Democrats have to be careful here, as they pursue the president over the Russian business. Nearly twenty years later, if you ask someone why the Republicans brought articles of impeachment against President Clinton, the answer would be that he couldn’t keep his pants zipped up. If you were to press for more, a person who was alive back then would say they impeached him because he lied about the blow job he received from Monica Lewinsky. Oh yeah, and Republicans didn’t like him.
Democrats now pretend they have more on Trump than Republicans had on Clinton. Certainly Kenneth Starr pretended he had enough evidence to bring Clinton down. If Democrats try to impeach Trump because John Podesta couldn’t keep his inbox secure, or because the DNC could not keep its servers zipped up, it would be the equivalent of Clinton’s mobile zipper. Russians poking around leaky servers may seem more weighty, but believe me, twenty years from now the charges won’t look the way they do now.
We all know the principles of pseudo-jurisprudence: if you want to impeach a president, first appoint a special prosecutor. A special prosecutor talks about laws, subpoenas, legal procedures, and uses phrases like “obstruction of justice.” They build up a veneer of law faster than you can throw up a new coat of paint. Before you know it, your target claims he is not a crook, which is exactly what you hoped he would say. No one except outlaws wants to be outside the law.
Did Trump calculate that firing Comey would bring about the thing he wanted least: a special prosecutor who wants to investigate him? No, he did not. Prior to the big event, Trump had various congressional bodies and other investigative types who wanted to figure out whether they could discover something impressive. After the Big Mistake, he can sing, No One Knows the Troubles I’ve Seen. Only the Lord can save me now, when the rule of law catches up with him.
Nevertheless, President Trump can fire the FBI director for any reason, or for no reason at all, as Comey declared. Firing Comey may have been politically unwise, but it was not a crime. Trump may have appeared brazen to announce that he fired Comey because Comey would not set the Russian business aside. After all, he set Hillary’s personal server aside, and she wasn’t even president. Can’t I expect similar consideration now that I’m in the White House? No matter what reasons Trump may have had for his big move, he did not lay the matter to rest, did he?
If Democrats go after Trump in the political arena, where all’s fair and no rules apply, they might win. If they think they can bring the president down on legal grounds, if for example they pretend Trump obstructed justice when he fired the FBI director, they may be able to dress up their case with legal briefs, but they will not even have a semen-stained dress for their trouble. The Clinton impeachment may have given us DC’s best for salacious entertainment, but you might say when political conflicts graduate from White House bedroom liaisons to inter-party knife fights, they no longer seem so entertaining. In the end, Democrats cannot convince people – not before the midterms, anyway – that we ought replace our president because the Russians messed with us.
The words collusion and obstruction of justice begin to float about. Who knows what we’ll hear six months from now. Just the rumors can exhaust you, if you try to follow them all. Happy the person who can ignore at least some of it, to remember life beyond Washington. If you make your living as a politician in Washington, however, and you have a knife in your hand, you have to be ready for anything that comes your way, including President Trump’s tweets.
If Republicans forsake Trump, Trump is in trouble. As long as most Republicans want him as their leader – in Congress and around the country – he does not have a lot to fear from Mueller. Everyone seems to recognize the political calculus involved in the current fight over Russian meddling, except perhaps President Trump. He seems like someone who came to Washington because he was a checkers champ, someone who could brag about his victories no end, but who cannot play any other game. The kinds of calculations most leaders make seem beyond him. His lack of political skills proved a big asset during both the primary and general elections, but this congenital deficit has not helped him since he arrived in Washington.
So we have the question no one wants to pose in public: how long will he last? It could be a long time, it could be a short time, or it could be some length of time in between. Some people say the republic will survive him. Others say the republic died well before he arrived in the White House. Still others believe he’ll be the one to finish it off – that’s why we have to remove him. If you’re in the latter group, if you you want to find a way to remove him, quickly, don’t do what Republicans did in the 1990s. Don’t try to impeach a president on some made-up, rule-based pretext that leaves you looking worse than your target. It’s not worth it.
When you engage in a political conflict, you may pretend rules matter, but of course they don’t.
Let’s make this one Trump’s theme song. Great for sing-alongs at his rallies!