President Hillary Blacks Out
The following scenario is what it could look like, and it does raise a few important questions.
The confrontation with the Russians has grown. Russian ships have fired warning shots at an American aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean as the US carrier approaches the Syrian coast.
The Russians counter by moving cruise missile carrying warships into place armed with Kaliber missiles, the same ones that smashed into Aleppo killing scores of people.
And the Russians are reportedly moving troops up closer to the borders of Eastern Europe.
A critical meeting takes place in the White House at 2300 hours (11PM). Present are President Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, key White House staffers including White House chief of staff and National Security Council Advisor. The new Director of the CIA also is there as is the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The CIA Director, who is a Cabinet member, is briefing on the crisis before the Chairman presents some military options. Clinton is listening and then, all of a sudden, her head slams into the conference table.
Everything stops. How to proceed?
Her staff summons White House doctors. To save time, her limp body is hoisted onto the large conference table. She is breathing but there is no communication. Did she have a stroke? There is no chance to do a real diagnosis in the situation room. It is urgent to get her to a hospital for treatment – the best choice is nearby George Washington University Hospital where Ronald Reagan was treated for a gunshot wound after an assassination attempt. Alternatively she can be taken to Bethesda Naval Hospital and transported either by ambulance or by helicopter (though there are no helicopters currently on the White House lawn).
Meanwhile, the Vice President is in Asia on a goodwill tour. His plane will soon be touching down in Seoul, South Korea. He is more than 20 hours from home, if he is summoned. But Air Force Two, if it changes route, will be followed immediately by Russian radars and satellites. The Kremlin will know something has happened in Washington.
Quarrels break out among the staff and with the cabinet members about what to do. Should they call in medical help and bring equipment to the White House, instead of going to a hospital? That would depend, to some degree, on whether anybody thought this was the recurring brain clot that has disabled her before, and they might hope the crisis will pass on its own. But if she had a major stroke she must be hospitalized to survive.
Then there is the question again of the Russians – the President moving into a hospital cannot be hidden. Who would then be in charge? Might the Russians not want to exploit the obvious confusion now gripping the Executive Branch?
So the staff and the cabinet members know they have to make a number of choices, none of them good and some of them that threaten Clinton’s survival.
What decisions they make will require some level of agreement, and as Clinton lies on the table, pale and with shallow breathing, they can’t reach a conclusion. The clock is ticking. The argument is growing. Can the cabinet members take control, throw the White House staffers out of the room, and determine what to do with Clinton?
The succession laws really don’t deal with this kind of situation. If the Cabinet decides to act in the stead of Clinton, are they in fact carrying out a coup d’etat justified by the emergency?
The Secretary of State, wanting to avoid an Al Haig moment, says that the cabinet should summon the Speaker of the House, a Democrat, who stands in the line of succession after the absent Vice President. He calls the Speaker, but the speaker points out that the Twenty Fifth amendment clearly says the Vice President needs to be called in, but first the cabinet must vote that and inform Congress. “So,” says the Speaker, “I can’t oblige you guys. Follow the Constitution.”
But communications with the Vice Presidential aircraft are erratic: the North Koreans know he is inbound and they have turned on all their jammers. As soon as he lands, the Secretary of Defense reaches him on a non-secure landline. Now the Russians know -- in fact the South Koreans can’t keep quiet and in a few minutes the word is out. Meanwhile the House Speaker also is talking to the media. His staff told him maybe the White House was setting a trap for him, and he wanted to be clear to all that he only follows the Constitution.
At this point, unexpectedly, Clinton rouses. She is helped from the table to a chair. Her National Security Advisor briefs her, even though she is still confused. But she is also extremely angry. She fires her Secretary of Defense on the spot for his call to the Speaker, and warns the Secretary of State that he is next. The room is chaotic. Clinton cancels the emergency meeting. She says they were plotting a coup against her.
The Cabinet members caucus together outside the Situation Room. Summoning Clinton’s doctor, they want to know her condition and whether she really is mentally capable. The doctor hedges –after all there is a doctor-patient relationship to be preserved. But the Cabinet members threaten and demand an answer. If the doctor tells them she cannot function mentally, they will claim under the 25th Amendment that she is incapacitated, and throw the Presidency to the absent Vice President. The doctor is threatened and finally he says that her condition cannot be determined and her mental faculties are in doubt. A vote is taken, with the fired Secretary of Defense participating. The two cabinet secretaries and the Director of the CIA vote her as incapcitated and immediately inform the Speaker of the House by a phone call. Now they must wait for the Vice President to come home, and meanwhile the NSC director and the White House Staff Director call in the press and claim there has been a coup d’etat. The nation is now in turmoil as the political crisis spirals out of control. All but forgotten are the Russians, who are ratcheting up military pressure. Tonight Russian troops crossed into the Ukraine heading for Kiev. And other Russian troops move toward the border of Finland and Estonia.