FACT CHECK: Could Hillary Clinton Still Become President?

Kush Desai | Fact Check Reporter

Newsweek claimed Thursday that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton could still become president.

Verdict: False

Newsweek promoted a hypothetical scenario written by a law professor, but the professor himself considers aspects of the scenario “unimaginable,” as do other legal experts.

Fact Check:

Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig wrote a blog post in October describing a scenario in which Clinton could still become president.

If Russian collusion charges prove true, here’s the complicated chain of events that would have to unfold, according to Lessig:

President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence step down or get impeached. House Speaker Paul Ryan – being third in the line of succession – becomes president, appoints Clinton as his vice president and then immediately resigns.

Clinton becomes president.

Lessig says if the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, the Republican leaders ought to pave the way for Clinton. “He should nominate the person defeated by the treason of his own party, and then step aside,” Lessig writes about Ryan.

Newsweek wrote about the blog post back in October, conceding that the scenario was exceedingly unlikely. “Sure, it’s been more than 340 days since Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton,” wrote Newsweek. “But there’s still one very narrow, highly unlikely and entirely unprecedented way that Clinton could become president.”

It promoted the hypothetical again on Thursday. “Hillary Clinton Could Still Become President If Russia Probe Finds Conspiracy Evidence,” read the misleading headline.

Except this time it didn’t provide quite so strong a disclaimer. Newsweek wrote that Lessig still considers the scenario a “possibility.”

What the article doesn’t say is that Lessig himself considers it a remote possibility. The idea that Ryan would step down is “unimaginable in Washington today” and entirely unprecedented, he writes in his blog post.

Lessig says it’s not really a constitutional matter, but rather a political scenario in which the Republican Party decides to cede power. “We’ve passed the moment when this crime could have been constitutionally corrected,” he writes.

“It’s not a legal case,” Seth Barrett Tillman, an American lecturer at the Maynooth University Department of Law in Ireland, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “He’s making a quasi-moral legal case.”

Legal experts, including Lessig, agree that Republicans would be unlikely to step down. “There’s no plausible scenario in which any Republican leader enables that outcome,” James Copland, director of legal policy for the right-leaning Manhattan Institute, told TheDCNF.

Lessig does not believe there’s currently enough evidence of collusion with Russia to incite the chain reaction he laid out in his blog post. “The ordinary reader of this piece can’t miss that I am mapping a hypothetical that I don’t now believe,” he writes.

As such, he pushed back on Newsweek for giving the impression that he advocates for this hypothetical. “The piece was picked up by Newsweek, and astonishingly (for Newsweek), all my qualifications were stripped away,” Lessig wrote in an update to his October post.

Newsweek did not respond to a request for comment.

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Kush Desai

Fact Check Reporter