Watching this shithole presidency self-destruct in real-time as the rats that have enabled it start devouring each other is already proving to be one of the most amusing things to happen in a very long time. Karma is a bitch.
Yet it is not a time to rejoice. The public spectacle of all of this happening is hardly a source of pride for America. As the dominoes fall, the destruction of American values and interests triggered by this administration’s actions will cause disturbing negative repercussions that will be felt for generations.
And the underlying trends that have enabled so many aspects of fascism to take rise in America today will not disappear in the blink of an eye when Donald Trump is gone. We must face the fact that there are an unhealthy percentage of Americans who would be very happy seeing America no longer exist as a liberal democracy; and who are fully prepared to trade our democracy for a fascist state protecting white privilege… even a grossly corrupt one under an extraordinarily mentally disturbed president who is an avowed sexual predator and credibly accused rapist, and who has persistently acted in a manner consistent with his being a Russian asset. This is the reality of 2019 America.
In the short term we must deal with the fetid corruption of the Republican party and the tepid inaction of the Democratic party that allowed this administration to normalize malfeasance and continue to wreak destruction upon America long after May of 2017, when clear and convincing evidence compelling impeachment first came into public view. In the long term, dealing with the underlying societal sickness that propelled America to where it is today requires fundamental changes to our political and educational systems.
Here are what I think are five key things to watch for as the dominoes fall, the impeachment process progresses, and this presidency goes through it’s final self-destructive death throes .
1. It is a virtual certainty that so far the public is only seeing the tip of the iceberg of the criminality and malfeasance that will be disclosed over the coming months.
What we are aware of today will be dwarfed by what is uncovered during the impeachment investigation, particularly related to Trump’s betrayal of American interests related to Russia and the Middle East. In addition, new acts of malfeasance and obstruction will be committed by this administration on a daily basis in response to the impeachment process.
Now that the dam seems to have broken, there may well be a race to speak to Congress as people who have been involved in Executive Branch malfeasance try to save their own skin. There is a strong possibility that Republican members of Congress will find themselves implicated in serious wrongdoing, including misprision. It also seems a real possibility now, for the first time, that Vice President Mike Pence may possibly be implicated in wrongdoing, and should that be the case, the repercussions of it substantially complicate how things might proceed.
2. In working through the impeachment process, House Democrats must be diligent, thorough, resolute, perspicuous and expeditious.
House Democrats face a truly daunting challenge in sorting through so many potential impeachment issues and bringing them up for a vote in a reasonable period of time (probably by no later than the end of 2019). They must pick their battles wisely, and communicate their reasoning clearly.
While it is important that the impeachment process proceed quickly, attempts to overly limit the inquiry to only look at the most recently disclosed events related to Ukraine would be a negligent mistake on the part of the Democratic party. This is their one clear opportunity to dig into Trump and his history of malfeasance and impropriety in depth, and to uncover the information necessary to better understand the leverage that foreign governments hold over Trump and his family, through knowledge of matters of a financial, moral, and criminal nature.
The recent disclosures related to Ukraine are inextricably linked to Trump’s dealings with Putin; with Paul Manafort’s criminal wrongdoing on behalf of Trump; with Trump’s agreeing in 2018 to send Ukraine Javelin anti-tank missiles… only after Ukraine stopped cooperating with the Mueller probe; and with Trump’s overarching efforts to trade US policy in order to enrich himself and his family via dealings with Russia, the Middle East, and China. (See also Seth Abramson’s extensively sourced new book, Proof of Conspiracy.)
For more than two and half years, Trump has, on a weekly, and sometimes daily, basis, violated his oath of office in an egregious manner, and often in a very public manner. The problem isn’t a lack of evidence. The problem is that there is so much evidence and so many acts of violation of his oath of office that it will be difficult to bring focus to his many “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
The evidence to impeach based on legal grounds will be compelling in the extreme, but ultimately the votes to remove Trump from office in the Senate will be determined on a political basis rather than legal ones. The list of Trump’s potentially impeachable acts includes: obstruction of justice; witness tampering; extensive emoluments clause violations; violations of campaign finance laws; encouraging foreign governments to interfere in American elections; collusion with hostile adversaries; instructing federal officials to violate the law; inappropriate dangling of pardons; inappropriately handing out security clearances; providing classified information to our enemies; ignoring Congressional subpoenas; fawning over murderous dictators while betraying our allies; repeated acts of defamation; ongoing acts and words of racism and white nationalism; his use of grossly false assertions to damage the credibility of the press, our intelligence services, and our law enforcement agencies; and his repeatedly lying to the American people on other matters of both significance and insignificance.
