Threats to North Korea

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The exchange of threats between President Trump and Kim Jung-un has continued. As reported in this article, the President recently tweeted that “talking to North Korea . . . . hasn’t worked.”

It is difficult to tell whether these threats of war are actually substantive; however, it is interesting to consider whether if such violence was acted upon, it could constitute an impeachable offense. This blog has considered abuse of pardon power at length — is it possible that Trump could abuse his powers as Commander-in-Chief? And if so, could he be impeached for it?

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Collusion not Confirmed

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This article, from the Washington Post, reports that the Sentate Intelligence Committee cannot yet confirm whether President Trump colluded with the Russian government. The Committee reported on their progress yesterday: a series of interviews with those who worked on Trump’s campaign and extensive document review confirmed that Russians had interfered with the 2016 election, but offered no answer on collusion.

Russian collusion is one of the most serious violations the President has been accused of so far, and could mean impeachment. However, the Senate Intelligence Committee estimates we won’t have an answer until the 2018 primaries.

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Is Trump Ceasing to be a Trumpist?

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Trump’s popularity may hinge on a Senate GOP Primary in Alabama, according to this article from Newsweek. President Trump has endorsed Luther Strange as the GOP candidate; however, Strange is running against a far-right, “Trumpist” named Roy Moore, who is far ahead in the polls.

Moore is backed by former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, and represents many of the ideas that brought President Trump into the White House. A rejection of President Trump’s selected candidate in favor of one who reflects his ideals, would suggest that Trump’s unwaivering base may not be so loyal to him as they are to his stated philosophy. If that were the case, then Trump’s more centric actions and his collaboration with the Democrats (some background here) may make his impeachment more likely rather than less.

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Green Backs Down in Face of Vegas

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According to this report, Representative Green, who last week resolved to file an impeachment resolution in the House, has had a temporary change of heart. He claims that in the face of the tragedy which happened in Las Vegas on Sunday it would be better to take time to mourn.

1060x600-19dc47de3ae10a3bb436ed402e4e6feb.jpgWashington Examiner

 

Done with Doomsday

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Gene Healy responded, in this blog post on the Cato Institute website, to the predictions of violence and upheaval following President Trump’s impeachment. Said predicitions have been voiced by President Trump’s associates, as well as several legal scholars. However, Healy is not persuaded. He claims that impeachment was not considered to be a catastrophic event by the Framers, nor has it had disasterous effects in the past. Rather impeachment can create positive advances in the law.

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Mueller Interviews White House Officials

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This article, from The Hill, provides an update on the Mueller investigation. As it heats up, he’s begun to interview white house officials, including the chief of staff for the National Security Council, Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg recently. These interviews may indicate that Mueller is moving closer to an answer on the question of President Trump’s collusion and obstruction of justice.

muellerrobert_062117gn5_lead.jpgGreg Nash

Trump and Puerto Rico

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This article gives a summary of President Trump’s interaction with the Mayor of Puerto Rico’s capital, Carmen Cruz. After Cruz claimed that the city needed more federal relief, President Trump reacted strongly with a series of tweets, claiming, amongst other things, that Cruz’s comments were politcally motivated.

President Trump’s comments were innappropriate, considering the state of disaster in Puerto Rico. However, being a jerk probably doesn’t constitute an impeachable offense. But could it?

Chief Justice Samuel Chase was impeached for making politically motivated decisions. While it seems doubtful that a political official could be impeached for making political decisions, what about decisions motivated by ego? When one acts according to their emotional tremors rather than their rationality are they not submitting to a more corrupt body than political parties?

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The Right to Cross-Examine

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Chief Justice Sereno, of the Supreme Court of the Philippines, is facing impeachment proceedings. The Filipino impeachment process is similar to that of the United States: impeachment is passed in the House of Representatives and tried in the Senate. Because the impeachment proceedings of the United States and the Philippines are so similar, it is possible precedent set by one system, could influence the other.

One such opportunity for shared precedent has been presented by an appeal of Chief Justice Sereno; summarized in this article. Sereno has claimed that she has the right to cross-examine witnesses used a resources in the House of Representatives. Her claim is a departure from the traditional impeachment process: cross-examiniation occurs during the trial in the Senate. Therefore the outcome of her claim could prove to be an interesting development for the Philippines and possibly the United States.

