Last night, Steny Hoyer — the House Majority Leader — suggested that impeaching Trump was off the table, that in 18 months the American people could decide. He backtracked on those comments a few hours later, as the Democrats attempted to get back on message.
Congress must have the full report & all underlying evidence in order to determine what actions may be necessary to ensure that the Congress & the American people have all the info they need to know the truth & all options ought to remain on the table to achieve that objective.— Steny Hoyer (@LeaderHoyer) April 19, 2019
The reluctance to impeach Donald Trump by the House Democrats has a lot to do with the Clinton impeachment and fears that failing to secure a conviction would generate a backlash that would boost the popularity of Donald Trump. That’s what happened after the Clinton impeachment. Clinton’s approval ratings rose after his impeachment because the country saw it as a political attack on the personal life of Bill Clinton, who was charged with one count of perjury and one count of obstruction of justice for lying about his affair with Monica Lewinsky.
This is not like the Clinton impeachment. If Trump were to be impeached over campaign finance violations related to his affairs with Stormy Daniels and Heather McDougal, this would be like the Clinton impeachment hearings. But this impeachment hearing would be over executive actions unrelated to the personal life of Donald Trump.
And look: Clinton was very popular at the time — even before the impeachment hearings — and the case against him was not particularly strong. It was over an affair. There wasn’t a whole lot of evidence with which to work, and it was all directed toward an issue with which many Americans felt uneasy: A sexual relationship. All told, the impeachment hearing lasted about a month. The Senate fell far short of a conviction.
This is different. Trump is not popular. He’s never been popular. He’ll never be popular. Sixty percent of the country is against him. That hasn’t changed. Winning an impeachment hearing will not change that. In fact, it may do the opposite: It may embolden anti-Trumpers to go to the polls to do what the Senate would not do: Remove Trump from office.
Moreover, this is a very different case, where obstruction of justice is backed by numerous potential charges investigated by a special counsel who is not seen as Ken Starr was: A man clearly out to get the President. Outside of Trump’s base, Mueller is seen as impartial and independent, a guy who actually left impeachment up to Congress.
Speaking of which, despite what Trump is saying on Twitter, obstruction of justice is a separate crime and does not require an underlying crime in order to convict. In federal law, attempt to obstruct justice is also a crime.
FYI, attempt is a lesser included offense in federal criminal law. So if you order someone to obstruct, and they don’t do it, it’s still a crime.— Tor Ekeland (@TorEkelandPLLC) April 19, 2019
In Trump’s case, there are 400 pages of evidence, and an impeachment hearing would take months, months in which numerous people would be called in front of the Senate to testify to Trump’s many, many misdeeds. It won’t be a written report that Trump and his Attorney General can try and spin. It will be former White House employees (Hope Hicks, Rob Portman, Don McGahn, Reince Priebus, Sarah Sanders, Jeff Sessions, Ivanka, Don, Jr., etc) who will have to testify against the President under oath. His own people will have to speak out against him or face perjury charges. It will be day after day after day of damning testimony, while guys like Rudy Guiliani try and defend the President’s actions. Fox News will have a hell of a time trying to spin it. Trump’s people — what’s left of them, anyway — will be on the defensive every single day. Several will probably quit. A months-long impeachment hearing would leave an already disorganized and chaotic White House in shambles.
If after all of that, the Republicans still refuse to convict despite overwhelming evidence of a crime, that’s on them. The voters will know the truth, because they will have seen it play out on their television every single day. If anything, I think the backlash goes the other way: Against Republicans for refusing to convict a President so clearly guilty of the crimes for which he was charged. They will be seen not as responsible stewards of our federal government, but as elected representatives trying to cover and protect a President for which many have little respect.
It’s worth noting this, too: Clinton prevailed in his impeachment hearing. A year later, however, the Republicans still took back the White House. Why? “Post-election polls found that, in the wake of Clinton-era scandals, the single most significant reason people voted for Bush was for his moral character.” That sure feels like a hell of an opening for Democrats.
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