2019 will be the year that determines whether the rule of law and the Constitution are strong enough to boot an unstable criminal from office and whether a sociopathic president of the United States will be able to dig his claws in deeply enough to hold onto power, shredding the Constitution as he goes.
It starts Thursday, January 3, when Democrats take control of the House and California Democrat Rep. Maxine Waters (Vashon High School Class of ’56) takes over as chair of the House Financial Services Committee. Waters will have the power to investigate everything from Trump’s financial connections to Russia to his cozy relationship with Germany’s Deutschebank. That bank’s under investigation already for helping launder Russian money and is the only Western financial institution willing to do business with the Trump Organization.
Former Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland) takes over as chair of the House Oversight Committee. That committee has a wide reach, and Cummings has already put Trump on notice that he intends to investigate everything from security clearances granted to Trump’s family to the administration’s snatching migrant children from their families along the border.
Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-New York) will take over the House Judiciary Committee. That’s where any impeachment would begin. But House Judiciary will also be in the loop when Robert Mueller issues his final report and would be able to make the report public, even if Trump tries to keep it secret (more on that in a minute).
Rep. Richard Neal (D-Massachusetts) will head the House Ways and Means Committee, which will have the authority to subpoena Trump’s (up until now) secret tax returns. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-California) will be chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Under Republicans, that committee wasted its time harassing Mueller and Hillary Clinton. Under Schiff, expect it to zero in on Trump’s endangering national security through his cozy relationship with the Kremlin.
Meanwhile, the attorneys general of Maryland and Washington, D.C. are issuing subpoenas in their lawsuit against Trump for using the presidency to enrich himself through his various businesses, especially the Trump hotel in D.C. New York’s attorney general has said she intends to investigate Trump for tax evasion and money laundering. The A.G. of New Jersey has just launched a probe into Trump’s New Jersey golf resort for allegedly counterfeiting immigration documents and giving them to undocumented aliens working for Trump.
On the federal level, U.S. Attorney’s Offices in the Eastern District of Virginia (where former campaign manager Paul Manafort was prosecuted), the Southern District of New York (where former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty), and the District of Columbia (where a judge recently told former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn he needed to co-operate more to avoid prison) all may have current cases against more Trump associates in the planning stages.
And then there’s Mueller, who last month marked the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam Battle of Mutter’s Ridge where, as a young Marine lieutenant, he was wounded and received the Bronze Star with a “V” for valor. The concept of valor is foreign to Trump, who got a New York orthopedist who owed Trump’s father a favor to write the young Trump a letter certifying he had non-existent bone spurs. Like a lot of rich kids in the ‘60s, Trump dodged the draft through family connections.
The steely-eyed Mueller has been slowly rolling up Trump’s associates like a mob prosecutor as he prepares a final report on everything from possible Trump collusion with the Russians (the actual legal charges would likely be conspiracy, fraud, and/or bribery) to obstruction of justice, money laundering, perjury, and being an agent of a hostile foreign power.
As Trump digs in against legal assaults from every side, several things may happen, none of them good. What will almost assuredly not happen is a Trump resignation. Trump is too married to the concept of winning at all costs to admit defeat voluntarily and quit.
Trump will also not be removed as unfit under the 25th Amendment. That would require his vice president and cabinet members to agree he’s unfit. None of them will.
And while Trump might eventually be impeached by the House of Representatives, he will never be convicted by the U.S. Senate. An impeachment conviction would require 67 Senate votes. There are 47 Democrats. No matter how heinous the crimes, there’s no way 20 Republican senators would vote to convict Trump.
Knowing all that, Trump’s White House has several strategies for fighting back. The administration could ignite a crisis by simply refusing to make Mueller’s final report public. That’s where Nadler’s House Judiciary Committee would step in. They would subpoena the report and, if the Trump Justice Department refused to release it, would take the matter to federal court. The crisis would come if the court ordered the report released, and Trump ignored it.
Trump would hope to drag the entire process out through rope-a-dope delays, hoping it would carry into the 2020 presidential campaign, where he could rile up his base (and conceivably incite violence) by bellowing about “the deep state” and “fake news.”
Which brings us to the most likely outcome: deciding whether a sitting president can be indicted. There’s no law against indicting a president. There are only two Justice Department memos saying a president can’t face civil charges for anything he does as president. They don’t address criminal misconduct.
If the Mueller charges are serious enough, the U.S. Supreme Court would be asked to decide if the president of the United States can be indicted as a criminal. And that’s when we’d see if the Constitution and America’s rule of law are real or just run on the honor system. Happy 2019.
Charles Jaco is a journalist, author, and activist. Follow him on Twitter at @charlesjaco1.