Democratic congressional leaders have, for the time being, ruled out pursuing impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump. That could all change depending on what is in the eagerly awaited report on the Russia investigation being prepared by special counsel Robert Mueller.
On his way to Ohio Wednesday, Trump told reporters outside the White House that the public should have access to the Mueller report.
“Let it come out. Let the people see,” Trump said. “Let’s see whether or not it is legit.”
The decision by Democratic congressional leaders to pass on impeachment seems to be mindful of recent history, especially the Republican-led impeachment effort against President Bill Clinton in 1998.
In announcing her opposition to impeachment, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said simply that Trump “wasn’t worth it.”
Pelosi is sticking to her position despite pressure from liberal activists.
“Impeachment is a divisive issue in our country, and let us see what the facts are, what the law is, and what the behavior is of the president,” Pelosi recently told reporters at the Capitol.
Trump: ‘Great job’
For President Trump, the idea of impeachment is, not surprisingly, a non-starter.
“Well, you can’t impeach somebody that is doing a great job. That is the way I view it,” Trump said when asked about the issue in January.
Late last year, Trump told Reuters that he was not concerned about impeachment.
“I think that the people would revolt if that happened,” he said.
Trump’s Republican allies in Congress are also poised to leap to his defense.
“I don’t think it is good for the country,” House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters last week. “The Democrats made a decision (to want to impeach) on the day President Trump one.”
Some Democrats want to keep pushing, including former Hillary Clinton senior adviser Philippe Reines. Reines wrote recently in the New York Times that Democrats would be doing a “civic duty” to pursue impeachment.
“There is a mounting political cost to not impeaching Mr. Trump,” Reines wrote last week. “He will hail it as exoneration and he will go into the 2020 campaign under the banner, ‘I Told You So.’”
Polls say no
Recent polls show most voters do not favor impeachment at this time. A Quinnipiac University poll earlier this month found that 59 percent of those surveyed do not think House Democrats should initiate impeachment proceedings against the president, while 35 percent support the idea.
Given that the 2020 election cycle is underway, Democrats may prefer to have the voters try to oust Trump during next year’s election, according to George Washington University analyst Matt Dallek.
“By the time impeachment proceedings were even to ramp up, you are talking about the end of 2019 or early 2020,” Dallek told VOA this week. “That creates its own complication because there is another remedy for removing a president and it is called the election.”
Democrats clearly recall what happened to Bill Clinton in 1998. Clinton lied about and tried to cover up his affair with intern Monica Lewinsky, which led to his impeachment by the House. Clinton remained in office after he was acquitted in a trial in the Senate.
Historically, impeachment has been a rare event. Clinton was only the second president impeached by the House. Andrew Johnson was the first back in 1868. Johnson avoided removal by a single vote in the Senate.
Presidential impeachments have been rare and that is by design, according to University of Virginia expert Larry Sabato.
“They (the founders) did not want presidents impeached and convicted and thrown out of office for minor offenses. They expected Congress to do it only in extreme circumstances.”
Republicans paid a price for the Clinton impeachment, losing five House seats in the 1998 midterm elections. And Sabato said that lesson could have resonance for Democrats today as they mull impeaching Trump.
“Given the fact that the Republicans took a wounded Bill Clinton and made him almost invulnerable for the rest of his term, it should serve as a warning to Democrats,” he said.
Experts also note that the damage to Republicans from the Clinton impeachment was not long-lasting. George W. Bush narrowly beat Al Gore in the 2000 presidential election, and the political fallout from Clinton’s scandal may have cost Gore the presidency.
The biggest obstacle facing any impeachment effort of Trump is the Republican-controlled Senate. Democrats would have to bring over at least 20 Republican senators in any impeachment trial in order to get a conviction and remove the president from office.
A vote to impeach a president only requires a majority vote in the House, now controlled by Democrats. But in a Senate trial, it would take 67 of 100 senators to vote for conviction in order to remove the president from office, and Democrats concede that is not a possibility at the moment.
