How Likely Is an Impeachment of President Trump by the End of 2017?

08/11/2017 01:26 pm ET Updated Aug 15, 2017
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Is Trump’s impeachment likelier this year? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer from William Murphy, Professor of American history, on Quora:

Even if it were the case that the Republican Party could be convinced to impeach a president from their own party (and I’m not convinced that anything would do that), it would require direct and undeniable evidence of specific criminal acts or abuses of power tied directly to Trump himself — not just to people around him, or members of his family.

And if such evidence of wrongdoing is to be found, it will likely be by the investigation currently being led by Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller. This investigation, even if it ultimately finds nothing, is likely to take a very, very long time.To put things in perspective, when Ken Starr was appointed as Independent Counsel to investigate Bill Clinton, it was 1994, and Clinton was less than two full years into his first term. When Starr issued his final report, it was 1998, and Clinton was two years into his second term in office.

Now, the Starr investigation expanded several times from its original purpose (which was to investigate Clinton’s role in a real estate development deal in Arkansas that had gone south). And so one reason why it took so long is that the scope of the investigation kept expanding.

But even so, and even if that does not happen with Mueller’s investigation, it is likely to be some time in 2018 before we hear the results from Mueller’s investigation. Right now, Mueller, who was only appointed in May, has just about finished staffing up his team and is only now really getting moving on the investigation. And he’s a very methodical, thorough investigator by reputation; if you’re expecting he’ll release anything before he has followed every lead, interviewed all potential witnesses and persons of interest multiple times, and followed every document trail anywhere it may lead, then you’re going to be mistaken.

And with all that, he might still not find any wrongdoing that Congress would treat as a basis for impeachment. But even if he does, a friendly Congress is not going to impeach Trump while that investigation is still ongoing. They will wait for Mueller’s report.

And it will be a long wait. Settle in.

But beyond that, like I said, Congress will likely need clear evidence linking Trump directly to wrongdoing, so that he cannot just say people around him were doing things that he was unaware of. To illustrate what I mean, let’s look at two of the most famous political scandals of the last fifty years; Watergate and Iran-Contra.

In Watergate, President Nixon resigned before he could be formally impeached, because the Special Prosecutor had uncovered tapes from the Oval Office in which Nixon could be heard, directly in his own voice, participating in a variety of illegal activities, and specifically could be heard directly authorizing his top aides to cover up his administration’s involvement in the Watergate break-in. There was no doubt both that laws had been broken, and that Nixon himself was directly involved in breaking them. Nixon resigned because members of his own party told him they would vote with Democrats (who had a majority in both Houses, but not the sixty-seven votes they would need to convict him of impeachment charges in the Senate) both on an impeachment vote and a conviction. They did this because there was really no doubt of his guilt.

On Iran-Contra, fourteen members of the Reagan administration were indicted, and eleven were convicted of criminal offenses and went to prison. So there were real laws broken, and people paid the consequences for that. But Reagan himself was not impeached, despite Democrats controlling both Houses of Congress in 1987.

Why?

Because in Reagan’s case, it was hard to directly tie him to the illegal activities. A number of his aides who went to jail maintained that they had been operating without Reagan’s direct knowledge or approval, and Reagan himself maintained that this was the case. When Reagan testified during the investigation, he stated that “he did not recall” specific conversations, meetings or events when these illegal activities were planned and carried out. He said some variation of “I do not recall” eighty-eight times while under oath. It’s impossible to prove whether someone remembers something or not, which makes “I do not recall” a very effective defense against accusations of perjury or obstruction. Absent any clear link between Reagan and the illegal activities that sent eleven members of his own administration to prison, Congress chose not to impeach him.

This should be very instructive; even if laws have definitely been broken, if those actions can be blamed on people other than the President, he will likely survive and remain in office.

Either way, nothing will happen until the Mueller investigation is closed, and that definitely will not be this year.

If I were a betting man, I’d bet that some people around Trump will eventually find themselves in legal trouble over all of this, but that he will not be impeached or forced to resign.

That can change, but that’s how I see things right now.

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