The Inevitability of Trump Impeachment

December 28, 2018


Even Republicans may be deciding that the President has become too great a burden to their party or too great a danger to the country.

By Elizabeth Drew

The Inevitability of Trump Impeachment

Ms. Drew is a journalist based in Washington who covered Watergate.

An impeachment process against President Trump now seems inescapable. Unless the President resigns, the pressure by the public on the Democratic leaders to begin an impeachment process next year will only increase. Too many people think in terms of stasis: How things are is how they will remain. They don’t take into account that opinion moves with events.

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Whether or not there’s already enough evidence to impeach Mr. Trump — I think there is — we will learn what the special counsel, Robert Mueller, has found, even if his investigation is cut short. A significant number of Republican candidates didn’t want to run with Mr. Trump in the midterms, and the results of those elections didn’t exactly strengthen his standing within his party. His political status, weak for some time, is now hurtling downhill.

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The midterms were followed by new revelations in criminal investigations of once-close advisers as well as new scandals involving Mr. Trump himself. The odor of personal corruption on the President’s part — perhaps affecting his foreign policy — grew stronger. Then the events of the past several days — the president’s precipitous decision to pull American troops out of Syria, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis’s abrupt resignation, the swoon in the stock market, the pointless shutdown of parts of the government — instilled a new sense of alarm among many Republicans.

The word “impeachment” has been thrown around with abandon. The frivolous impeachment of President Bill Clinton helped to define it as a form of political revenge. But it is far more important and serious than that: It has a critical role in the functioning of our democracy.

Impeachment was the founders’ method of holding a president accountable between elections. Determined to avoid setting up a king in all but name, they put the decision about whether a president should be allowed to continue to serve in the hands of the representatives of the people who elected him.

The founders understood that overturning the results of a presidential election must be approached with care and that they needed to prevent the use of that power as a partisan exercise or by a faction. So they wrote into the Constitution provisions to make it extremely difficult for Congress to remove a president from office, including that after an impeachment vote in the House, the Senate would hold a trial, with a two-thirds vote needed for conviction.

Lost in all the discussion about possible lawbreaking by Mr. Trump is the fact that impeachment wasn’t intended only for crimes. For example, in 1974 the House Judiciary Committee charged Richard Nixon with, among other things, abusing power by using the I.R.S. against his political enemies. The committee also held the president accountable for misdeeds by his aides and for failing to honor the oath of office’s pledge that a president must “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”

The current presidential crisis seems to have only two possible outcomes. If Mr. Trump sees criminal charges coming at him and members of his family, he may feel trapped. This would leave him the choice of resigning or trying to fight congressional removal. But the latter is highly risky.

I don’t share the conventional view that if Mr. Trump is impeached by the House, the Republican-dominated Senate would never muster the necessary 67 votes to convict him. Stasis would decree that would be the case, but the current situation, already shifting, will have been left far behind by the time the senators face that question. Republicans who were once Mr. Trump’s firm allies have already openly criticized some of his recent actions, including his support of Saudi Arabia despite the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and his decision on Syria. They also openly deplored Mr. Mattis’s departure.

It always seemed to me that Mr. Trump’s turbulent presidency was unsustainable and that key Republicans would eventually decide that he had become too great a burden to the party or too great a danger to the country. That time may have arrived. In the end the Republicans will opt for their own political survival. Almost from the outset some Senate Republicans have speculated on how long his presidency would last. Some surely noticed that his base didn’t prevail in the midterms.

But it may well not come to a vote in the Senate. Facing an assortment of unpalatable possibilities, including being indicted after he leaves office, Mr. Trump will be looking for a way out. It’s to be recalled that Mr. Nixon resigned without having been impeached or convicted. The House was clearly going to approve articles of impeachment against him, and he’d been warned by senior Republicans that his support in the Senate had collapsed. Mr. Trump could well exhibit a similar instinct for self-preservation. But like Mr. Nixon, Mr. Trump will want future legal protection.

Mr. Nixon was pardoned by President Gerald Ford, and despite suspicions, no evidence has ever surfaced that the fix was in. While Mr. Trump’s case is more complex than Mr. Nixon’s, the evident dangers of keeping an out-of-control president in office might well impel politicians in both parties, not without controversy, to want to make a deal to get him out of there.

Elizabeth Drew, a political journalist who for many years covered Washington for The New Yorker, is the author of “Washington Journal: Reporting Watergate and Richard Nixon’s Downfall.”

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4 thoughts on “The Inevitability of Trump Impeachment

  1. Vanity Fair has written a plausible article on the cynical reasons Pelosi won’t impeach Donald Trump. Democrats who are contemplating impeaching the president are considering a cautionary tale: what happened the last time a president was impeached. President Bill Clinton survived, but his top accuser, House Speaker Newt Gingrich, didn’t, and it was the Republican Party that lost seats in the next election.

    House Democrats have been playing it smart. They know that they were not given the majority in the Senate to immediately get into an impeachment fight. Democrats have been planning on conducting their own House investigation into the Trump scandal. They have also been waiting for the Mueller report, which will be a big part of the evidence that will be used to launch an impeachment investigation.

    Even though Pelosi may like to keep the erratic, corrupted and unethical idiot in the White House rather than handing power to a hypocritical religious con-man, in order for a better chance for the Democrats to recapture the White House and the Senate in the 2020 election, But the way that Trump felonies have been unfolded recently, Trump is now an unindicted co-conspirator in multiple felonies. The evidence of impeachable offences continues to grow and the majority of the American people are demanding impeachment proceedings.

    House Democrats will have little choice the way this is going, other than to start impeachment proceedings. They have to listen to the voices of the majority of the American people. The Congressional Republicans, for their own reelection considerations, are beginning to abandon Trump, making it possible to impeach the president. Trump has committed so many crimes that the most difficult choice that House Democrats will face will be narrowing down the list in the articles of impeachment.

    Mueller’s report is expected to come out before March of 2019. Mueller is giving Trump ample time to resign in order to avoid a constitutional crisis.

  2. I do agree almost entirely with Elizabeth Drew’s article, though I’ve felt for a log time that Mike Pence as President could be just as dangerous as Trump. The only possible “saving grace”, if Trump were to be forced out of office in some way, is that Pence would hopefully be in a weak enough position politically that he couldn’t cause too much harm during his remaining time in the office.

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