By J.D. Munch
We have found the gun, and it is smoking. Donald Trump, Jr., undeniably sought to collude with a Russian lawyer, and believed he was going to gain information as “part of Russia and its government’s support of Mr. Trump” in the campaign. The Russia “witch hunt,” as President Trump likes to call it, has found direct evidence of the dark arts at play. The defense, that anyone would have done it and that the meeting didn’t end up yielding the kind of intelligence for which Trump and his family hoped, should hardly matter. The campaign worked with Russian support and sought out meetings to collude with a rival power for political gain. It happened.
So does this create a clear-cut case for Trump’s impeachment? This is a trickier question, both legally and politically. Only two presidents—Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton—have ever been impeached, and both were acquitted by the Senate. Richard Nixon resigned before the House could vote on impeachment, so the most clear-cut case for the process in our history did not have a chance to create precedent where Trump is concerned. Still, the Constitution lays out a process for impeaching a sitting President, so we are not flying blind. The facts in play have set the stage for a potential impeachment, but as the minority party, Democrats are understandably proceeding carefully. We must continue to apply public pressure to set the table for impeachment of this remarkably bad president.
Grounds for Impeachment
Impeachment is available against a sitting President for “Treason, Bribery, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors.” The mere fact that Trump is a disgusting human being whose dealings with other national leaders or the citizens of this country weaken us on the world stage is not enough. He must be found guilty of one of the three categories of crime to be removed from office. The House of Representatives must vote on articles of impeachment, and then two-thirds of the Senate must vote to convict. The bar is high, primarily to avoid the potential of partisanship pushing unfair removal of a sitting President. But when the crimes exist, impeachment is the main tool we have to remove a criminal President.
Treason is the betrayal of one’s country, perhaps the most serious offense of which any political figure can be accused. It would require showing that Trump actively conspired to hurt our country. This has not yet been used for impeachment proceedings in this country, because it requires such a specific showing of intent. We have some evidence here; Trump Jr. met with Russians with the intent of hurting Clinton’s campaign, and more evidence continues to gather that Trump is putting Russian interests above those of the United States. Should Robert Mueller’s investigation reach a critical threshold of undermining national interests in favor of Russian interests, this could be the point reached. At present, though, we have violation of election laws, but the intent to commit treason is not clear. This charge requires some additional evidence—but cannot be ruled out.
The Constitution does not define bribery, but its usual definition involves either accepting something of value in exchange for illegal favors, or offering something of value to receive illegal favors. This is where Trump’s ongoing violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause comes into play. For all Trump’s railing against Hillary Clinton for what he claimed was granting favors in exchange for donations to the Clinton Foundation—without evidence, because that’s how Trump levels accusations—Trump is much more directly receiving money every time foreign government officials meet him at a Trump property. This represents another point for potential development in the Mueller investigation; Trump is fighting investigation into his finances in part because the entanglements between his business interests and his foreign policy decisions presents a strong potential for bribery charges. We know he is receiving foreign payments to his businesses. If this presents a trail of favors granted from the Office of the President, bribery charges become available.
Finally, other high crimes and misdemeanors presents a broader category of potential charges. This has been the source for all impeachments raised in this country. For Andrew Johnson, this came out of his refusal to execute laws that he considered unconstitutional; Congress saw him as sympathetic to the Southern states, and impeached on those grounds. For Clinton—and for Nixon before he resigned to avoid charges, obstruction of justice represented the bellwether charge. They were accused of lying to investigators and acting to prevent justice from following its course.
Here, we have solid evidence of Trump’s obstruction. He himself stated that Russia was on his mind when he fired James Comey. He has asked several investigators to stop investigating, and has used Twitter and almost every speech he has made to threaten and cajole those who are trying to find out what happened. He and almost everyone in his campaign has lied about Russian contacts and events throughout the campaign. He has refused to turn over tax returns that could show the extent to which foreign money affects his overall financial picture. He has obstructed justice, and continues to do so. And if he works to get Mueller fired, the obstruction level would increase tenfold.
The Political Reality
Republicans, by and large, have demonstrated cowardice at every turn when it comes to resisting Trump, and counting on them to act appropriately against a President of their own party is unwise. While some Democrats have raised the specter of impeachment, most have not, because their ability to get a two-thirds vote in the Senate is low. Until there is direct, unexplainable evidence of Trump’s corruption, wisdom continues to lie in caution: watching, calling out his illegal and improper behavior, and allowing the Mueller investigation to unfold. Knowing Trump is a criminal president is important, but getting to the point that those desperate not to see the truth finally see it remains a challenge.
That point will require one of three things to occur. One, a mass action in which Republicans band together to put the country ahead of their party, seems unlikely at present. They are out for themselves, and until they see personal political gain available from bringing justice to their President, enough will continue to offer weak excuses for the failings of the West Wing. Don’t be fooled by the mild rebukes of his actions toward Jeff Sessions; Republicans defending a friend, with nothing but words, does not represent a step toward independent thought.
The second is video evidence of obstruction—some recording of Donald Trump directly undermining the investigation, perhaps by a Saturday Night Massacre kind of action in which he works to get Mueller fired, or some secret meeting leaked out that shows, finally and conclusively, that Trump is working for the Russians or fighting to stop the truth from emerging. We have plenty of evidence that he is doing exactly that, but not enough for the Republicans who must vote to impeach.
Finally, the remaining option is to regain control of the House and Senate. This is another tall task, and should not be seen as the end goal so much as a means to bring this traitor to justice. Power for power’s sake would not leave the Democrats in a position to be better than the current Congressional majority party. But lifting and supporting candidates ready to act, to fight for justice and regain the country from this bullying buffoon, should rise to the top of our priority list in the resistance. Until we get there, until we have people ready and willing to act in position to do so, we will be left with bluster and rage. These matter, and rage should continue unabated, but it must lead to actions and results. Fight on and continue to not only resist Trump, but build a plan to act on it.