As we enter the 2020 campaign season it is a virtual certainty that Robert Mueller’s report (one way or another) will become public in 2019. Once that happens it’s a certainty that Donald Trump will be impeached by the 116th Congress. This will put the 22 Republican senators up for re-election in 2020 in the position of either voting to convict the president and remove him from office, or face a “Blue Wave” like the one that flipped 40 seats, giving the Democrats control of the House of Representatives.
Without Trump on the ballot, two-thirds of midterm voters, who ushered in the Blue Wave, said they cast ballots in response to him (including in the key Electoral College states of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, which narrowly went for Trump). Polling prior to General Mattis’s firing, the stock market crash, Trump’s shutdown of the government, and the president, in Iraq in front of our troops, calling us “suckers” for engaging in global alliances that protect us and promote democracy showed him with a disapproval rating fluctuating between 56 percent and 52 percent. In one poll (Harvard CAPS/Harris) after these occurrences, nearly 60 percent of voters said Trump should either be impeached and removed from office or formally censured. Having read his Happy New Year tweet which includes the words “HATERS AND FAKE NEWS”, there’s nothing to suggest that his behavior, his negative poll numbers, or the Wave will subside by 2020.
If they’re thinking about it, Republican Senators have nothing to lose by convicting the president. It’s predictable that Donald Trump will not be re-elected in 2020. He is a political dilettante who increasingly looks like King Lear rumbling around the castle (White House) murmuring, “I am a man more sinned against than sinning,” i.e., tweeting “no collusion, I need a wall, I’m not responsible for anything.” He is patently losing touch with reality. If impeached and convicted by the Senate, there would still be a Republican president in office through 2020, and Mitch McConnell (himself being primaried) would still be in charge of the judicial nominations Republicans so covet.
The Constitution sets out treason, bribery and high crimes and misdemeanors as the grounds for impeaching a president, vice president, or high official. While President Trump arguably committed treason by siding with Vladimir Putin over our intelligence agencies in Helsinki (and saying in front of the whole world he could think of no reason for Russia to attack our election), he has clearly committed bribery. Donald Trump is an unindicted co-conspirator, with Michael Cohen, for the felony of illegal campaign contributions, i.e., bribes, paid right before the 2016 election to two women, with whom he had sexual affairs, for the explicit purpose of bribing their silence. These two things aside, it is probably the high crimes and misdemeanor criterion that will be used to impeach him.
High crimes and misdemeanors became a political “term of art” in the 20th century inclusive of lying under oath (Bill Clinton’s impeachment) and/or obstructing justice, abuse of power, contempt of Congress (in the case of the Articles of Impeachment drawn up against President Nixon). To say that by these criteria President Trump has not committed high crimes and misdemeanors does not pass the “laugh test.”
We don’t yet know if President Trump lied under oath in submitting his written answers to the Special Counsel, but given his penchant for lying (more than 6,420 to date), it’s not hard to imagine that he did. The president is being investigated for obstruction of justice (and conspiracy with Russians) in relationship to the 2016 election. He has, in plain sight, obstructed justice by admitting on national television that he fired Jim Comey over the Russian investigation into himself and his administration (while in the process asking then FBI Director Comey to “drop the Flynn thing”). He dictated his son’s response to the infamous Trump Tower meeting with Russians (attended by not just Trump Jr, but Paul Manafort, his then campaign manger, and Jared Kushner) saying it was about adoptions rather than getting dirt on Hillary Clinton. He dangled a pardon in front of Paul Manafort, convicted of eight felonies, who reneged on his cooperation agreement with the Special Counsel. Even without Mueller’s report, or the evidence of obstruction that will be revealed through House Democrats’ committee investigations, how does this not constitute the high crime and misdemeanor of obstructing justice?
As for abuse of power, take your pick: separating and incarcerating children at the border; violating the emoluments clause of the Constitution by taking payments from foreign governments at his hotels, or precipitously and unilaterally announcing that he alone decided to pull all of our troops out of Syria contrary to the advice of “his generals” and impervious to placing both our allies the Kurds and Israel in increased jeopardy. (Without U.S. troops in the region, Iran will secure the land bridge through Syria for sending weapons to Hezbollah with which to attack Israel. Our allies, the Kurds, who have done most of our fighting against ISIS in Syria, will be abandoned to threats from Turkey, Russia, and Syria.)
Imagine what the evidence for impeachment will look like to 2020 voters after Robert Mueller releases the results of his investigation (which has already secured guilty pleas from Trump’s former National Security Adviser; personal lawyer; and two campaign advisers; a conviction for obstruction of justice of his former campaign chairman; charges against 12 Russian intelligence officers and 13 Russian nationals for committing offenses against the U.S., among others).
The pressure to impeach will be irresistible to congressional Democrats. The president’s poll numbers will continue to drop. So, Republican Senators, what do you have to lose by voting for conviction?