Michael G. Roskin: Groping Toward Impeachment
Thursday, April 06, 2017 10:58 AM
Donald Trump is groping — excuse the expression — toward his own impeachment. In accusing former President Obama of wiretapping him, Trump may have broken laws against false accusations. To fib at this level is at least a misdemeanor, which is grounds for impeachment.
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), chair of the House intelligence panel, does his best to shield Trump by blocking investigations into Russian connections and minimizing an Obama “wiretapp” as incidental and accidental. Trump later said he really meant all forms of surveillance. (Admittedly, “surveillance” is much harder to spell.) Instead of backing down, he doubled down, then tripled down, indifferent to the damage it was doing, even with our close British ally, whom he accused of doing the surveillance at Obama’s behest.
Moscow tried to undermine American democracy, and Trump may have helped them. “Treason” may not work because it was not in time of war, but it’s damning. It is startling to realize that, in terms of penetrating and disturbing U.S. politics, Putin has far exceeded Stalin. Campaign manager Paul Manafort, short-lived National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, new Attorney General Jeffrey Sessions and others had contact with Russian officials. Manafort and Flynn got Russian money.
Flynn’s demand last week for immunity for testimony before congressional intelligence committees raises the question of wrongdoing among the Trump team. Last year, in urging that Hillary be locked up, Flynn claimed that only guilty people seek immunity. Flynn’s testimony could resemble the 1973 revelation of Nixon’s tapes, but, for impeachment, Flynn would have had to acted under Trump’s orders.
Can it be treason if the Trumpists were just private citizens, not yet in office? Did they discuss ending U.S. sanctions over Crimea and Ukraine if Trump won? That would represent private foreign policy, circumventing U.S. law. Candidate Nixon in 1968 promised Saigon better treatment if it stalled on peace talks, but nobody found this out until recently. The longer war cost thousands more American lives, something more impeachable than Watergate.
Russia’s efforts in the 2016 election may not be impeachable, but, as Nixon noted, the coverup is worse than the crime. Democrats, already playing the coverup angle, will use it in the 2018 and 2020 elections. Foreign payments to Trump properties worldwide could put the emoluments question before the Supreme Court for the first time. Trump never put his holdings in a blind trust; instead, his sons run them.
The old “groping” issue continues, with lawsuits from some 75 women. Lawsuits or not, the Constitution makes “high crimes and misdemeanors” impeachable and does not specify whether they occurred before or after becoming president. Trump’s lawyers claim he’s immune, but the Supreme Court in Clinton v. Jones (1997) ruled otherwise. Clinton’s impeachment by the House was on straight partisan grounds for perjury. In his Senate trial, only 50 voted to convict, well short of the required 67. Much the same would happen now in the case of Trump.
The more Congress looks at Trump and his helpers, the more they find, plenty to keep bubbling at least until the 2018 elections. By then, enough Republican congresspersons will worry about Trump’s strange behavior and their re-election to consider impeachment. Probably that will have to wait until Democrats gain House and Senate seats.
Trump’s legislative proposals could then be so mired in division that they get nowhere. Failure to repeal Obamacare could become the model. Republicans will be squeamish about supporting an odd, probably short-term president. Will Trump have enough capital on Capitol Hill to pass anything? Not without help from the Democrats, who will demand major concessions, such as no Mexico wall or millionaires’ tax cut and leaving Planned Parenthood and Medicaid expansion alone.
A president’s approval ratings and policy failures are not grounds for impeachment. Trump may never be impeached, but his re-election grows doubtful. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) tried to make Obama a one-term president, inviting Democrats to return the favor for Trump. Now, some say that’s not fair: Trump’s programs and budgets should get a chance to produce results. But between intemperate tweets and a divided GOP, Trump is trapped.
Defections of Trump’s own political appointees and Congressional Republicans could foreshadow impeachment. Trump’s backing of Ryancare could not unify House Republicans, the Senate even less so. Maine’s Senator Susan Collins has an interesting health-insurance plan — if anyone is listening — that could garner bipartisan support.
Another first-time Supreme Court case could come with a new Mideast war waged without Congress’s declaration of war, a possible constitutional misuse of power. Since World War II, presidents have used joint congressional resolutions — now called AUMF (authorization for use of military force) — which aren’t in the Constitution and have never been adjudicated. Another U.S. war could let the Supreme Court decide on the Framers’ “original intent,” which includes no AUMF. As SCOTUS returns to majority conservative with the arrival of Justice Gorsuch, we could see if the strict interpreters mean what they proclaim.