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NFL Stoking Flames in the House

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This article reports that Representative Green, in the wake of President Trump’s criticism of NFL players, has pledged to file an impeachment resolution next week. Though unlikely to pass without Republican support, the impeachment resolution could act as a test of Green’s fellow democrats. They are faced with a choice between endorsing impeachment or sitting out of the vote, and in doing so must consider whether the action is premature and whether either path could alienate their voters.

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Kneeling linebackers and the path to impeachment

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Most of my writing on this site is devoted to the technical legal issues raised by Mr. Trump’s misadventures and the constitutional riddle of what constitutes an impeachable offense.  I hope readers find these discussions useful.  Nonetheless, Mr. Trump’s vulgar, tawdry, racially incendiary feud with protesting NFL players is a reminder that the path to impeachment, if it exists at all, will be opened by public sentiment, not legal argument.

Any discussion of presidential impeachment is bounded by two apparently contradictory realities. On the one hand, then-congressman Gerald Ford was right that, as a practical matter, “An impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history.” In the other hand, our historical practice has been to read “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” fairly narrowly and to shrink from actually removing presidents from office.

No American president has been both impeached by House and convicted and removed by the Senate. President Nixon resigned rather than face impeachment, but only after the release of the Watergate tapes caused his public support to collapse. President Clinton survived trial in the Senate not, I think, because he was factually innocent of the charges against him. Rather, his public support remained high, indeed grew, during the impeachment controversy, and a majority of the Senate concluded that his removal from office for what most people viewed as unseemly, but not disqualifying, lying about sex, would outrage the electorate.

In Mr. Trump’s case, I have identified one provable impeachable offense — the Arpaio pardon. Others have contended that what is known of Mr. Trump’s financial entanglements and of his efforts to quash the Russia investigation amount to impeachable violations of the emoluments clauses and obstruction of justice statutes.  Evidence of other conduct that could be categorized as impeachable by serious people may well emerge over the coming months. But none of it – none of it — will matter so long as Republicans hold the House and Mr. Trump holds the allegiance of 40-some percent of the electorate as a whole and three-quarters or more of Republican voters.

No majority-Republican House will ever vote to impeach Mr. Trump, or even to investigate the question seriously.  In an earlier era, there might have been enough public-spirited Republicans to open an inquiry, if the facts were egregious enough. But the extreme polarization of the House, and the death grip on the House Republican caucus enjoyed by its right-most fringes would surely foreclose such a development. Even if the Democrats flip the House in 2018 and proceed to impeachment, conviction in the Senate would require a dozen or more Republican votes.  Those votes will never be available as long as Republican senators face a credible threat of primary challenges from the Trumpian right.

Therefore, unless and until Mr. Trump loses the active support of something approaching half of the primary-voting base of the Republican party, his lease on the White House is secure until 2020. It may not be necessary that half of all Republicans openly repudiate him, but close to half must become sufficiently disillusioned that Mr. Trump’s removal would become a matter of relative indifference rather than a cause for tribal fury.  Then, and only then, will he become vulnerable to impeachment.

Which brings us back to the NFL.  There has been a good deal of brow-furrowing analysis of the perverse cleverness of Mr. Trump’s insult campaign against kneeling NFL players.  And I suppose it is clever in the sick sense that he is managing to inflame the latent hostility of fans who obsess over the game, but nonetheless privately, even subconsciously, resent the players’ wealth and status, by reminding the fans that a whole lot of these guys are black.  Trump’s genius is the sadist’s gift of finding every raw nerve, suppressed neurosis, and healing wound in the body politic and poking at it.

Mr. Trump’s sadism secures him the loyalty of the angry and the insecure who constitute a large fraction of his political base. And I’m sure that his NFL tantrum will go down well enough with many of these. But does there come a point when he has simply gone too far?  A point when the loyalty or at least amused patience of tribal Republicans begins to crumble under the weight of the ceaseless tide of insults directed at nearly every admired figure in American life?

I certainly don’t know the answer to this question.  But I can’t help but believe that getting into a fight with Lebron James, Steph Curry, the Golden State Warriors, and the whole NFL establishment is a bad move for a guy whose base is disproportionately made of folks for whom professional sports generally and football in particular are near to religion.  It would be sickly ironic if the mass affinity for Trump that survived his insults to a genuine American hero like John McCain began to crack over a cheap feud with sports stars, but somewhere there must be a straw that will break this pestilent camel’s back.