America

Impeachment Menu

By Andrej Mrevlje |

Just a month into Donald Trump’s presidency, my European friends and colleagues wanted to know what I thought of the unusual behavior of 45. As I’m no expert on American law or the constitution, I could only give them my impression as a political observer, and U.S. resident. Trump, after his move to the Oval Office, continued to express seemingly thoughtless statements (Tweets) and act in an unpredictable and senseless way, far from the norm of presidential behavior; it is no wonder people desperately sought to reason. It is my opinion that a superpower like the U.S. cannot afford (and, therefore, nor can the world)  to have an erratic person lead the country for a long period of time, and since the White House did not change, or make Trump more presidential–a hope many Americans were holding onto–my gut told me that he would soon hit a wall and there will be somebody, somewhere, who will invite him to leave office. I could not imagine how this irrationality could last more than a year. He will be out by Christmas, I kept saying.  

I was naive, but just ten months ago, back in February, this world was still a better place. It’s a wonder if we’ll ever be able to get it back. As long as Trump occupies the Oval Office, things will continue to accelerate, and we have no way of knowing when we will at last hit the bottom of this degradation. But more about this later.

To my mind, Trump’s political story should have ended the moment America learned about his obscene remarks to Billy Bush, recorded on video. The timely release was before the election, and looking back one thinks, “there was still time.” But the Americans, many of them annoyed with the political establishment and the unappealing Democratic candidate wanted to give Trump and themselves a chance for change. They voted for him knowing how vulgar and rude the man is. Did they think that only a reckless person like Trump could make a difference? They were right.

The change started on day one with war declared against America’s own intelligence agencies. Again, we were not able to comprehend why on earth freshmen in the White House would attack the intelligence community, whose job is to protect the President and the country. Surely, it is not because Trump is a peaceful anti-military anarchist! No. In the White House, Trump surrounded himself with many retired generals though he fired one when forced. Michael Flynn, his security adviser, was ousted because of his proven secret dealings with the Russians. As we now know, Trump’s attack on the intelligence community was an impulse, a self-protective instinct. It might just work.

Trump will not be impeached by Christmas. The White House is already decorated and nobody would think it appropriate to dismantle the forest of illuminated Christmas trees Melania has planted before the holiday season is over. But the word impeachment (just google “Trump impeachment”) is in the everyone’s mouth. This, of course, does not mean that it will come easily, fast and painless, or at all. We are still far away, but the path has been set upon by many, and rehearsals have started. Just a few days ago, the House voted on the first vote of impeachment of Trump. It failed miserably, of course. Here are some reasons why. But in substance, the impeachment is a long political process that builds to a consensus that leads to a vote in the House first, and the judging majority in the Senate after.

It is a long and complex procedure, that proves – no matter what we may think of the U.S. recently – that the country still has strong democratic mechanisms in place. You may learn, from this great review on the American presidents who did not end their mandate, that American history has more presidents assassinated than impeached in its history. It took the country almost two years to build the consensus for Richard Nixon’s impeachment. In order to avoid it, Nixon resigned, while Bill Clinton was impeached by the House, and then acquitted by the Senate.

As Time quoted Michael J. Gerhardt, distinguished professor of constitutional law:

The Constitution states that a president can be impeached if convicted of “treason,

bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” Those looking to impeach Trump would need to show he has done something that falls into one of those categories — which requires more evidence.

While treason and bribery are defined by the Constitution and by federal law, “high crimes and misdemeanors” is a less specific charge. Gerhardt said the framers intended it to refer to “political crimes,” including abuses of power or other offenses against the United States. “They don’t have to be technically criminal things — things for which someone could go to prison — but they do have to reach a certain level of seriousness.  

The seriousness, but also focus on, the impeachment-seeking nation will depend on constructing one forceful argument before it asks Congress to vote. In short, the critics will have to reduce the impeachment menu and join forces. This might not be easy to do when the occupant of the Oval Office is a “mina vagante” (an Italian term that effectively expresses the explosive character of the President) who creates then multiplies his damage. Experts are saying though that there should be only one impenetrable item chosen from the vast menu; a smoking gun. I recently noted this satire, with its ten proposals for Trump’s impeachment. Perhaps in the times before Trump and Berlusconi, the embarrassment and misbehavior would be enough, not for impeachment but a vote against confidence. It would be nice if, from this funny but historically quite relevant record, one could vote to impeach because the president uses tape to secure his neckties.

Things are much more serious now. The most concrete and stringent investigation that is already penetrating the inner circle of the White House is the so-called Russian probe. It started with the Russian meddling in last year’s elections, with illegal communications between people responsible for Trump’s campaign and close collaborators of Vladimir Putin. Two of Trump’s most trusted campaign managers and strategists are now answering to, and collaborating with, the FBI, acting as important witnesses from inside the president’s circle. There is no doubt that special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating the possibility that the president was obstructing justice. For readers not familiar with this passionate topic, that revives American memories of the Watergate investigation and Nixon’s resignation, Foreign Policy has a short update on the latest.

