The Inevitability of Impeachment

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.

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.

.. 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.

.. 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 criticizedsome 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.

Reflections on Impeachment, 20 Years Later

It was a tragedy for Bill Clinton, Monica Lewinsky and America. He could have averted it by apologizing.

I didn’t believe the story when I first heard it—presidents and staffers don’t carry on like that. When I came to see it was true, I was angry. I wrote angrily in these pages.

I see it all now more as a tragedy than a scandal. I am more convinced than ever that Mr. Clinton made the epic political miscalculation of the 20th century’s latter half. He had two choices when news of the affair was uncovered: tell the truth and pay the price, or lie and hope to get away with it.

If he’d told the truth, even accompanied by a moving public apology, the toll would have been enormous. He would have taken a hellacious political beating, with a steep slide in public approval and in stature. He would have been an object of loathing and ridicule—the goat in the White House, a laughingstock. Members of his party would have come down on him like a ton of bricks. Newt Gingrich and the Republicans would have gleefully rubbed his face in it every day. There would have been calls for impeachment.

It would have lasted many months. And he would have survived and his presidency continued.

Much more important—here is why it is a tragedy—it wouldn’t have dragged America through the mud. It only would have dragged him through the mud. His full admission of culpability would have averted the false testimony in a criminal investigation that became the basis for the Starr report and the two articles of impeachment the House approved.

.. The American people would’ve forgiven him for the affair. We know this because they’d already forgiven him when they first elected him. There had been credible allegations of affairs during the 1992 campaign. Voters had never thought highly of him in that area. His nickname the day he was inaugurated was “Slick Willie.”
.. If he had chosen the path of honesty, Americans wouldn’t have backed impeaching him, because they are adults and have also made mistakes and committed sins.

And we know Mr. Clinton would have been forgiven because in September 1998—after the Starr report was released, amid all the mud and lies and jokes about thongs and cigars—a Gallup poll asked, “Based on what you know at this point, do you think that Bill Clinton should or should not be impeached and removed from office?” Sixty-six percent answered “should not be.”

Bill Clinton, political genius, didn’t understand his country’s heart.

.. and the year of hell, the cultural catastrophe, followed. That’s what it was, a year in which 8-year-olds learned about oral sex from the radio on the way home from school, and 10-year-olds came to understand that important adults lie, angrily and consistently, and teenagers knew if the president can do it, I can do it. It marked the end of a certain mystique of leadership, and it damaged the mystique of American democracy. All of America’s airwaves were full of the sludge—phone sex and blue dresses. The scandal lowered everything.
.. It was a tragedy because in lying and trying to protect himself, Mr. Clinton was deciding not to protect America. And that is the unforgivable sin, that he put America through that, not what happened with Monica.
.. The Starr report ran 452 pages and contained an astonishing level of sexual detail, of prurient, gratuitous specificity. Congress could have withheld it from the public or released an expurgated version. It didn’t have to be so humiliating. But Mr. Clinton’s enemies made sure it was.
.. Almost immediately on receiving the Starr report, Congress voted to release it in full, “so that the fullest details of his sins could be made public,” as Ken Gormley writes in his comprehensive 2010 history of the scandal, “The Death of American Virtue: Clinton vs. Starr.” They put it up on the web. Its contents wound up on every screen in America, every newspaper, every television and radio.
.. Lawmakers released the videotape of Mr. Clinton’s grand-jury testimony, so everyone could see the handsome presidential liar squirm.
Mr. Starr’s staffers said they needed extremely detailed, concrete specificity to make the American people understand what happened. At the time I assumed that was true in a legal sense. Now I look back and see mere blood lust and misjudgment.

I see the desire to rub Mr. Clinton’s face in it just as he’d rubbed America’s face in it.

Top to bottom, left to right, a more dignified government, one that cared more about both America’s children and its international stature, would have shown more self-restraint and forbearance. And there might have been just a little pity for the desperate, cornered liar who’d defiled his office.

.. It wouldn’t have so ruined the life of a woman who, when her relationship with the president commenced, was only 22. She paid a steeper reputational price than anyone. Charles Rangel, at the time a senior Democratic congressman, said on television that she was a “young tramp.” The White House slimed her as a fantasist. She went into hiding, thought about suicide.And in the end, 20 years later, she put the Clintons to shame.

.. Publicly for two decades she has reacted with more style and dignity than they, said less and with less bitterness and aggression, when they were the ones with all the resources, and a press corps eager to maintain good relations with them because Hillary would surely one day be president.

