On October 10th, 1973, the words “nolo contendere” (Latin for “I do not wish to contend”) were unceremoniously introduced into the popular lexicon. It was on that date that Vice President Spiro Agnew entered those words as a plea to ensure he would not be prosecuted for corruption, in exchange for a $10,000 fine, three years’ unsupervised probation, and giving up the vice presidency itself. As agreed, Agnew resigned.
Is Donald Trump in the same position? MSNBC’s Chris Matthews thinks he is, and, Matthews further believes, the window of opportunity is closing in which Trump can trade on his presidency. “Leverage the office while you still have it,” Matthews advised. Donald Trump has that window of opportunity for the time being, but that window will get narrower by degrees. Once the Democrats have control of the House the process of “death by a thousand cuts” will begin, and that process may very well extend past a point of no return. Once that point is reached Donald Trump may no longer be able to negotiate advantageous terms.
If before that happens he can negotiate a sufficiently advantageous deal with Robert Mueller and state prosecutors, he might be able to get the same deal Agnew got, or something very like it, involving little or no jail time. As Matthews puts it, “But what if the prosecutor were to offer the president an alternative? What if he were to say he would let the children walk if the old man does the same? That would mean giving up the presidency in exchange for acquittals all around ― not just for himself, but for all his kids.”
It is, of course, unclear whether or not Robert Mueller would agree to such a deal. We simply don’t know. One thing is clear, however, there would be no harm in finding out. Trump could make discreet inquiries, just like Agnew did. And say what you like about Spiro Agnew, but one thing he wasn’t was stupid. Donald Trump, on the other hand, is an appallingly stupid man. He may just miss his last window of opportunity, and before too long, get to spend the remaining leisure moments of his life regretting it.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.