I’ve opined in this space before that impeaching Donald Trump would be a bad political move, and doomed to failure anyway, so long as there isn’t a single Republican in the Senate willing to put country before party. Yet with each new day we learn more and more of the web of lies, corruption and Russian collusion that has underpinned not only Trump’s election campaign and subsequent Presidency, but his entire life. We knew it was going to be bad. The whole world knew it. But it’s starting to look so bad.
Michael Cohen just got himself three years in the slam for the campaign violations that “Individual-1” directed him to execute, illegal payoffs to girlfriends that probably also involved bank fraud, wire fraud, and all sorts of things the Feds could throw at anybody who didn’t reside at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. It’s coming to light that the National Enquirer was also illegally buying and killing tawdry stories to help the Trump campaign. Now it’s beginning to look like Russian agent Maria Butina was somehow involved in using the National Rifle Association to interfere in U.S. politics, via the men that travel in those circles, a scheme which may branch off in unpleasant directions, and the NRA also funnelled an extraordinary amount of cash – 30 million – to Trump’s campaign. Anybody suspect that might be Russian money? Just about everybody in Trump’s inner circle appears to have been in contact with Russians at one time or another, and signs are that Mueller may now be able to link veteran dirty tricks operative Roger Stone both to Wikileaks Turd Julian Assange and the Trump campaign, quite possibly Trump himself. There are so many shoes yet to drop, so many apparently disparate threads that may yet prove to be woven into the same tapestry, that it’s mind-boggling – and outside of his leak-proof team of crack investigators, only God knows what else Mueller has, after all that time debriefing Flynn and Cohen and everybody else. What if he can prove outright conspiracy with the Russians to rig the election?
Meanwhile, there’s obstruction of justice, a case the evidence for which Trump has more or less already supplied in public. What if he was witness tampering behind the scenes, too, “dangling pardons” to mooks like Manafort? Then there’s the open and notorious breaches of the Emoluments Clause, and the unconstitutional appointment of an acting Attorney General – both now the subjects of multiple court actions – and it’s well short of a stretch to imagine skullduggery with Saudi business interests before and after the election. Off to the side, not only is Don. Jr. in the soup for lying to Congress, but Trump, too, since he’s been directing the lying.
All his other crimes prior to becoming President, the decades of tax evasion, the likely money-laundering for Russian mob interests, and so on, are irrelevant to impeachment, legally – “high crimes and misdemeanours” doesn’t mean Great Big Crimes, it means crimes committed through the use, or in the performance, of high office. But what if some of that went on after he became President, too? One of the Article II Constitutional duties of the President is to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed” – if he breaks those laws himself, he is by definition in breach of the Constitution and in dereliction of his Presidential responsibilities under it, and surely that’s a “high crime”.
It’s hard to shake the feeling, too, that anything I can imagine right now is just the tip of the iceberg. Mueller may well present a case so shocking in its details as to be tantamount to treason, if not legally within the definition of that very special and narrowly-defined crime, supposing he doesn’t get his A.G. to stifle the thing, somehow – which itself would be obstruction and impeachable, probably – and anyway, whatever Mueller puts together will get out, one way or another. Schiff on the Intelligence Committee or Nadler on Judiciary will subpoena the findings, it comes to that.
This all leads to a painful question: What if it’s so awful and shocking as to push the decision to impeach beyond mere political calculation, and into the realm of sworn duty? Trump isn’t the only one with an oath to uphold. What if there’s only one way to satisfy the solemn Constitutional responsibility of the Legislative Branch, only one option for people of conscience who believe in, and have pledged to defend, the rule of law?
It remains most everyone’s opinion that Trump could sign an Executive Order to schedule an afternoon of strangling babies on the South Lawn, and there still wouldn’t be any Republican votes in the Senate to convict in an impeachment trial. This is jarring. Despite everything, it still feels a little incredible to articulate the idea that the Republican Party is so far into craven Trump territory, so afraid of him and his Base, that they would never do their duty, no matter the impetus, but people like former Republican strategists Steve Schmidt and Rick Wilson, not known for their inability to size up a political situation, think so. I’m hoping they’re wrong, but my track record on such hopes is, well, poor.
It looks like the general public has no appetite for impeachment either, though that may change if the news gets truly dire. Nobody, not even Mitch McConnell, will ignore a true sea change in public opinion, provided the Republican Base is also wavering, but absent that, unless 20 odd Republican leopards were to change their spots, shocked out of their Trump Torpor by the sheer magnitude of the misdeeds that can be proved, impeachment might wind up being equal parts inevitable and futile. The political risk for Democrats would be huge. You can bet that savvy operators like Nancy Pelosi will be loath to wade into the horrifying partisan cess pool of an impeachment that amounts to nothing more than a futile gesture.
But what if they have to?