A Case Against Impeachment

Three (provisional) reasons not to put the president on trial.

You could argue that the month of January has very modestly raised the odds that Donald Trump will not finish his term as president.

First, the government shutdown has demonstrated that Trump’s own incompetence suffices to cost him support in the polls and in the Senate — an indication that a larger crumbling of his political firewall might be possible.

Second, the indictment of Roger Stone, based on his lies to Congress about outreach to WikiLeaks, keeps open the possibility of future revelations of conspiracy implicating Trump himself.

Finally, there has been a burst of media interest in impeachment — an Atlantic cover story by Yoni Appelbaum prodding Democrats to take the plunge, and a more cautious essay by my colleague David Leonhardt putting the option on the table.

I’m open to these arguments; indeed, I have to be, since I’m on the record urging this president’s removal from office using the unusual remedy of the 25th Amendment. But there are several difficulties with the current briefs for impeachment, which suffice for now to keep a Pence presidency out of reach.

The first is the gulf between the democracy-subverting powers that the briefs ascribe to Trump and the actual extent of his influence. In Appelbaum’s essay, the president is charged with nothing less than having “trampled” on “the liberties guaranteed by the Constitution.” But many of his examples feature Trump failing to actually trample anything. He “did his best” to enact a Muslim travel ban (the actual ban was limited and upheld by the Supreme Court), he has “called for” the firing of political enemies (with little discernible result), he has made “efforts” to impede the Mueller investigation (which continues apace), and so on down the list of outrages that exist primarily on his Twitter feed.

Much of the case for “trampling,” then, is a case against Trump’s rhetoric. And one can acknowledge that rhetoric’s evils while doubting that the ranting of a president so hemmed in, unpopular and weak is meaningfully threatening the Constitution.

..Especially because of the second problem with the case for impeachment, which might be summed up in a line from a poem that Trump often quoted in 2016: You knew damn well I was a snake before you took me in.Meaning, in this case, that little about his rhetorical excess, his penchant for lies and insults or the seaminess of his courtiers was hidden from voters on the campaign trail in 2016, in an election that by the Constitution’s standards Trump legitimately won.

The electorate’s foreknowledge of a politician’s sleaziness doesn’t preclude impeachment. But it means that there is, at least, a quantum of sleaze that the president’s supporters voted to accept. And the closer we get to a new election — including another primary campaign — the stronger the case for asking voters to retract that endorsement, instead of pre-empting their judgment from on high.

.. Appelbaum, for instance, analogizes Trump’s race-baiting to Andrew Johnson’s efforts to impede Reconstruction in the late-1860s South. But when he was impeached, Johnson was literally using his veto to abet the possible restoration of white supremacy. Whereas Trump is conspicuously losing a fight over some modest border fencing, and his last race-inflected policy move was … a criminal justice reform supported by many African-Americans. The president may be a bigot, but the policy stakes do not remotely resemble 1868.

Then there are the geopolitical risks of Trump’s alleged Russian loyalties. After the Stone arrest, Appelbaum’s Atlantic colleague David Frum deemed these too severe to wait even for Robert Mueller’s verdict: “But now — now! — the country is in danger.”

But in the absence of Mueller-stamped evidence, what we have to prove that peril is Trump’s actual foreign policy, which is erratic but frequently quite unfriendly to Moscow — with the administration’s effort to subvert the Russian-aligned Maduro regime in Venezuela just this week’s example.

Which makes it entirely reasonable to wait to see whether Mueller vindicates the various uncorroborated scoops about a conspiracy hatched in Prague or the Ecuadorean Embassy, rather than trying to impeach Trump for, say, his private griping about NATO.

At the end of my invoke-the-25th-Amendment column I wrote, “There will be time to return again to world-weariness and cynicism as this agony drags on.” That was month four of this presidency; as we approach month 25 I suppose I have become that world-weary cynic.

Stone-Cold Loser

Roger Stone has always lived in a dog-eat-dog world.

So it was apt that he was charged with skulduggery in part for threatening to kidnap a therapy dog, a fluffy, sweet-faced Coton de Tuléar, belonging to Randy Credico, a New York radio host.

Robert Mueller believes that Credico, a pal of Julian Assange, served as an intermediary with WikiLeaks for Stone. Mueller’s indictment charges that Stone called Credico “a rat” and “a stoolie” because he believed that the radio host was not going to back up what the special counsel says is Stone’s false story about contacts with WikiLeaks, which disseminated Russia’s hacked emails from the D.N.C. and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman.

Stone emailed Credico that he would “take that dog away from you,” the indictment says, later adding: “I am so ready. Let’s get it on. Prepare to die (expletive).”

As the owner of two Yorkies, Stone clearly knows how scary it is when a beloved dog is in harm’s way. When he emerged from court on Friday, he immediately complained that F.B.I. agents had “terrorized” his dogs when they came to arrest him at dawn at his home in Fort Lauderdale.

.. Always bespoke and natty, living by the mantra that it’s better to be infamous than never famous, Stone looked strangely unadorned as he came out of court to meet the press in a navy polo shirt and bluejeans.

He has always said Florida suited him because “it was a sunny place for shady people,” borrowing a Somerset Maugham line. But now the cat’s cradle of lies and dirty tricks had tripped up the putative dognapper. And it went down on the very same day that Paul Manafort — his former associate in a seamy lobbying firm with rancid dictators as clients, and then later his pal in the seamy campaign of Donald Trump — was also in federal court on charges related to the Mueller probe. Manafort’s hair is now almost completely white.

.. One of Stone’s rules — along with soaking his martini olives in vermouth and never wearing a double-breasted suit with a button-down collar — is “Deny, deny, deny.” But his arrest for lying, obstructing and witness tampering raised the inevitable question about his on-and-off friend in the White House, the man who is the last jigsaw-puzzle piece in the investigation of Trumpworld’s alleged coordination with Russia: Is being Donald Trump finally about to catch up with Donald Trump?

Stone, who famously has Nixon’s face tattooed on his back, is the agent provocateur who is the through line from Nixon, and his impeachment, to Trump, and his possible impeachment.

‘Bad Behavior By People In High Office’: Rachel Maddow On The Lessons Of Spiro Agnew

There are countless presidential scandals in U.S. history, but very few of them have resulted in resignation or impeachment — which is precisely why MSNBC host Rachel Maddow was drawn to the story of Spiro Agnew, Richard Nixon’s first vice president, who resigned in 1973.

Maddow notes there are many misconceptions concerning the former vice president — including the notion that his “big sin” centered on taxes.

“When I tried to sort of thumbnail in my mind what happened in the Agnew resignation, everything I thought about it was wrong,” she says. “I had assumed that it was a Watergate-adjacent scandal, that the FBI was looking into Watergate-related crimes and they stumbled upon something in Spiro Agnew’s taxes. … All of those things were completely wrong.”

Maddow and her former producer Mike Yarvitz created the podcast Bag Man to revisit Agnew’s story. Though his resignation was officially linked to tax evasion, they say that Agnew had engaged in bribery that dated to the early 1960s, when, as Baltimore County executive, he demanded kickbacks in exchange for local engineering or architecture contracts. He continued the practice even after being elected governor of Maryland in 1967 and then vice president in 1969.