Monica told her side and kept walking, and even refrained from blaming her shaming on the Clintons. Feminists abandoned and derided her. She took it all on her back and bore it away. In my book, after all this time, she deserves respect.

Sometimes America gets fevers. They don’t so much break as dissipate with time. Twenty years ago we were in a fever. Others will come. The thing to do when it happens is know it’s happening, notice when the temperature is high, and factor it in as you judge and act, realizing you’re not at your best. Twenty years ago, almost none of our leaders were.

Ken Starr: Mueller May Indict Trump After His Presidency (HBO)

Special Counsel Bob Mueller has two pathways to proceed against President Trump if he uncovers serious wrongdoing by the President, former independent counsel Ken Starr told VICE News.

Mueller can either refer his findings to Congress for impeachment — as Starr did with former President Bill Clinton in 1998. Or Mueller can wait for Trump’s presidency to end, and indict Trump afterwards, Starr said.

Starr said he believes that the law does permit a sitting president to face a criminal indictment. But longstanding DOJ policy against charging a sitting president will keep Mueller from charging Trump while in office, Starr predicted — no matter what the special counsel’s investigation into Trump’s links to Russia finds.

Unlike many observers, Starr himself has real-world experience in making such decisions. In 1998, he sent an explosive report to Congress, dubbed the Starr Report, that laid out 11 “grounds” for impeaching Clinton, including perjury, obstruction of justice, witness-tampering and abuse of power.

Former Nixon counsel John Dean to be witness opposed to Kavanaugh nomination to Supreme Court

In a telephone interview, Dean said he would focus on Kavanaugh’s views on executive power and his statements about the case, U.S. v. Nixon, in which the Supreme Court ruled that Nixon had to turn over secretly recorded White House tapes.

Kavanaugh’s view on the case is murky. He said in a 1999 panel discussion that “maybe Nixon was wrongly decided — heresy though it is to say so. Nixon took away the power of the president to control information in the executive branch . . . that was a huge step with implications to this day that most people do no fully appreciate.”

.. Dean also said he would focus on Kavanaugh’s 2009 Minnesota Law Review article, in which the federal appeals court judge wrote that a president is too busy to be distracted by civil suits and criminal investigation while in office. Kavanaugh’s view has come under scrutiny because he played the lead role in laying out the grounds for impeaching President Bill Clinton when he helped write a report to Congress for independent counsel Kenneth Starr.

.. Democrats are expected to question Kavanaugh about whether he believes that President Trump should be subject to investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

.. Democrats have expressed concern that Kavanaugh could be asked to rule on whether Mueller can subpoena Trump and force him to testimony.

Dean, who has said Trump is “more dangerous” than Nixon

.. Republicans announced Thursday that Kavanaugh will be introduced at the hearings by former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, among others, and a number of his former law clerks and others will testify in his favor. Former solicitor general Theodore Olson is also slated to testify for Republicans.

Donald Trump’s High Crimes and Misdemeanors

The principled case for impeachment is clear. What’s missing is the courage.

.. To overturn the results of an election for anything less than unambiguous evidence of criminal behavior is a danger to democracy itself.

At least that was my view until this week. Michael Cohen’s guilty plea changes this. The Constitution’s standard for impeachment is “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” The standard is now met.

.. That means that, as a candidate, Trump is credibly alleged to have purposefully conspired with Cohen to commit criminal acts. That means the duo did so “for purposes of influencing [an] election for Federal office,” which is the legal definition of a campaign contribution.

.. In Trump’s case, there is little doubt about the purpose of the payment to Stormy Daniels:In Trump’s case, there is little doubt about the purpose of the payment to Stormy Daniels: To prevent disclosure of their alleged liaison, less than a month before the election and barely two weeks after the Access Hollywood tape came to light.

.. The president is now, in effect, an unindicted co-conspirator on charges already prosecuted by the government as a criminal matter against Cohen. Why should a lighter standard apply to Trump, since he’s the one at whose direction Cohen claims to have carried out the payments?

.. That question should especially engage those conservatives who demanded Clinton’s impeachment (as I did). Take South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, one of the House managers overseeing the case against the 42nd president.

.. “Twenty-five years ago,” he said that December, “a Democratic-controlled judiciary committee, with a minority of Republicans, reported articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon. Why? Nixon cheated — he cheated the electoral system by concealing efforts of a political break-in, and his people thought the other side deserved to be cheated. They thought his enemies deserved to be mistreated. Ladies and gentlemen, they were wrong.”