And that is just from actions springing from Trump’s campaign and time in office. Earlier acts, such as Trump’s alleged extensive money laundering through his business ventures on behalf of foreign parties, and the credible accusations of rape and sexual abuse against Trump, are not likely to be deeply explored, although if more information regarding Trump’s alleged rape of a 13-year-old in conjunction with Jeffrey Epstein should come to light, that could well change.
So if the Ukraine revelations alone are too narrow a basis for impeachment, but all of the above areas are too broad, confusing, and time consuming to fully investigate and prosecute, what should the House’s focus be? I think their focus should be on building a clear and convincing case that Donald Trump has blatantly betrayed American interests in order to enrich himself and his family, and that he has done so through criminal, unethical and immoral acts that, on virtually a daily basis, have violated his oath of office.
The argument that the House can and should build is clear and simple: Trump has used his office in a way that makes him is a traitor to America, and those who continue to support and enable his corrupt actions are betraying America as well. During impeachment in the House, and at trial in the Senate, the House should present and justify to the public, on national television, count after count of impropriety that reinforces this basic message.
It is an encouraging sign that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi seems to be giving Adam Schiff and the House Intelligence Select Committee the lead in the process, as Jerry Nadler’s leadership of the House Judiciary Committee seems to have repeatedly failed to summon the moment related to dealing with the Trump administration’s malfeasance and subsequent efforts to obstruct justice and act in contempt of Congress.
It would be even more encouraging if Pelosi and Schiff come to realize that the time has come to resurrect Congress’s inherent contempt power to quickly and summarily fine and confine those who might choose to defy Congress and the impeachment process. This would place the burden on those charged with contempt to go to the court system for relief (which might or might not be forthcoming), rather than have the Congress rely upon a very slow court system to enforce civil contempt, or a non-functioning DOJ under William Barr that is clearly not going to enforce criminal contempt referrals.
Congress would also benefit by using its contempt authority to put an immediate end to attempts by witnesses to invoke executive privileges to refuse to answer questions or produce documents in instances where A) there is no legal basis under which such privilege exists; and/or B) instances where executive privilege could be but has not actually been formally asserted by the Office of the President; and/or C) where a privilege claim is being improperly used to attempt to cover up malfeasance on the part of the President.
3. As revelations regarding Trump’s wrongdoing accelerate and more members of his team are implicated, it is by no means certain that Trump’s tenure in office will be able to persist through the entire impeachment process in the House and a subsequent trial in the Senate. But if a Senate trial does take place, the commonly held presumption that the Republican-controlled Senate could never vote to remove Trump from office is completely wrong.
It is probably more likely than not that the Senate won’t convict Trump and remove him from office, but to state that it is anything approaching a certainty is just plain incorrect.
The political calculus involved goes something like this: if a Republican Senator were to vote for Trump’s removal from office and Trump were to be acquitted and not removed, then the political repercussions towards that Senator could potentially be quite negative. On the other hand, if the vote results in Trump’s conviction and removal from office, then it is not clear that the negative repercussions would be tangible… in fact, as further details of Trump’s blatant wrongdoing become known, the negative repercussions of voting to acquit Trump grow and grow.
Former Senator Jeff Flake stated this week that even based on what is currently known regarding Trump’s malfeasance, if the voting were held anonymously, he believes that 35 of the Republican Senators would vote to remove Trump from office, which would give the Senate well more than the necessary 67 votes to convict.
Ultimately Mitch McConnell will become the central figure in deciding if Trump stays in office or not. In a Senate trial, the trial is overseen by John Roberts, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. But McConnell still holds the most critical role in determining the outcome..
Mitch McConnell is no patriot, and we should not hold our breath expecting him to become one now. If McConnell comes to support Trump’s removal from office, it will be solely to further his own self-interest. And the public won’t learn of it until it is a fait accompli.
As the news related to Trump’s malfeasance worsens and worsens, McConnell might see the drag from the Trump impeachment costing him the Senate majority in the 2020 election. He might see his chance of retaining that majority as being better with Pence as President and a less objectionable candidate up against the Democrats.
As the rats start ratting each other out, McConnell may also perceive a risk that he will get taken down in the corruption that is revealed. He isn’t being called “Moscow Mitch” for nothing. McConnell may have serious exposure if this investigation goes too deep.
