Indictments, Impeachments and Incapacity
President Trump’s supporters and enablers are stretching credulity in their efforts to protect their favorite commander in chief’s tenure and reputation. If President Trump commits a crime, like shooting or jailing his political rival(s), of course he could be charged with murder or other crimes and tried in a criminal proceeding in state or federal court depending on where the crime occurred. He does not first have to be impeached in the House and convicted in the Senate; that appears nowhere in the Constitution or in the nation’s jurisprudence. In my opinion, that’s a Giuliani/Kavanaugh/McConnell myth. On the other hand any President of either party should not be subjected to a series of political/judicial persecutions as President Clinton was by Judge Starr, Speaker Gingrich and their associates (among them Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh). If President Trump descends from his fitful rages into a full fledged, disabling mental illness or has a heart attack and can no longer fulfill the duties of his office, the 25th Amendment is the right recourse for his cabinet to remove/suspend him from office. If indeed he and President Putin and others cooked up some deals to finance him, and get him elected, and he’s been selling our nation and its allies down the river since acceding to the presidency, the right remedy is impeachment and conviction then removal from office.
As yet there is no evidence he has done any of the above, so the most important steps for all Americans is to let the Mueller investigation take its course and to vote in the November elections. It’s not a witch hunt but rather a well staffed investigation, run by a man of unquestioned integrity, about the roles the Russians and other foreign powers played in our last presidential election and then candidate Trump’s campaign and now President Trump’s roles (and those of his associates), if any, in enabling, abetting and covering up what went on before and during the campaign and after he took office.
Our funding fathers did not envision nor authorize an imperial Presidency. The American President is not above the law, but must adhere to it and takes a solemn oath to do so. They had had enough of kings, the divine rights of kings, the unchecked sovereign. They created three independent and co-equal branches, not a supreme all-powerful Presidency with one ring to rule over all. The President is subject to the checks and balances of the Constitution and to the will of the people.
We do have an unusual situation at the moment where some Republican House members like Representative Nunez are actively seeking to impede an independent investigation and where the Senate Republicans are rushing confirmation hearings to stuff their partisans into seats on the Supreme Court and other judicial offices. The proper remedy is to vote them out of office this November and return to Senatorial traditions where the Senate’s advice and consent role is applied with constitutional rigor to assess nominees’ fitness to serve in the nation’s highest judicial offices and apply justice in adherence with the nation’s most important precedents. There will be domestic efforts to suppress the votes of students and persons of color in some states; there will be Russian efforts to influence the elections and possibly to mess with the voting process and tallies, but if Americans will turn out in overwhelming numbers, we can salvage the nation.
In my view the real dangers are: the President’s turning us into becoming the world’s largest kleptocracy for the benefit of his friends, allies and family; an emerging bully and authoritarian state menacing relations with our long time friends and allies in Europe, Asia and this hemisphere; a supremacist nation endangering the safety of people of different hues in our own country and around the world, and a menace to sustainable life on our planet.
The tax bill was a massive giveaway to corporate and very wealthy contributors and to President Trump and his family. Many of the administrative and deregulatory actions of the EPA, Interior and other regulatory agencies have been in the same vein. Can you imagine a billionaire President who would cut his tax rates on his own income from the Trump Organization from 39% to 20% then turn around and deny a 2% annual raise to all federal employees? At the behest of Robert Murray of Murray Energy, one of his big influential contributors, the President ordered the Department of Energy to bail out declining coal powered industries, which cannot compete on a level playing field with natural gas and renewables in generating the nation’s energy.
His bullying of the UN, NATO, Canada, Mexico, Merkel and May are unprecedented, unwarranted and have long term consequences of fracturing the long-standing alliances on which our nation’s safety depends. The same bullying tactics are directed towards news organizations and journalists, to those political opponents and protesters with whom he disagrees. This is leading to a wholesale breakdown in civil, civic discourse, which is at the core of our nation’s democracy. It is infecting other nations and their politics as well. It is empowering nations like Russia seeking to reacquire past dominion in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
The President directs doses of daily bile to outstanding African American athletes and deeply respected politicians with whom he disagrees, to hardworking, low paid, Mexican and Central American immigrant families, and towards devout, peaceful, freedom loving Muslim citizens living in this country. He is unable or unwilling to distinguish between the one percent of criminal elements and the rest of the population and uses the offenses of a few to tar the many. That in turn reinforces the white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the alt-right internet trolls and bully boys.
