The first article in this series looked at the possibility of removing Donald Trump through the 25th Amendment and it concluded there was virtually no chance of that happening. The next article looked at the Constitutional Convention and the debate over whether or not impeachment should be part of the constitution. It also looked at the process that Congress created, as well as the three attempts to impeach and remove presidents.
This article examines whether or not there is a likelihood that President Trump will be impeached. If so, what would be the grounds for impeachment and what is the likelihood of impeaching and removing the president?
If President Trump is impeached, the most likely grounds for impeachment would be obstruction of justice, which was the primary ground for impeaching President Richard Nixon. The charge was that Nixon “obstructed and impeded the administration of justice.”
Just as Nixon fired Special Watergate Prosecutor Archibald Cox, Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. Comey and the FBI were investigating the ties of fired National Security Adviser to the Russians, as well as Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election.
During private conversations between the president and Comey, Trump asked Comey if he could drop the investigation of Flynn. Is this impeachable? It depends on whether Trump was politely asking Comey to drop the investigation, or was he ordering him to drop the investigation. A polite request is not impeachable; a command may well be impeachable.
A second major allegation against Trump is that he has used his office to financially benefit his businesses. After becoming president, membership fees at the Mar-a-Lago resort were doubled to $200,000. Trump was spent many weekends at the resort. Are the increased fees an attempt to profit from his position as president?
Rates at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, just several blocks from the White House, have increased substantially since Trump won the election. The Emoluments Clause of the Constitution prohibits the president from profiting from his position as president.
A third possible charge might be that Trump did not “faithfully execute” his duties as president. Trump’s giving Russian officials intelligence information in the Oval Office put the lives of intelligence agents in jeopardy according to many defense department and intelligence officials.
Another possible charge is the intimidation of potential witnesses. After asking Director Comey to halt the investigation of Michael Flynn in a private conversation in the Oval Office, Trump then threatened Comey by saying, “He better hope there are no tapes of that meeting.”
Others have raised concerns about Trump’s attacks on the judiciary, violating the establishment of religion clause by his Muslim travel ban, and his attacks on the press for being the “enemy of the people.”
If Trump is impeached, his supporters would contend that it was nothing more than a Democratic Party attempt to subvert the will of the people as expressed in the 2016 election results. The idea of a “constitutional coup” overturning the election results is a powerful argument.
The likelihood of impeachment depends on many factors. The more serious the offense, the more likely the president will be impeached. Anything considered to be a “high crime or misdemeanor” raises the chance for impeachment.
A second factor is the president’s popularity. A popular president is far less likely to be impeached. This is a problem area for Trump. He assumed office with historically low approval ratings and they have continued to plummet. His current approval rate is only 36 percent.
A third factor is the president’s relationship with Congress. Trump has won few Democratic friends, but he has also alienated many Republicans. Jerry Taylor of the Niskanen Center, a libertarian think tank, contends that only 50 to 100 House Republicans are true Trump supporters. “The balance sees him as somewhere between a deep and dangerous embarrassment and a threat to the Constitution.”
A final factor impacting impeachment is the party control of Congress. Republicans control both the House and Senate. Even if the House votes to impeach, which is not likely at this point, it would still require two-thirds of the Senate to remove Trump. This means that 19 of the 52 Republican senators would have to join all 48 Democrats in order to get the necessary two-thirds vote.
How likely is it that 19 Republicans will vote to remove the president? Based on prior history, the chance is zero. How many senators of the president’s party have voted to remove their president? None!
If Democrats win control of the House in 2018, the odds for impeachment dramatically change. It would then be surprising if Trump is not impeached.
In the end, what is most likely is that Republicans will denounce Trump’s behavior, much like Sen. Joe Lieberman denounced Bill Clinton‘s disgusting conduct in the Monica Lewinsky affair?
While denouncing Trump’s conduct, most Republicans will likely justify his behavior by saying he is a newcomer to politics and is unaware of the rules of the game.
At best, Trump critics can hope that Trump will follow the Nixon option. After constant criticism of his character and behavior, Trump will resign rather than face four years of humiliation and frustration.
Then again, Trump has said he has never prayed for forgiveness of his mistakes, so don’t hold your breath waiting for him to see the light.
Darryl Paulson is Emeritus Professor of Government at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg specializing in Florida politics and elections.