McConnell is perhaps the only one who can tell Trump… “if you don’t resign, I’ve got 35 republican Senators who are willing to quickly vote you out of office to minimize the stink from the mess you’ve created.” McConnell was apparently one of the most prominent voices urging Trump to release the highly damaging memorandum summarizing Trump’s phone call with the Ukrainian President. And McConnell has stated that if the House passes articles of impeachment, he will in fact procedurally support there being a Senate trial on them.
And McConnell is in a position to quietly broker a deal with Pence to pardon Trump if Trump goes quietly. Yes, it will be another quid pro quo of course. It all stinks to high heaven. But it is the most likely scenario that avoids an impeachment and trial that McConnell surely doesn’t want. It is well within the realm of possibility that, either through Trump’s resignation or his conviction in the Senate, the Republican presidential nominee in the 2020 election will not be Donald Trump.
4. The most credible pathways for this saga to come to an end preclude Trump and his family from ever being prosecuted for their federal crimes and blatant betrayal of America.
After the depth of Trump’s malfeasance becomes broadly acknowledged, much of America is going to have difficulty coming to terms with this reality. Expect to see a push for a Constitutional Amendment in the future requiring Congressional concurrence when a President tries to issue pardons for themselves, their family members, for those they have instructed to break the law, and for past presidents and their families.
5. The worst is almost surely yet to come.
Very bad things can still come into play during the impeachment process and the death throes of this presidency. Trump plunging America into a significant war to divert from his domestic troubles remains a credible possibility. We can also be certain that foreign actors will try to take advantage of this time of confusion in America, which may also lead to conflict and other extremely negative consequences. Trump encouraging further corruption of our 2020 electoral process is a certainty. Trump effectively attempting a coup to remain in office should his tenure come to an end remains a credible scenario, although his chances of being successful in such efforts seem more modest now in light of recent developments. As Trump’s hold on power disintegrates, the likelihood that domestic actors who support him will engage in acts of mass violence also increases. What effect, positive or negative, all of this might have on financial markets remains difficult to anticipate, but it isn’t impossible that such repercussions might be significant.
Remember that this isn’t just about malfeasance and impeachable offenses. This is about a President who has spent his entire time in office blatantly betraying American interests to enrich himself and his family. By the time there is a trial in the Senate to decide whether to remove Trump from office, the charges detailing Trump’s heinous betrayal of America are likely to be so clear cut and apparent that everyone in America who isn’t living in a cult-induced alternative-reality will recognize it.
If Trump doesn’t resign before the Senate trial, the day will come when every single member of the Senate will have the opportunity to define their legacy and proclaim for future generations whether they are a patriot or they are a traitor. They will have a clear chance to tell the country whether or not they are willing to put their loyalty to America ahead of their loyalty to their political party.
It is incumbent upon the public and the editorial media to make it bluntly clear to our Congressional representatives that this is the choice that they face.
Chatter from the Twittersphere that helped shape this column:
This reminds me of my column from May 2017. Hard to believe it has taken almost 2.5 years to get to this point. https://t.co/KSLRVDdWoh
— Cliff Kurtzman (@DominoPrinciple) September 24, 2019
"We must put our best selves forward, our best leaders, our best voices. We must prepare the case against Trump and his co-conspirators as if all will be lost should we lose. . ." A thread turned post by @djrothkopf https://t.co/Vy1HCjIxP7
— Deep State Radio (@deepstateradio) September 27, 2019
In the darkest hours of the American Revolution, Thomas Paine wrote: “The times have found us” – and today they have found us again. We do not place ourselves in the greatness of our Founders – but we do place ourselves in the urgency we face in securing our democracy.
— Nancy Pelosi (@TeamPelosi) September 26, 2019
Ignore anyone who tells you that the way to defeat white supremacy and fascism is to not fight. That's never been true in the history of ever. It's going to get a lot uglier out here but there is no way around it because allowing the fascist takeover is not an option.
— Bree Newsome Bass (@BreeNewsome) September 24, 2019
"Trump has exposed us, all of us, as a nation led by cowards. Why would a whistle-blower even want to save us, when we have so completely shown them that we are unwilling to save ourselves?" https://t.co/7RfvuvAf9P
— Cliff Kurtzman (@DominoPrinciple) September 24, 2019
The day will soon come when every single member of the Senate will have the opportunity to define their legacy and proclaim for future generations whether they are patriot or they are traitor. pic.twitter.com/GJJpRa619d
— Cliff Kurtzman (@DominoPrinciple) September 24, 2019
Trump did not appear like Athena, full grown, popping out of Steve Bannon's forehead. He is the product of 40 years of policies of the right that have divided the country, blown up our deficits, promoted inequality, weakened America, despoiled the environment and promoted racism.
