constitutional challenge where the constitution has the tools to address and solve it and a true crisis, for example, as would happen if the supreme court ordered Trump to testify and he just refused. And the question would be what can the constitution do now? Now we're in crisis territory. I would take issue with the fact that this is a natural expansion since the New Deal era with both parties trying to flex their muscle with the presidential power. I think Trump is a departure from that trend, in that he has tendencies of real royalism, an inclination to put himself above the law, contempt for norms, contempt for the rule of law, that don't just push on the executive powers but would, if he had his way, break them in two. For me, we've had a point of departure in the last two years notwithstanding the general legal trend that Lauren identified since the New Deal.

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