..  “Today, Republicans, with a small handful of Democrats, will vote to impeach President Clinton. Why? Because we believe he committed crimes resulting in cheating our legal system. We believe he lied under oath numerous times, that he tampered with evidence, that he conspired to present false testimony to a court of law. We believe he assaulted our legal system in every way. Let it be said that any president who cheats our institutions shall be impeached.”

.. If breaking the law (by lying under oath) to conceal an affair was impeachable, why is breaking the law (by violating campaign-finance laws) to conceal an affair not impeachable?

.. If cheating “our institutions” (by means of an “assault” in “every way” on the legal system) is impeachable, why is cheating those institutions (by means of nonstop presidential mendacity and relentless attacks on the Justice Department and the F.B.I.) not impeachable?

.. The Constitution matters more than a tax cut. What the Constitution demands is the impeachment and removal from office of this lawless president.

Trump’s ‘Perjury Trap’: Confessing to Obstruction of Justice or Lying About It

Rudy Giuliani tells Axios that his client, President Trump, is currently willing to speak to Special Counsel Robert Mueller on the condition that he not be asked about two subjects: why Trump fired FBI director James Comey, and what Trump said to Comey about the investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

You might wonder if the specificity of this demand sounds just a wee bit suspicious, as if Trump’s lawyers are pointing frantically at a locked door at a crime scene and shouting “Don’t go in there!” You would be right.

.. The Russia scandal has followed an eerily similar fact pattern to Watergate. Both cases feature as the central underlying crime the burglary of private files from the Democratic National Committee in order to give Republicans an advantage in a presidential campaign. Both cases also feature the president leaning on the FBI to quash an investigation that might connect the burglary to the president and his inner circle.

..  We are accustomed — not only by Watergate but by every criminal or detective drama — to expect evidence to mount to a crescendo over time. Nobody knows quite how to respond to the spectacle of a president committing high crimes and misdemeanors in his first few weeks in office, and then simply confessing to them casually in a subsequent television interview.

.. A perjury trap is a real thing. The term describes when prosecutors lure a witness into giving false testimony, usually for reasons other than covering up a crime, knowing they can prove the claim was false, and then nail them for perjury.

.. The impeachment of President Clinton was a classic perjury trap. Special Prosecutor Ken Starr asked the president about an affair with Monica Lewinsky, knowing Clinton — like most people who have affairs, especially politicians — would lie about it.

.. Asking Trump about his attempt to manipulate his FBI director is not a perjury trap. The question is not extraneous to a crime, it is a crime. He was very consciously attempting to stop an investigation into his administration. The mere fact that his lawyers are discussing it well in advance indicates that the subject matter is not a perjury trap, because the “trap” aspect involves the witness not knowing beforehand that the question is designed to produce a lie.

Trump’s lawyers have presumably concluded that they have no defense of his obstruction of justice. Faced with a choice between admitting to obstruction of justice, or denying it and risking perjury, Trump’s choice is to avoid the question altogether.

he remained the conservative iconoclast until the end, losing to someone whose election night speech began with a simple declaration: “This is the party of Donald J. Trump.”

But, in his conversations with Trump, Graham said they discuss his public critiques of presidential decisions, as he also tries to steer Trump into a place of “how you fix it” rather than just “let’s burn it down.”

“It’s important for every president, but particularly him, to see that the critic actually can help,” Graham said.

.. Graham and Sanford both came to Congress after winning in 1994, part of the historic class that vaulted Republicans into the majority for the first time in 40 years. Graham was 39, Sanford was 34, and they were the vanguard of several dozen hard-charging freshmen.

“They came in — they’re gonna burn everything down,” Graham recalled of those early days and his lead role as unofficial spokesman for the rebels. “I was the loudest guy.”

.. In 1998, Graham served as an impeachment manager in the Senate trial of President Bill Clinton. Sanford actually lived up to his term-limit pledge, returning home to South Carolina and winning the governor’s race in 2002.

.. They’re so close that Graham is godfather to Sanford’s youngest son.

.. But last summer, Graham started to see Trump’s ideological flexibility and tried to shape his decisions from the inside. “Ideology doesn’t drive this party like it used to,” explained Graham

.. he remained the conservative iconoclast until the end, losing to someone whose election night speech began with a simple declaration: “This is the party of Donald J. Trump.”