Impeachment proceedings against US presidents and other senior federal officers gain a momentum of their own. They start small and then balloon into colossal stumbling blocks. Although no US president has ever been impeached and dismissed from office, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were impeached by the House of Representatives and rescued by the Senate.
Never has any president including Richard Nixon come so close to being the first for this dubious honour than Donald Trump this week as a double whammy slammed him in the political solar plexus. The low-blow came in shape of the Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s conviction in cases of tax evasion and bank fraud — gound guilty on eight of 18 counts by a jury of his peers. While Trump, the street fighter, might have absorbed this blow, there swiftly came a second uppercut as his legal advisor and ‘Mr Fixit’ Michael Cohen confessed to a federal judge that he had made illegal campaign contributions at the president’s request to ostensibly silence women who had allegedly had affairs with Trump.
Not a good day at the Oval Office.
With a hostile media only two week ago having declared a collective front through a Boston Globe initiative to fight Trump, the new additions to the already impressive ‘Gallery of Fallen Rogues’ during Trump’s tenure comes as a shiny new full metal jacket for the press top guns who will now make sure the president pays the price for his hostility. Trump is not making it easy for himself either with his belligerent mood unchanged, even going as far as to consider a pardon for his friend Manafort, whom he referred to as a ‘brave man’
For those who remember Watergate, the fall of Nixon began with a simple robbery that was so distanced from the White House that connecting the dots was not even considered. But dogged investigation by Bob Woodward and Edward Bernstein and the murky Deep Throat brought a president to his knees. In Trump’s case, his defence is now shrill and whining. His two-punch retaliation is based on the rhetorical question: How can anyone impeach someone who is doing such a great job? And on the projected threat of the stock markets collapsing if he was to face proceedings.
Neither of these premises will deter the anti-Trump segments and we can expect the pressure to ratchet up in the coming days. Most damaging is the confession by Cohen and the establishment of a direct link to corruption charges in naming Trump as the instigator.
It is a safe bet that the probe into the Russian role in the elections will now assume a more toxic dimension, and the stalling and confusion that has marked this investigation will heat up. Trump will not see the knockout blow coming. He truly believes the public loves him and to an extent, middle America does, but it is also naïve enough to want a perfect paragon in the White House and anything sleazy tends to offend the public sentiment. The change of heart can be swift. For now, Trump will totter on and even if he is impeached by both the House and the Senate, he has to face a legislative vote before he can be removed from office.
Section Four of Article Two of the United States Constitution states unequivocally: “The president, vice-president and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” That last word is vast in its application. It is comprehensive enough to cover deceit, evasion, lying, misconduct, theft, misappropriation and anything else one may like to tag as conduct unbecoming.
To date, no president has been removed from office by impeachment and conviction. Trump may be the first but he will not go silently into the good night… more like kicking and screaming, if it comes to that.