With the investigation closing in on Trump, the president’s team of lawyers are getting nervous, and so is the president, especially now that members of his family are being questioned and investigated. Trump’s relentless pressing of administrators to stop the Russia investigation, which began with the firing of the director of the FBI, has vaulted the cause of special counsel Robert Mueller not only to investigate the president’s possible obstruction of justice, but to also subpoena Deutsche Bank, one of the biggest lenders to companies associated with Donald Trump.

The New Yorker reported: “On Tuesday, the German newspaper Handelsblatt and other media outlets reported that Mueller’s office has demanded financial records from Deutsche Bank, a large German bank that is one of the biggest lenders to companies associated with Trump, and that has also had controversial ties to Russia. The news reports said that Mueller’s office issued a subpoena to the bank earlier this fall; the impression was that the bank, despite its public refusal to confirm any details, was willingly coöperating with the investigation.”

The magazine also quotes Sir Richard Dearlove, a former head of Britain’s spy agency, MI6, who said: “What lingers for Trump may be what deals—on what terms—he did after the financial crisis of 2008 to borrow Russian money when others in the West apparently would not lend to him.”

An old rumor had it that Deutsche Bank has been used to channel Russian financial support to Trump when he was on the edge of bankruptcy. Some years ago, one of the Trump’s sons openly admitted that the Trump organization received Russian financial help, a fact that his father consistently denied. However, Deutsche Bank has very tight ties with Trump and has since 1998, when loaned him about $2.5 billion. The last loan of $200 million was for the renovation of the International Trump Hotel in Washington DC, just around the corner from the White House. Trump got a lease from the federal government for more than 60 years.

But whether Deutsche Bank was channeling any Russian money to Trump is the question that Mueller is now trying to answer. Mueller seems to be a very thorough investigator, according to the Washington Post. His silence, prudence, and systematic work have become the stuff of Washington myth, especially against the daily blare of the cable networks, which seem to be unaware of the fact that their reporting is mostly just an echo of the president’s tweets. However, it is interesting that Mueller’s investigation path is slowly merging with the conspiracy theory of now-popular Seth Abramson, a professor at the University of New Hampshire, who tweets stories that read like thrillers.

Abramson turns the current complex and byzantine sounding events into a simple and fascinating reading. Abramson’s tweets link copiously to sources, but some mainstream media have nevertheless dismissed his conspiracy theories. It goes, in short, like this, writes the Washington Post:

After trying for many years to expand his business empire into Russia, Abramson asserts, Trump visited Moscow in 2013 to personally meet agents of Russian President Vladimir Putin, using his beauty pageant as cover.

There, Abramson writes, a secret deal was struck: Putin agreed to open up his country’s rich real estate market to Trump, and Trump agreed to campaign for president while promoting pro-Russian policies.

Simple as that. And everything that has happened since — the election hacking, Trump’s improbable win and a special counsel’s investigation into his campaign and administration — follows from that deal, in Abramson’s telling.

Let me end this post before this fascinating story that concerns all of us becomes too long. Robert S. McElvaine, who calls himself a depression historian, analyses Trump’s economic policies in comparison to those in place before the great depression. His focus, in particular, is on the tax reform the Senate approved last week, which is giving, even more, tax cuts to the richest in the country while taking away from the middle class mostly; there is more than $1 trillion at stake over the next ten years. The tax reform takes aim at the states run by the Democrats, where local taxes are used for better educational systems and other social policies. The approved measure ends the possibility of the deduction of state and local taxes, but taxes income that has already been taxed away from a taxpayer. It is, quite simply, double taxation, McElvaine writes.

As said, things are looking even worse on the national level, with the current Republican policies nearing a new disaster, similar to the great depression, McElvaine writes:

In the 1920s, Republicans were in full control of the federal government and used that power to pursue their objective to “make the well-to-do prosperous.” It didn’t “leak through on those below.” In that decade, the mass-production American economy became dependent on mass consumption. For it to work, the masses need a sufficient share of the national income to be able to consume what is being produced.

Republican policies in the ’20s instead pushed to concentrate more of the income at the top. Nine decades later, Republicans are rushing to do it again — and they are sprinting toward an economic cliff. Another round of Government of the People, by the Republicans, for the super-rich will be catastrophic. The American people must call a halt before it’s too late.

The game is afoot. I wonder if there is something more we can do but watch. Will it be impeachment or a war with Korea that boots Trump from his seat in the years to come?

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