Saturday, December 8, 2018

Impeachment? Not so fast

A version of this was published in the Sky Hi News Dec. 11-12, 2018

Immediately last Friday after Michael Cohen’s sentencing memo was filed, President Trump crowed he was cleared and the opposition media claimed there were grounds for impeachment because the President was in effect an unindicted co-conspirator of a crime, which was closer to reality. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s court filings regarding Paul Manafort were either redacted or sealed, revealing little.

Often cited are precedents set by both the impeachment of Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.   Neither Nixon nor Clinton was found guilty or was removed from office by Congressional votes. A simple majority in the House can vote to impeach,  but  two-thirds of the Senate must  agree to find him guilty and remove him from office.

 Impeachment is not so much a matter of law  as it is a political action. Voters’ opinions can  give members of Congress political backbones: Clinton’s public  job approval ratings polled  during the impeachment/trial remained over 70% and 66% were against removing him from office over the issue of lying and coverup of sexual misconduct.   Nixon, after release of the tapes, dropped from winning the prior election to  a 31%  job approval with 43% opposing removal from office.  During Nixon’s threatened impeachment, Democrats , the opposition party, controlled both House and Senate with significant majorities. Republican Nixon  resigned before the House could vote  to impeach because tapes were made public that confirmed his guilt. Like Nixon, Clinton's  opposition party, Republicans,  controlled both the Senate and the House though the vote even in the GOP controlled Senate fell short of the two thirds needed and he was acquitted. In Donald Trump's case, the House will be in the hands of Democrats ; the Senate's majority party is Trump's.

The current  public mood  should give the GOP shudders. It is similar to Nixon’s. The key public voter question is whether the actions of the President as charged by Congress  justifies his removal from office , which is the end result of a Senate conviction.  Trump’s  current job approval is around 40% with 42% opposed to his removal from office per a June 2018 poll.  This is  before we know much of what  Special Counsel Robert Mueller has found.

 That Democrats gained a decisive majority in the House of Representatives in  November means they have the simple majority  of votes  needed to impeach Trump  without any GOP help  At this moment it is a debatable intra party question of whether impeachment is an effective political strategy, distracting from promoting their public policy  agenda.  GOP control of the Senate would block removal of the president  at this time in any case. 

So far, public knowledge of facts implicating Trump is thin. Recently filed  court documents do indicate  business financial gain could have been his motivation to commit crimes of conspiracy/collusion and obstruction of justice.  The closest to fingering Donald Trump himself came  last week in the Michael Cohen case filings in which Cohen claimed he was instructed by the President  to break campaign finance  laws.  That  the President intended  to pay for silence of women with whom he had affairs was to protect family peace, not campaign purposes as Cohen claims, could be a reasonable  defense.   Whether the public would think lying and coverup of sexual misdeeds  alone justifies  removing  him from office is  very questionable.    It makes sense to wait for Mueller’s report and findings of Democratic dominated House  committees.
Footnotes: On Friday, December 7, 2018  the Southern District of New York's sentencing memo regarding Michael Cohen repeated the charge that Cohen committed a crime by arranging a method to pay off two women who knew of Trump's immoral and unfaithful conduct  for the principal purpose  that they would remain silent during the campaign. Significantly, the SDNY filing said that Cohen committed the crime under the direction of the president.  This could be very damning for the president, though he cannot be indicted for doing it. Any punishment would have to be through the impeachment process. Trump claimed immediately he was "totally cleared". .  The SDNY filings regarding Cohen said that he had been helpful, but not fully. The Mueller fillings said Coehn had been helpful on  the Russian conncection and that Cohen's jail term could be served at the same time as the judge ruled in the SDNY case.
Both the Clinton impeachment case and the Michael Cohen/Trump charges involved lying and covering up sexual misconduct.  Some Republicans voted not to convict Clinton, and all Democrats stood by their man.  Later public opinion polls showed 57% the public did not want Clinton to lose his job over the issue and they considered the impeachment harmful to the country (Gallup via Wikipedia summary)
The Mueller filings regarding Manafort pointed to lies  to the Special Counsel about his coordination with the White  House in 2018 and lies about his contacts with Konstantin Kilimnik, his associate, who had ties with Russian military intelligence, the DNC hackers.

Also see the prior blog posting 12/3/2018. The tangled web of Trump-Russian deceit.

If sexual misconduct, lying and coverup did not reach the "time does not fit the crime" in the Cllinton case , i.e. the offense was not the reason for the Senate to convict because it was not serious enough and the administration's ability to conduct business (high job approval rating), then the "high crimes" needed to be something worse.  Worse could be  treason, bribery and a serious high crime...definition is up to the House to say what it is. What would be "high" enough to warrant a Senate conviction?  Look for  proof beyond reasonable doubt of treason  (collusion, conspire) to work against US, bribery..a tit for tat like: Russia will help Trump win if he gets sanctions against Russians lifted; money lauundering, emoluments clause violations, tax evasion, and whatever else the House defines.   Another nagging problem is can a President be impeached for what he did before he took office?  The other problem: the DOJ has its own rules that a sitting president cannot be indicted for a crime, but nothing in the Constitution forbids this. If the offenses took place before the President was sworn in, he could be indicted after he left office and prosecuted, though. 

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