Americans hoping Robert Mueller will remove Trump from office are like the optimistic little boy who wanted a pony for Christmas, but came downstairs Christmas morning only to find a pile of manure under the tree. He broke into a big smile, explaining, “With all of this poop, there must be a pony here somewhere!”
That’s because, even if the Democratic-controlled House after January finds there’s enough criminal evidence to impeach Trump, he would still have to be convicted by a two-thirds majority after a trial in the U.S. Senate. And the same racist voters, dark money billionaires, right-wing (partly Russian) propaganda machine, and voter suppression apparatus that elected Trump have also given the white nationalist Republican Party a 53 to 47 Senate majority.
Even if all 47 Democrats voted to convict Trump after a Senate impeachment trial, they would still need 20 GOP Senators to vote “guilty” to remove Trump from office. And you know, and they know, and I know, that there’s a good chance not one of them would vote to convict Trump.
The only possible pressure on Republican senators would be targeting the ones running for re-election in 2020, telling them that refusing to convict Trump puts their seats in danger. But only three Republicans running for re-election in two years seem likely to respond to that kind of pressure – Susan Collins of Maine, Cory Gardner in quickly-turning-blue Colorado, and Jon Kyl, who was appointed to fill the late John McCain’s seat in turning-bluish Arizona.
The rest of Republican senators up for re-election in 2020 come from right-wing rural states like Arkansas, Kansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, and West Virginia, where white voters have already shown they probably would vote for Trump even if, as he’s said, he shot somebody on Fifth Avenue in broad daylight.
It’s not that Trump’s crimes won’t rise to the Constitution’s “high crimes and misdemeanors” standard for impeachment conviction. Mueller’s handling of former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, ex-Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, and former national security advisor Michael Flynn show that he probably has evidence of obstruction of justice, perjury, money laundering, campaign finance violations, and collusion with a hostile foreign power.
The cascading events of the past week have also revealed Trump’s depraved willingness to use his mammoth executive power, or threaten to use it, to lash out in all directions. He’s ordered women and children tear-gassed at the border. 60 Minutes revealed he’d ordered kids forcibly taken from their parents at the border nine months earlier than he’d admitted. He’s tweeted that Barack Obama, Eric Holder, Hillary Clinton, Mueller, James Comey, and deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein belong behind bars.
Trump’s top aides and allies were in repeated touch with WikiLeak’s Julian Assange well before WikiLeaks published Democratic emails hacked by the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence bureau. Talks on a deal with Putin to build a Trump Tower in Moscow continued well after Trump's presidential campaign began. Manafort told Trump everything that was going on inside Mueller’s office after Manafort pleaded guilty and agreed to co-operate with Mueller.
It appears Mueller fed Manafort false information, which Manafort relayed to Trump, who then used the bad information to give written answers to Mueller’s questions. Meanwhile, German authorities, reportedly acting on information from Mueller, raided the giant German financial firm Deutsche Bank. Deutsche Bank is the only major legitimate financial institution that’s been willing to do business with Trump after his multiple business bankruptcies. The German bank has also been implicated in helping Russian oligarchs launder billions in embezzled money overseas.
With all that happening over just a few days, Trump can feel the walls closing in. Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic House leaders have been reluctant to even discuss impeachment because they can do math. They know that conviction in the Senate is basically impossible. But a Mueller report accusing Trump of various felonies might leave them no choice but to do it anyway as a matter of civic duty.
Pelosi and Trump both know that no American president has even been convicted at an impeachment trial. The Senate failed to convict Andrew Johnson in 1868 by one vote. He stayed in office. Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 when it became apparent impeachment and conviction were likely. Bill Clinton served out the rest of his term when the Senate refused to convict him in his 1999 impeachment trial.
If an impeachment conviction is unlikely, what about indicting a sitting president? It’s never been tried. Government lawyers, in briefs going back to 1974, have always argued a president is immune from criminal indictment while in office. Twice, in United States v Nixon in 1973 and Clinton v Paula Jones in 1998, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled a president is not immune from the normal legal process while in office. But they never mentioned an actual indictment.
If impeachment is tried and fails, and if a move to indict Trump fails, what then? Assuming Trump’s gristle-filled arteries and occluded frontal lobe hold out that long, Trump would be president until January 20, 2021. He would either run for re-election, or hang it up, leaving the GOP field open to a new face of fascism, whether it might be white Christian nationalists like Vice President Mike Pence or Missouri Senator-elect Josh Hawley, or another yet unknown champion of the White People’s Party.
Trump staying in office, angry and wounded, would be dangerous. He would be after revenge and would be empowered, figuring he was untouchable after failed impeachment or indictment. He could crack down on civil liberties, attempt prosecutions of his enemies, and become more belligerent overseas, risking war.
Again, it would come down to us. Trump’s minions are loyal to him because they fear his racist voter base. We would have to grind on, just like 2018, registering new voters and turning out to vote in record numbers.
Trump’s crimes, and their results, are just one more battle in this long, long war to turn America into the country our ancestors dreamed of.
Charles Jaco is a journalist, author, and activist. Follow him on Twitter at @charlesjaco1.