“It has less than zero chance of passing the Senate,” Sabato said. “Why would you go through all this in the House of Representatives, torpedo your entire agenda to impeach Trump in order to send it to the Senate to have him exonerated and not convicted?”
President Richard Nixon was not impeached over the Watergate scandal in 1974, but the process was well underway. The House began impeachment proceedings through the House Judiciary Committee and was preparing to move Articles of Impeachment to the House floor when Nixon decided to resign.
Several Republican senators including Barry Goldwater went to the White House and made it clear to Nixon that he had lost Republican support and would not survive an impeachment trial in the Senate.
Some analysts predict that President Trump could face renewed calls for his ouster depending on the findings of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
“I think if the Mueller report indicates some serious wrongdoing by the president and his campaign, it really empowers Democrats to begin deliberating how to move forward with impeachment proceedings,” said Brookings Institution scholar John Hudak.
But other experts caution that it would have to be something quite serious for Republicans to even consider abandoning the president.
Given the lack of bipartisan support for impeachment at the moment, it does seem more likely that Trump will face the voters again in 2020 before he has to contend with a Democratic-led impeachment inquiry in the House. (VOA)
Mueller's report said prosecutors didn't subpoena Trump because it would have created a "substantial delay" at a "late stage" in the investigation. But it said Mueller and his team of prosecutors viewed Trump's written answers as "inadequate."
Special counsel Robert Mueller investigated 11 instances in which he suspected that President Donald Trump had obstructed justice by trying to thwart his investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election that Trump won, but ultimately he could not prove the president’s intent to break the law.
The 448-page report released Thursday concludes there is no evidence that Trump or his campaign aides coordinated with Russians to interfere on behalf of Trump’s 2016 presidential election campaign against Democrat Hillary Clinton. While the investigation documented many links between people with ties to the Russian government and individuals involved in the Trump campaign, “the evidence was not sufficient to support criminal charges,” Mueller wrote.
However, the report cites numerous efforts by an angst-ridden Trump to derail or impede the federal probe of suspected Russian meddling in the campaign.
Mueller found that in June 2017 Trump asked White House Counsel Don McGahn to pursue Mueller’s removal by the Justice Department in the midst of the prosecutor’s investigation, but that McGahn refused the president’s directive. Mueller said that McGahn feared that the prosecutor’s dismissal would provoke a U.S. constitutional crisis reminiscent of the 1973 Saturday Night Massacre at the height of the Watergate scandal when President Richard Nixon fired top Justice Department officials.
In other instances, Mueller investigated Trump’s firing of former FBI director James Comey, who led the Russia investigation before Mueller’s appointment; efforts to force then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to take control of the investigation after he had already recused himself; dangling a possible pardon of Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort for financial crimes he has been sentenced to prison for, and demands that McGahn deny that he had asked him to seek Mueller’s ouster.
The report said Trump’s attitude toward Michael Cohen, his former personal attorney, changed from “praise” to “castigation” after Cohen admitted that he lied to Congress about pursuing construction of a Trump Tower in Moscow long after Trump was telling voters in early 2016 that he had ended his Russian business ventures.
The report said that Trump at first publicly asserted that Cohen would not turn against him and privately passed messages of support to him. “But after Cohen began cooperating with the government in the summer of 2018, the president publicly criticized him, called him a ‘rat,’ and suggested that his family members had committed crimes,” the report said.
Mueller said, however, he could not reach a definitive decision on the obstruction issue. Attorney General William Barr reiterated Thursday as the report was released that no obstruction charges are warranted.
Mueller said in his report that “If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the president clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment.”
“The evidence we obtained about the president’s actions and intent presents difficult issues that prevent us from conclusively determining that no criminal conduct occurred,” Mueller said. “Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
Part of Mueller’s problem in reaching a decision on obstruction of justice was Trump’s refusal to participate in a face-to-face interview with prosecutors. Instead, the president would only agree to provide written responses to questions posed by the prosecutors, under pre-arranged ground rules. Mueller’s final report contains 12 pages of Trump’s written responses. They included no questions regarding obstruction of justice.
