To Impeach Or Not Impeach — Looking At The Options Facing Congress (VIDEO)

Image from Gage Skidmore on Flickr

The whole thing is turning into something of a Shakespearean tragedy.

Back in April, when Newsweek asked me what I thought would happen if President Donald Trump really had colluded with Russia I saw no real need to mince words.

If evidence that Trump was working with the Russians to rig the election comes out, I wrote:

“Then I’m sorry Trump supporters, he’s in trouble. All Democrats and more than enough Republicans will come together in an orgy of national indignation and remove him so quickly that he’ll be led out of the White House in his slippers crying: “FAKE SHOES!”

The stress was of course on the word ‘if.’

Trump enjoys the same presumption of innocence that anyone else does. His position differs mostly in that the president cannot simply be hauled in front of a court to face criminal charges. He can only be impeached and impeachment is a process that cannot be divorced from the political realities of the day (nor indeed from accusations of — and actual– partisan meddling.)

At least the process itself is relatively simple.

Measures For Displeasure

There are, roughly speaking, seven stages to an impeachment. Four take place in the House of Representatives and three occur in the Senate.

  1. The House Judiciary Committee looks at the charges brought before them. They may hold hearings.
  2. The committee votes on whether to begin a formal impeachment inquiry.
  3. If during the course of the inquiry sufficient evidence of wrongdoing is uncovered, articles of impeachment are drafted.
  4. The House of Representatives votes on each article with a simple majority needed to take the whole thing to the next level.

The process now moves to the Senate where:

  1. A trial is held, presided over by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court with the Senators themselves acting as the jury. Members of the House act as the prosecution.
  2. A vote is taken with a two-thirds majority required to convict.
  3. If convicted, the impeached official is removed from office and punished.

Much Ado About Something

Are any of these steps likely?

The answer is yes. Impeachment in some part is now a virtual certainty. Whether or not it leads a conviction is much more difficult to establish.

That Russia interfered in the U.S. election is now certain. What is less opaque is whether Trump and/or members of his team actively participated in their attempt to subvert American sovereignty.

The principal defense being offered is that since there is little or no substance to the allegations, there’s really no need to conduct an investigation in the first place. Such an argument is of course untenable. It is the very existence of unanswered questions that is driving the desire to dig deeper. The picture is neither whole nor in focus and with each new revelation, each new piece of evidence, another piece of the puzzle slots into place.

Lt. General Michael Flynn (Ret.) was forced to resign and then cower behind the 5th amendment. Attorney General Jeff Sessions had to recuse himself from the investigation after lying under oath about his own contacts with the Russians. Special Advisor and walking charisma panacea Jared Kushner met with Russian officials during the course of the campaign. Two other senior aides, J.D. Gordon and Carter Page danced the same hopak.

And then there was Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager who, according to the New York Times, was in active contact with Russian officials in the year before the presidential election.

That’s a lot of dirt to dig through. And as is often the case with multiple investigations, there’s always the possibility that somebody will hit pay dirt.

Not that they will have to.

Comey Of Errors

Because the first article of impeachment is likely to center around the firing former FBI director James Comey.

Let’s recap a little.

President Nixon’s fall had little to do with the actual break-in of the Watergate hotel. It was the attempted cover-up that followed that brought him down. Obstruction of Justice is a serious offense. It easily fits the impeachment tagline of high crimes and misdemeanors. It is also, at its core, the definitive demarcation highlighting the boundary between presidential power and the rule of law. It’s not an impeachable offense. It’s the impeachable offense.

Did Trump obstruct justice? Who honestly knows?

How could we find out for sure?

Well, we could have a trial I guess.

It looks like that might be Trump’s guess too. His terror of being impeached prompted him to repeatedly seek reassurance from Comey that he was not under investigation. Despite his insistence that the whole thing is fake, he’s busily assembling a legal team headed up by longtime legal adviser Marc Kasowitz.

He’s worried all right.

And he should be. Because the level of distraction, the level of scrutiny and distrust, the sheer damage to American political stability is simply not sustainable. Something has to give.

Either the scandal goes.

Or he does.

Midsummer Night’s Scheme

“Can we have a crisis-free day? That’s all I’m asking.”

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) begged reporters on her way to a working group on a possible Senate health care bill. That such pleading comes from within Trump’s own party is surprising enough. That it should come during what should be a honeymoon period must be a real kick in the dick.

And yet, it makes sense when one realizes that Capitol Hill beats to the rhythm of a very strict timetable. It beats like the pulsing of an athlete’s heart. The tattoo is predictable, steady, almost military in its precision. And it has little patience for the petulant caterwauling of an egomaniac hopped up on his own sense of magnificence. Because Trump isn’t simply getting things wrong; he’s not just out of step with the pulse of government.

He is testing the patience of even the most jaded members of congress.

