“Also, there is NO COLLUSION!” was one of President Trump’s Oct. 30 tweets, referring to allegations of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election. But Special Counsel Robert Mueller is doggedly determined to get at the truth, neither for nor against any individual or institution. The problem is, newly uncovered findings suggest that the president’s advisers may have colluded after all with the Russian government.
If, hypothetically, Mueller’s investigation reveals that Trump’s advisers, which may include his son and son-in-law, did connive with Putin’s men, needless to say with Trump’s blessing, what happens then? Many of America’s residents, citizens and noncitizens alike, are hopeful that a guilty outcome will finally end the divisive governance that, less than a year, has encouraged bigotry, racism and homophobia. Uppermost in many people’s minds is: Can the president be impeached?
No president of the United States has been the target of as many calls for and threats of impeachment as Donald Trump. Even before he won the elections, there were already plans, although baseless, to impeach him. And every time he opens his mouth or tweets, impeachment calls surface. In its history, eight presidents were close to having a taste of this process. Only two, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, were actually impeached but later acquitted. Richard Nixon almost was, but he resigned.
A mistaken belief of many people is that a president can be removed through impeachment alone. Actually, this legal process is only a step towards removal. Formal charges have to be filed at the House of Representatives, which has to pass a majority vote on an article of impeachment. It will then be tried by the US Senate. If two-thirds of the Senate vote to convict, the Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court will act as the judge, and the president is then removed from his office.
Impeachable offenses are treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors. Authoritarian leanings, foreign and domestic conflicts of interest, and vulgar rhetoric are not high crimes that can put Trump on trial. But Mueller’s probe into the Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election may be the smoking gun that provides the grounds for filing charges that lead to Trump’s impeachment.
On May 17, 2017, President Trump appointed Robert Mueller as head of the office of the Special Counsel. His office is tasked to lead an independent investigation into the Russian meddling in the 2016 election. It also has the power to file charges. His appointment was the aftermath of the firing of FBI Director James Comey for not obeying Trump’s order to stop the probe into former national security advisor Michael Flynn.
If Trump thought Mueller, who is a former FBI Director himself, would go easy on him, it was simply wishful thinking. The special counsel is allegedly considering filing obstruction of justice charges against Trump on many fronts – the firing of Comey, sensitive documents that reveal Trump Jr. and son-in-law Kushner meeting with Russian operatives, and even the pardoning of anti-immigrant sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Most recent developments in the investigation are troubling for the Trump camp. Its former member of the presidential campaign George Papadopoulos has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian government related to the investigation. Paul Manafort, former chairman of Trump’s campaign committee, and Rick Gates, a business associate and part of Trump’s campaign, have both been indicted for money laundering and other financial charges. Manafort’s dealings with Ukraine and a Russian billionaire with close ties to the Kremlin are the bases of the charges.
As the Mueller team continues its probe, thoughts of impeachment are on people’s minds. But US politics takes the process very seriously, and rarely use it, unless there is exceptional burden of proof. Yet for all its seriousness, impeachment in America is more a political than a judicial process. It is not argued or defended in courts but in the House of Representatives and the Senate. These congressmen and women, and senators, are partisan, loyal to a party or a cause. Impartiality has no place in an impeachment process, especially if the charges are of “high crimes and misdemeanors,” which are vague and subject to various interpretations.
The current balance of power in Capitol Hill is in favor of the president. The House has 435 members, of whom 241 are Republicans (Trump’s party) and 194 are Democrats. After the filing of charges, its role is to decide on whether to impeach or not. It only needs a majority vote to pass. Republicans in the House are not likely to vote to impeach their own party mate, not because they believe he is innocent, but because they have to maintain control and it would not be in their own political interest.
Barring any other wrongdoings, President Trump will stay in office. But it will be an uneasy stay. With the 2018 midterm elections coming up, who can tell what’s next.