Mueller’s report said prosecutors didn’t subpoena Trump because it would have created a “substantial delay” at a “late stage” in the investigation. But it said Mueller and his team of prosecutors viewed Trump’s written answers as “inadequate.”
In early 2018, after news organizations reported about Trump’s order to McGahn to seek Mueller’s ouster by the Deputy Attorney General and his refusal to comply, the Mueller report said the president told McGahn “to dispute the story and create a record stating he had not been ordered to have the special counsel removed.”
When Trump raised the issue again, questioning why McGahn had told Mueller about his demand to dismiss the prosecutor, “McGahn refused to back away from what he remembered happening and perceived the president to testing his mettle,” according to the report.
From the start of Trump’s presidency in January 2017, Mueller portrays a besieged White House. Before the release of the report, Attorney General William Barr described Trump as “frustrated and angered” at the outset “by a sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents, and fueled by illegal leaks.”
Mueller said Trump “reacted negatively” to Mueller’s May 2017 appointment by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein after Sessions had removed himself from oversight of the probe.
He told advisers that it was “the end of my presidency,” the Mueller report said.
Shortly before the report went public, Barr told reporters that it exonerated Trump of colluding with Moscow and said that later, after assuming power, Trump had “no corrupt intent” to obstruct the probe.
Barr, a Trump appointee as the country’s top law enforcement official, said the president “took no act that in fact deprived” Mueller of “documents and witnesses necessary to complete his investigation.”
Barr concluded, “Apart from whether [Trump’s] acts [as president] were obstructive, this evidence of non-corrupt motives weighs heavily against any allegation that the president had a corrupt intent to obstruct the investigation.”
The attorney general said Trump’s lawyers were shown an advance copy of the Mueller report in recent days but were not allowed to make any changes. He said the president’s lawyers made no attempt to assert executive privilege about White House conversations to delete any material from the report.
Barr detailed extensive Russian interference in the U.S. election three years ago.
But Barr said Mueller “found no evidence that any Americans – including anyone associated with the Trump campaign – conspired or coordinated with the Russian government,” either in a disinformation campaign through social media accounts in the U.S. aimed at helping Trump defeat his opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton, or in the hacking of computers at the Democratic National Committee to steal and then release emails damaging to Clinton.
Opposition Democrats protested that Barr held the news conference before the report was made public, saying it was an attempt to spin Mueller’s findings into a favorable view of Trump’s role.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer said in a statement they “believe the only way to begin restoring public trust in the handling” of the Mueller investigation was for Mueller himself to testify publicly before congressional panels “as soon as possible.”
Moments after Barr finished speaking, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler called for Mueller to testify before his panel no later than May 23.
U.S. intelligence agencies in early 2017 assessed that Russia, at the direction of President Vladimir Putin, carried out a campaign to undermine the U.S. vote and had a clear preference for Trump to win..
The issues covered in the report are certain to endure in U.S. political discourse in the short-term, with Barr scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 1, followed by an appearance before the House Judiciary Committee the next day.
Looking to the longer-term, it is highly unlikely the investigation will fade to irrelevance before the next presidential election in November 2020.
In one measure of public demand for the information, several publishers are offering people the ability to purchase printed copies of the report, and pre-orders alone on Amazon’s website ranked among its top 100 in book sales before the report was released.
What have long been public are the legal ramifications of Mueller’s probe.
Five Trump campaign associates pleaded guilty or were convicted of a range of offenses and a sixth is awaiting trial, some for lying about their contacts with Russians during the 2016 campaign or just before he took office in January 2017 and some for offenses unrelated to Trump.
In addition, Mueller also charged 13 Russian nationals with trying to influence the 2016 election by tricking Americans into following fake social media accounts with material favorable to Trump and against his opponent, Clinton. Another dozen Russian military intelligence officers were charged with the theft of emails from Democrat Party officials. None of the Russians is ever likely to face a trial in the United States because the two countries do not have an extradition treaty. (VOA)