Little wonder then that his White House leaks like a diaperless baby in a wind tunnel. Each tidbit released to the press is a cry for help. Each anonymous phone call is a message in a bottle cast into the ocean from the bleach clean deck of the USS Unconstitutional:

‘Help,’ the note reads. ‘Madman at the tiller. Great loss of life anticipated. Send aid soon.’ 

How much longer can Congress ignore the red flags flapping in the wind?

The answer is not much longer.

Now, sure, conventional wisdom suggests that Trump is immune from impeachment thanks to the GOP control of Congress and it’s true, he is somewhat protected by partisan mathematics.

But only somewhat.

Because the midterm elections are coming.

Taming Of The Screw (up.)

Attempts to block impeachment in the House — assuming enough evidence can be gathered to warrant such a move –would be the political equivalent of playing Russian roulette with a fully loaded automatic pistol. The specter of impeachment would be left hanging in limbo. Democrats dangling it before their Republican counterparts like some green-topped sword of Damocles would have a field day. Buried deep in the American political consciousness it would fester and scheme; a coiled spring filled to the brim with potential energy.

Waiting to burst free the moment the ballot box was opened up again.

The GOP would pay a price for that, and they know it.

One Republican strategist who spoke to the Washington Examiner on the condition of anonymity had this to say:

“The concern of people like us is that this investigation will drag on and pop on us in October of 2018, and totally screw us.”

Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Penn., a key Trump ally on Capitol Hill also had his mind fixated on October, admitting that he didn’t:

“Like the idea that this could be strung out, strung out, strung out, strung out.” Or that it could become a “Really big distraction.”

A midterm mauling might give Democrats control of both the House and the Senate. Incumbents and fresh faces alike would be more than happy to place promises of impeachment front and center of their election bids.

Vote for me. (Lock him up.)

So from the perspective of the House rank and file passing the buck might start to look attractive? Why not let the Senate deal with it in 2017 where the two-thirds majority needed to convict Trump offers him more protection?

That’s the smart play.

Yet here too there are issues.

Twelfth Nightmare

The idea that an impeachment trial in the senate might be a going concern during the run-up to the midterm elections must be giving Republican Senators the kind of gastric reflux that only an all-chalk diet could get on top of. Of even greater discomfort must be the thought of the trial spilling over into October 2018. In such a scenario senate numbers might shift inexorably in favor of a conviction via popular mandate.

I mean, who wouldn’t want to vote more Democrats on to the jury?

At any rate, senate trials are not brief affairs.

The 1905 impeachment of Florida District Judge Charles Swayne consumed nearly three months of the Senate schedule before it ended on February 27. The impeachment of Bill Clinton also took several months to complete. Trump’s fall from grace could take even longer perhaps as long as 12 months. Twelve months of watching him attempt to cling on to power like a tick on a buffalo’s nutsack would give anyone nightmares.

All of which leaves GOP with less wiggle room than an Errol Flynn jock strap.

If Trump is to be impeached by a GOP-dominated House then, it has to be done by around August 2018 at the absolute latest. And even that would be cutting it fine. Trump supporters would still be sporting the angry scar left by a ‘Trumpopsy’ foisted upon them without warning or anesthetic. The new president would barely have time to draft a speech insisting that the time for unity was upon us. The stock market would be in free fall.

The factories in China would still be churning out ‘Make America Great Again,’ hats.

Winter’s Tale

No, an impeachment taking place over Christmas 2017 to be resolved sometime in February would make much more sense.

Such timing would give an acquitted Trump the opportunity to miss the opportunity to heal old wounds by resorting to the bouts of odious gloating, vicious name calling and juvenile revenge tweets. Were he convicted, the newly elevated President Pence would have time to flex his executive muscles, say a silent prayer for his fellow (heterosexual) Americans and then roll up his sleeves and get stuck into the heady task of legislating the hell out of American uteri.

A second strategic advantage is also easy to spot. If Pence gets dragged into the scandal then he too risks impeachment. The next in line for the presidency is, of course, Paul Ryan, in his capacity as Speaker of the House. Come October 2018 a recently spayed GOP House might see current minority leader Nancy Pelosi as third in line to the Presidency.

The longer the GOP wait, the better things will be for the Democrats.

Which is why Trump is going to resign sometime before Christmas.

Trump’s Labors Lost

I know, a resignation might seem like an odd option for a man who is quick to tell people that he is one of life’s greatest winners but the truth is that Trump has a long history of quitting. He quit Foreman University after only two years was and was only admitted to Wharton as a special favor from a “friendly” admissions officer.

His entire business model is also based on the idea of abandoning any project that doesn’t meet expectations.

Trump Steaks, Trump Magazine, Trump Vodka. They all came to nothing.

Even Trump’s beloved Casino only managed to stay open for just over a year before filing for bankruptcy. And that was despite his daddy bailing him out with the illegal purchase of $3.5 million worth of gaming chips.

