Would an impeachment attempt result in a “revolt”? It depends on how one defines the term, and how one defines the charges. Donald Trump offered his prediction in a lengthy interview with Reuters that mainly focused on the negotiations with China and the arrest of Meng Wanzhou. If all prosecutors and the House had was “peanut stuff,” as Trump called it, the people would rise up in anger:
On the domestic front, Trump waved off concerns that he could face the possibility of impeachment when Democrats, intent on greater oversight of the president, take command of the U.S. House of Representatives in January.
“It’s hard to impeach somebody who hasn’t done anything wrong and who’s created the greatest economy in the history of our country,” he said. “I think people would revolt if that happened.”
Trump said the accusations in the probe on whether his campaign colluded with Russia in 2016 amounted to “peanut stuff.” Payments that he allegedly made to an adult film actress and a former Playboy model through then-lawyer Michael Cohen were not a violation of campaign finance law, he added.
“Michael Cohen is a lawyer. I assumed he would know what he’s doing. You rely on somebody. Hey, he was a lawyer. Number one: it wasn’t a campaign contribution. If it were, it’s only civil. And even if it’s only civil, there was no violation based on what we did,” Trump said.
I doubt that Trump refers to a new civil war, but to the political fallout from Bill Clinton’s impeachment twenty years ago. Republicans failed to note the tenor of the electorate when they attempted to oust Clinton over his perjury and obstruction of justice involving a civil lawsuit for sexual harassment brought by Paula Jones. Voters were disgusted by Clinton’s behavior, but there was no consensus that the underlying behavior related to his actual presidential duties. After removal failed on a largely party-line vote in the Senate, voters punished the GOP at the ballot box later that year in the midterms — although they also made George W. Bush president over Clinton’s VP, Al Gore, two years later.
That lesson of overreaching on impeachment kept Democrats quiet during the midterm election cycle. They wanted to prevent a pre-revolt at the ballot box that might swamp out their nominees in potential swing counties. However, as The Hill reports this morning, they’re clearing their throats now that the election has passed:
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the likely incoming chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, called the allegations from New York prosecutors that Trump directed illegal campaign payments to silence two women an “impeachable offense.” The New York Democrat, however, questioned whether it was worth removing a president from office over just that.
Rep. David Cicilline (R.I.), who was recently elected to lead the Democratic policy and messaging arm, said, “Friday’s revelations I think give you a sense that we might ultimately head that way,” though he quickly added, “We just don’t know yet.”
And Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), the vocal vice-chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said “the mountain [of evidence] is building” against Trump, but cautioned that Democrats need to wait for the report from Mueller before making any final decisions. …
“There’s no doubt that when you have a president … associated with the violation of the law, that you have a new ballgame,” Jackson Lee told The Hill. “But I think impeachment is a political process,” she added. “That means that the American people as well have to feel that the integrity of the White House has been damaged.”
If Mueller comes back with incontrovertible evidence that Trump “colluded” with Russian attempts to influence the 2016 election, impeachment would be a sure bet. So far, though, none of Mueller’s convictions have touched on that issue, not even Michael Cohen’s, which related to a lead on a business deal in Russia that Trump never pursued. Mueller’s not finished yet, but he’s not been able to advance the core collusion theory in any of his public filings — and at this point one would expect to have seen something.
Technically, of course, any violation of the law is an impeachable offense; in fact, anything that a majority of the House thinks is impeachable is, by definition in the Constitution. However, Nadler and his colleagues will have one hell of a time trying to explain how perjury and obstruction of justice involving sexual harassment in 1998 wasn’t legitimate for impeachment, while failing to file FEC paperwork to deal with payments for keeping two extramarital affairs quiet in 2016 somehow vaults into a legitimate impeachable act. Having set that bar in 1998 and benefited from it in the 1998 election, Democrats who impeach on that basis alone will set themselves up for a big revolt at the ballot box in 2020.
That’s why everyone’s still being careful to say they’re waiting for Mueller to finish. If he can’t deliver any significant grounds for impeachment, Democrats will have to look for other methods for scoring points off Trump.