In my best Heath Ledger/Joker voice, “Batman has no jurisdiction.” I think of this line today after reading a report in Reuters about former Federal Bureau of Investigations director James Comey’s assessment of the morality of current president Donald Trump. The book, set for release tomorrow, will detail Mr Comey’s four month tenure in the Trump administration. Mr Comey asserts that Mr Trump is morally unfit to sit in the Oval Office.
The assertion is likely to lift the spirits of many anti-Trump voters who have been hoping that the President’s alleged links to the Russian government will turn into a political noose and lead to an early exit from the White House. Mr Trump has been relatively out of the media spotlight for the past week given the Congressional hearings that were held regarding Facebook’s privacy shenanigans. He has managed to reassert himself quickly into the headlines with last Friday’s missile attack on Syria’s chemical weapon facilities. I suspect that attention will be diverted away from Syria long enough for Democrats to push their talking points and roil up their base.
So far the most tawdry event noted in Mr Comey’s assessment of Mr Trump is an alleged incident involving Mr Trump’s presence in a Moscow hotel room where two prostitutes were allegedly urinating on themselves. Being in the presence of this type of behavior would be off-putting to most Americans. Mr Trump has denied witnessing the event and Mr Comey admits he has no firm evidence the event happened or that Mr Trump was even present if the event happened at all.
One question that comes to mind is, assuming that the event occurred, should the event give buoyancy to arguments from the left that Mr Trump be impeached? My answer is no. Article II, Section 4 of the United States Constitution reads:
“The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
The event is alleged to have happened in 2013, almost four years before Mr Trump took office. In addition, if watching prostitutes pee on themselves in Moscow is legal, I see a very weak argument for convicting him of a crime. “Batman” has no jurisdiction in Moscow.
Another question I have is, what is immoral behavior and does such behavior disqualify a president? Morals are defined as standards of behavior or beliefs concerning what is and what is not acceptable for a person to do. Morals are personal codes until society expresses its disagreement with them and codifies that dissatisfaction in law or statute. As head of a democratic nation-state, Mr Trump is expected by many Americans to manage his personal code within the parameters of community expectations. For a man who reportedly has no problem expressing a tough guy Queens personality, being a boar may not go over well with a progressive socialite from San Francisco. Such behavior, whether it occurred prior to or during the presidency may considered disqualification as head of state, if not head of government.
Going forward, the allegations will not mean much for capital markets. They do not speak to Mr Trump’s management of public capital or the institutions that manage or influence the allocation or distribution of capital. The allegations do put a further dent in Mr Trump’s ability to persuade, probably the most important power a president has. And in the political marketplace, bad optics drives down a political actor’s brand and market value.