What does the nation do if it turns out that a president of the United States has committed serious crimes that a prosecutor can prove beyond a reasonable doubt? One possible resolution would be to offer a plea bargain in which the commander in chief agreed to resign the presidency in exchange for utmost leniency. Perversely, the more financially corrupt or psychologically unstable the White House occupant, the greater his or her bargaining power: Only if you let my client go scot-free, a president’s lawyers could argue, will you be allowed to pry the nuclear codes from his hands.
That is a powerful bargaining chip but one with an expiration date. At the strike of noon on his successor’s Inauguration Day, when the (former) president’s Air Force One turns into a pumpkin, he loses that leverage and becomes like any other citizen before the bar of justice. That gives a provably corrupt president a great incentive to end his term early — and on his terms.