The planet is heating up quickly. Rather than address the very present dangers of global warming, the Trump administration is heavily focused on undoing all the very real progress that has been achieved globally and domestically. We’ve all seen the extreme heat, the fires, the hurricanes, the sea level rise, the loss of lives and the devastation of homes and communities being impacted by climate change. This is classic Nero fiddling while Rome burns.
These are not impeachable offenses. But they are eroding and destroying our nation’s standing around the world and our collective safety at home. There is nothing that Robert Mueller’s team can or should be able to do about the President’s misplaced priorities. Nor can anyone fix his red-faced choler, his intemperate remarks, his ill-conceived tweets, his vanity and insecurities or his weak tether to the truth, but himself.
Whatever constitutional immunities President Trump may enjoy as President do not extend to his family – to his son or to his son in law who sought Russian aid and assistance to get their father elected. Nor do they extend to those of his friends, his campaign aides, his political appointees or to his business associates who seemed to have developed an unusual affinity for all things Russian. Some are plea bargaining and offering their own versions of the events in question. More are surely to come. President Trump’s consigliere, Mr. Stone, and some of his associates believe they are next in the investigation’s crosshairs for their roles with the Russian hacking machine and its Wikileaks partners.
At the moment there are a steady string of guilty pleas, criminal convictions, plea deals and a steady amassing of evidence that we as members of the public are not privy to and may never see; this has been a leak-free investigation. The President’s conduct, twitter threats, pardon promises and loud protestations to date appear to be that of someone with a lot to hide from the special counsel and the public at large, but so far it’s been a lot of hot air from the President and his counsel. His threatened actions against Mr. Mueller, Mr. Rosenstein, Attorney General Sessions, and others in law enforcement and national security are more likely to occur after the November elections and could then provoke a constitutional crisis. But the President has already taken a toll on the morale of the nation’s national security, intelligence and law enforcement communities.
Only President Trump knows the full extent of what he has done, and he does not know how much or what Mueller’s team knows. He has been forthcoming in handing over requested documents, which in all likelihood are simply meaningless papers, given the lack of a flap. He has sought to avoid direct questioning by the Special Counsel, saying “it's a perjury trap”, and recently refused to be questioned at all about the alleged instances of obstruction of justice. Given his penchant for confusing and readily refuted tall tales and for occasionally blurting out the truth (e.g. “I fired him because of the Russia thing”), his lawyers are correctly advising him not to submit to questioning; he would make a serious mistake to think he can successfully lie, bluff and obfuscate the Special Counsel’s team. If he had nothing to hide, the interview would have been long since completed, and his role exonerated. In all likelihood, he will never sit down for an interview with the Special Counsel and the FBI, and we are witnessing Kabuki or Noh theater that will end with further trials and additional convictions of Trump associates, friends and conceivably some family members. Mueller will send a report to Congress about the President’s actions after the mid-terms. We are not talking about sex with a White House intern here, but conceivably some of the worst misconduct since Joe McCarthy, or it could be very much ado about nothing.
If the Mueller report contains truly damning facts about the President’s conduct (and it may), the likelihood of impeachment would be high, but obtaining conviction with a 2/3rds vote will be very tough in the absence of the independent voices and moral conscience of Senators McCain, Corker and Flake. In the absence of stunning findings, I doubt that Congress, whether Democrats or Republicans, will have the stomach for the deeper public investigation that may be required, and for a wrenching process of impeachment and removal from office. It is nearly impossible to conduct this investigation in a public setting since so much of the evidence is highly sensitive and will be classified. Republican elected officials have tolerated some extraordinary and unprecedented misconduct by the President already and shown very little inclination to rein him in. Congressional Democrats for the most part have been restrained. The Senate intelligence committee has shown that a bi-partisan, careful, thoughtful and patient investigation is possible; the House intelligence committee has shown it’s not likely.
What would change that? An electoral tsunami in November, a purge of respected and competent Administration officials, a rash of unwarranted pardons, or tariff wars, escalating prices and interest rates leading to a stock market collapse might. It is possible that a new Democratic Congress could be the check needed to shock the Trump Administration into reality.
Prepared by: Lucien Wulsin