— David Rothkopf (@djrothkopf) September 24, 2019
Another domino falls https://t.co/GppbTlXcxx
— Bradley P. Moss (@BradMossEsq) September 27, 2019
The rushed, limited, "minimal hearings" approach to impeachment after the successful show of force this week is like discovering you have Stockholm syndrome by dive tackling your captor, then racing back to the chair he had you tied to and slapping the handcuffs back on yourself.
— Brian Beutler (@brianbeutler) September 27, 2019
An interesting data point in light of this week's whistleblower report https://t.co/0uhRhyvijb
— Clint Watts (@selectedwisdom) September 28, 2019
Wait until people realize Ukraine was part of a multinational pre-election "grand bargain" that required Ukraine to approve Russian sanctions relief to get a massive new Middle East contract for Turboatom. Doesn't media wonder why Trump sent Rick Perry to Zelensky's inauguration? https://t.co/Le1eVvuf3C
— Seth Abramson (@SethAbramson) September 27, 2019
When you’re right, you’re right. https://t.co/CwrvK9OvPP
— Andrew Weinstein (@Weinsteinlaw) September 27, 2019
A clarification I want to make for those saying that of course Trump is closer now to impeachment than ever before because what he did with Ukraine is the worst thing he's done
What Trump did with Ukraine was very bad but is absolutely nowhere close to the worst thing he's done
— Seth Abramson (@SethAbramson) September 24, 2019
The Case for Trump’s Impeachment Goes Beyond Ukraine:
He has betrayed America with seven countries. https://t.co/zeIBiUoWHL
— Julia Davis (@JuliaDavisNews) September 27, 2019
Trump asked for Russian intervention, embraced it, defended it, gave the Russian benefit of the office he won them…and told them he was ok with what they had done while in the Oval Office. He is a traitor. He okayed an enemy attack that benefited him. https://t.co/t6xvDJ2cyb
— David Rothkopf (@djrothkopf) September 28, 2019
One counterpoint(-ish), which echoes what I've said for a long time: Trump lasts as long as McConnell thinks he can keep his majority. When that changes, all bets are off. https://t.co/GI3Mp0mPL3
— Chris Geidner (@chrisgeidner) September 25, 2019
Former GOP Senator Jeff Flake:
“I heard someone say if there were a private vote there would be 30 Republican votes. That's not true," Flake said during a Q&A. "There would be at least 35." https://t.co/rfqRg1Bnrr
— Ryan Goodman (@rgoodlaw) September 27, 2019
Oddsmakers say Trump Republicans senators won't vote to impeach Trump. I believe all bets are off. Most Republican senators privately hate him & his power over them. If they believe, by banding together, they can push him out, I think there is a very reasonable chance they will.
— Tony Schwartz (@tonyschwartz) September 24, 2019
If the whistleblower's understanding is correct and there's a classified server full of incriminating conversations between Trump and world leaders, then not exposing the truth keeps the president in hoc to those leaders for as long as he's president.
— Brian Beutler (@brianbeutler) September 27, 2019
There is a kind of karmic hilarity to the fact that in order to protect Trump, his staff centralized the materials that could doom him in a highly classified system that can't be erased or manipulated without a record of access by a very small number of people.
— Tom Nichols (@RadioFreeTom) September 28, 2019
Great explainer by Harold Koh:
— Andy Wright (@AndyMcCanse) September 29, 2019
A reminder to federal officials:
There is no limit on the number of individuals who can use the whistleblower statute.
If you think you were involved in unlawful activity as a result of a directive from Mr. Trump or someone doing his bidding, now is the time to report it.
— John O. Brennan (@JohnBrennan) September 28, 2019
May God give the Democrats a war time consigliere. They are terrible at this. They bring a fork to a gunfight and stab themselves in the eye. Republicans meanwhile bring a bazooka and kill everyone, including themselves.
— Wajahat Ali (@WajahatAli) September 17, 2019
It is extraordinarily rare that I find myself disagreeing with David Frum about much of anything related to politics. But impeachment seems to consistently be the topic in which that sometimes happens:
Now comes the hard part https://t.co/THeLtmzjR4
— David Frum (@davidfrum) September 28, 2019
Latest posts by Cliff Kurtzman (see all)
- Patriots and Traitors: The Dominoes of Impeachment II - September 29, 2019
- Speak Truth To Power - August 7, 2019
- The Day We Reached for the Stars and Acted With Decency - July 20, 2019