Dick Brass: Trump fleeing US is no joke

OPINION:

My Republican friends predict Trump will run for President in 2024 to regain power. I predict it’s more likely he will run for Moscow next year to avoid prison.

The idea of Trump fleeing the US is at once shocking and darkly funny. It was suggested as satire as early as 2018 by the New Yorker magazine’s humour columnist Andy Borowitz. But it’s no longer completely frivolous. Consider:

• Credible stories continue to suggest that Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance intends to indict Trump and other family members shortly after he leaves office on January 20 and is no longer protected from New York State charges by presidential immunity. Vance’s office described their investigation in court documents as “focused on … insurance and bank-related fraud, tax evasion and grand larceny”, plus “possibly extensive and protracted criminal conduct at the Trump Organisation”. Because these would be state charges, any presidential pardons issued by or to Trump will not apply. This might explain why Trump has tried so desperately to remain in power.

• Trump’s coup attempt all but collapsed Monday here when our electoral college voted 306-232 to officially certify Joe Biden’s obvious victory. Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell yesterday acknowledged and congratulated Biden for the very first time. This followed congratulations a few hours earlier from Vladimir Putin, who also realises it’s essentially over. Trump can try to get Congress itself to raise objections when it meets on January 6 to formally accept the electoral college results. But no one expects this to work any better than Trump’s 60 or so failed lawsuits. Bottom line: if Trump cannot stay in office, he loses immunity from criminal prosecution. While Biden may not want to further divide the country by prosecuting Trump for alleged crimes committed while he was President, a state prosecution for alleged business crimes would be quite different.

• Pundits on Russian state media have lately been discussing without obvious humour the possibility that Trump will flee. Co-host of Russian state TV show 60 Minutes Olga Skabeeva said “It’s all very serious” as she discussed the criminal charges Trump might soon be facing. According to an account in the Daily Beast here, Igor Korotchenko, a reliably anti-American member of the Russian Defence Ministry’s Public Council, told the audience: “Russia can offer political asylum to the persecuted former President of the United States, Donald Trump. But let him not simply arrive to Rostov or elsewhere, but also transfer his capital here and finally build his famous Trump City somewhere in our New Moscow.” This did not seem to be a Russian joke.

• Trump himself has told American audiences he might have to leave the country. Trump told supporters at an October rally in Macon, Georgia: “Could you imagine if I lose? My whole life — what am I going to do? … Maybe I have to leave the country, I don’t know.” At the time, it was interpreted as probably a joke.

• A ranked listing of possible places for Trump to flee will be published in the January issue of Macleans, Canada’s venerable cultural and politics magazine. It’s written lightly, but it applies a serious methodology of selection. Countries are ranked by availability of golf courses, business opportunities and a lack of extradition agreements with the US. Their most likely, in order, are Dubai, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Macau. Their least likely include Melania’s homeland of Slovenia, Scotland and anywhere in Africa, which Trump famously described as being full of “s***hole countries”.

It’s a worthy essay but flawed as a serious guide. Dubai and Saudi Arabia wouldn’t dare harbour an American President. They saw what our sanctions did to Iran. They wouldn’t risk it. Macau is a traditional refuge, but it’s controlled by China. China really doesn’t like Trump — for starting a trade war, among other things. If they allow Trump into Macau, it’s because they plan to arrest him themselves.

Which leaves Moscow. If this really comes to pass, formal extradition treaties are irrelevant. Trump could only go to a country with the economic and military posture to safely hold him against US anger. Putin will definitely take him, as he did his stooge, deposed Ukrainian President Yanukovych. To taunt us. To give Trump a platform to make trouble here. For similar reasons, he could go to Erdogan’s Turkey or North Korea. But the golf courses are said to be much nicer in Sochi.

Would Trump actually flee an indictment? It would seem unlikely in any year but 2020. For the past month since the election, Trump has openly urged the lawless rejection of clear election results. Would a President who urged lawbreaking flee the law? You bet he would.

So my best guess as Dickstradamus is that Trump will move to Florida after the inauguration, if not before. If New York indicts him, he will claim it isn’t valid because (fill in some excuse) and (he was once President). The Republican Governor of Florida will shield him. And when the Supreme Court rules that no, you don’t get special immunity as a former US President living in Florida, he will leave the country for Moscow.

What started as a humour column is no longer completely a joke. The Russian-American comedian Yakov Smirnoff decades ago said it best: you know your country is in trouble when you get your news from comedians.

Dick Brass was vice-president of Microsoft and Oracle for almost two decades. His firm Dictronics developed the first modern dictionary-based spellcheck and he was an editor at the Daily News, NY.

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