“Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I’m fucked.”– Donald J. Trump
These were the words uttered by the President, as he “slumped” into his chair upon learning of the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller to investigate any supposed ties between his 2016 Presidential Campaign and Russia.
For the most part, the 448-page report – albeit a redacted version – is still being processed by Congressional officials, the Trump administration, journalists, and any members of the public with a lot of free time… like me. At the moment, it’s making for relatively frustrating reading, with certain pages engulfed by vast blocks of redactions, missing what are likely crucial pieces of information. The report is split into two ‘volumes’, the first of which involves the investigation into ‘collusion’ between Russia and the Trump Campaign in the 2016 election, while Volume ii addresses whether or not the President obstructed justice.
The conclusion? Vague at best. While, according to Mueller, “no criminal conduct occurred,” the investigation was also unable to clear the President; this begs the question, what was Trump so worried about? If he didn’t do anything wrong, how could it possibly be the “end of [his] presidency”? There are two ways a President can be removed from office, losing reelection (if in their first term) and impeachment. At the time of Mueller’s appointment, Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress, but even though the House now has a Democratic majority, Trump’s removal from office remains unlikely, not simply for the ambiguity of Mueller’s findings, but also because of the way impeachment works.
Impeachment is enshrined in Article ii, section 4 of the constitution, laying out three reasons that “the President, Vice President [or any] civil officers” may be impeached. The first two are treason and bribery, but the third, “high crimes and misdemeanours” has been left – perhaps intentionally – ambiguous. This is the category under which, so far, all impeachment proceedings against Presidents have taken place.
Any member of the House can introduce an impeachment resolution, and all it needs is a simple majority of Representatives to vote in favour and the President is officially impeached. But this is more of a telling off – “you did a bad thing but we’re still deciding whether to punish you.” That decision happens in the Senate. A 2/3 supermajority is required to convict and remove the President from office, which almost definitely requires members from the President’s own party to vote against them and is why this part has never actually happened.
Democrats are wise to be wary of impeachment however. Two Presidents have ever actually been impeached, Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998. Bill Clinton’s case is especially relevant as throughout the proceedings, it was the impeaching party’s (Republicans) support which plummeted, while Clinton’s soared, and the GOP dropped seats in the midterms later the same year – exceptionally rare in a President’s second term. Today polls show public support for Trump in this regard, which could spell trouble for Democrats should they pursue articles of impeachment.
Trump’s biggest fear is – rightly so – losing reelection in 2020 and the Mueller Report could prove to be the final nail in his political coffin. After all, as former FBI director James Comey has noted, the Presidency is the only thing standing between Trump and indictment given the evidence uncovered by Mueller. Americans don’t want to elect a President they don’t trust, and Mueller’s report might just be enough to sway those elusive swing voters, especially as grassroots Democrats like Elizabeth Warren or Pete Buttigieg pick up traction in rust belt states. We’ll have to wait until election day to find out.