He exhibits a similar pattern of behavior when it comes to settling lawsuits. He talks tough.

And then he folds.

When news broke that Trump was being sued by former students of Trump University — a class action that involved over 6000 plaintiffs — Trump responded in a typically bombastic way. Speaking during a debate with his Republican primary opponents, he dismissed the idea that there was anything to the case or that he would settle it, stating:

“I don’t settle cases. I don’t do it because that’s why I don’t get sued very often, because I don’t settle, unlike a lot of other people.” He added, “You know what, let’s see what happens in court.”

He settled.

Indeed, according to New York state attorney general Eric Schneiderman, Trump agreed to a:

“$25 million settlement in the lawsuits against Trump University.”

Something Schneiderman described as being:

“A stunning reversal by Donald Trump and a major victory for the over 6,000 victims of his fraudulent university.”

The Merchant Of Menace

Not that this was an isolated incident. Over the past three decades, Trump has been involved in at least 3,500 legal actions in federal and state courts which according to USA Today oscillated from:

“Skirmishes with casino patrons to million-dollar real estate suits to personal defamation lawsuits.”

A breakdown of how each day in court went for Trump is not possible within the confines of this article but a brief analysis reveals the following. In the 1300 or so cases where the record establishes the outcome:

Trump won 450, had around 500 of them dismissed, lost 38 and settled 175.

Like I said, he talks tough.

And then he folds.

King Smear

His options then are quite limited.

He could just keep calm and carry on.

His presidency would continue to be undermined by scandal. He would continue to get little or no credit for anything he does. Beset by leaks and crippled by his own narcissistic personality disorder he would stagger on through day after miserable day, overworked, underappreciated and lacking the wit to comprehend the complexities of a job he thought would be easy.

And his reward?

Articles of impeachment written up by members of his own party. A public trial in which the outcome is by no means certain. A trial with a jury that consisted of people he has casually insulted — on multiple occasions — in the crassest ways imaginable.

He would be forced to face Senator John McCain, a war veteran whose record he openly mocked. Sitting beside him there would be Senator Ted Cruz, a man who had to endure Trump questioning his citizenship, attacking his wife and suggesting that his own father assassinated President Kennedy. And then there would be Senator Marco Rubio or ‘Little Marco’ as Trump used to call him. During the campaign, Rubio was mercilessly mocked by Trump via podium jibes such as:

” I have never seen a human being sweat like this man sweats. … It looked like he had just jumped into a swimming pool with his clothes on.”

And tweets such as:

And these are just his Republican enemies.

Richard The Worst

The decision to resign the presidency is not one that anyone — least of all Donald Trump — would take lightly. Richard Nixon looked like he might hang on to the bitter end and when he resigned, he did so only because he understood the reality that faced him. Congress was going to impeach him and then they were going to convict him.

The possibility that he might not even escape prison must have crossed his mind.

It might be crossing Trump’s too.

Mike Pence can probably be relied upon to offer Trump and his co-conspirators a full pardon for any actions they might have been found guilty of. Can the same be said of President Ryan? As the only living example of a human invertebrate, one might assume that he would most definitely do the wrong thing. Then again, Trump has put him through hell and at the point where Ryan took over the White House, probably ruined his political career for all time.

And as for Pelosi? In the unlikely event that she found herself in the White House, a pardon for Trump would be political suicide.

The summer of scandals will drag on. The appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel will ensure that the facts come out. Leaks, revelations, bits of juicy gossip; GOP congressmen will take a good hard look at their calendars, do some sums in their heads and then flee the president’s side like startled flies from a freshly laid turd.

All’s Swell That Ends This Hell

If Trump recognizes that the writing is on the wall then resignation might not sound like such a bad deal. He could spend his twilight years insisting that he had done a tremendous job. Or that the Senate would have acquitted him so fast it would have made our heads spin. His days could be filled with misspelled tweets and cameo appearances in bad movies. His memoirs would find a place in history as the best-selling ‘Vestra Culpa’ whine-fest ever written.

He could get his old life of hookers and golf back again. He could eat in restaurants he does not own. Nobody would care if he refused to read intel reports and nobody would have to worry that he was going to reveal the location of U.S. nuclear submarines to ostensibly hostile powers.

Best of all, a resignation prior to or during the investigation would all but guarantee that Trump would not have to do any prison time.

And that’s got to be a good thing. Because after just one night in prison.

He’d be everyone’s bitch.

Watch this short video on impeachment.

 

Featured image from Gage Skidmore on Flickr under CC BY-SA 2.0.

 

I'm a full- time, somewhat unwilling resident of the planet Earth. I studied journalism at Murdoch University in West Australia and moved back to the UK where I taught politics and studied for a PhD. I've written a number of books on political philosophy that are mostly of interest to scholars. I'm also a seasoned travel writer so I get to stay in fancy hotels for free. I have a pet Lizard called Rousseau. We have only the most cursory of respect for one another.