Jim de Bree | Impeachment and Trump’s Fascinating Game of Chicken

Since the night of the 2016 Presidential election, I have felt that we are inexorably headed toward impeachment. I remember telling friends in October 2016 that whoever was elected will be impeached because both candidates appeared capable and likely to engage in potentially impeachable offenses.

Many of my friends who are Democrats gleefully anticipate a mental meltdown by President Trump. They believe that his narcissistic personality is finally causing his collapse. I could not disagree more.

President Trump endured and survived a grueling investigation by Robert Mueller. However, Mueller had one hand tied behind his back because of the Justice Department’s view that a sitting president cannot be indicted. 

Everyone has an opinion about the Mueller Report, but few have actually read it. The document was intended for a legal audience and was not written for the general public. It is extremely difficult to read (worse than the Internal Revenue Code). One has to read certain sentences multiple times to comprehend what was written only to find the commentary contained in subsequent paragraphs modifies what was stated in the earlier sentence. 

Attorney General William Barr’s initial summarization of the report was misleading. When Mueller testified before Congress, his testimony was somewhat muddy. The report did not conclude that the president committed a crime; it also did not exonerate him. It, however, discussed 10 potential situations where the President might have obstructed justice, but left those matters to Congress to resolve. Because of the report’s complexity, Congress bloviated about the report, ultimately doing nothing. 

At that point President Trump realized that the congressional bark was worse than its bite. Congress apparently would do little, if anything, to oppose foreign interference in the 2020 election. He also saw the polls showing former Vice President Joe Biden beating him. 

At a campaign rally in 2016, Trump famously stated, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” Today Trump perceives that 35% of the electorate believes that whatever he wants to do is justified by presidential authority. 

Unlike previous presidents, Mr. Trump is not concerned about winning the popular vote. He merely needs to turn out his base and win a handful of swing counties in five or six swing states to win the Electoral College.

Mr. Trump also knows that impeachment will inspire his base to help secure that Electoral College victory. If impeached, he can count on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to ensure that he won’t be removed from office.

When the story about the Ukrainian scandal broke, I was in New York. I was meeting with a Wall Street law firm and it was interesting to see the situation from a New York perspective. The Wall Street attorneys told me that, if Elizabeth Warren is the Democratic nominee, Wall Street will support Trump. (Wall Street heavily supported Hillary in 2016.) Trump is well-connected with Wall Street and he understands this. 

With this as a backdrop, Trump decided to go after Biden by asking the Ukrainian government to investigate whether there were any improprieties in Biden’s dealings. In retrospect, the optics of Hunter Biden’s Ukrainian dealings are sufficiently murky that Biden should have anticipated this becoming an issue.

When Trump’s request was reported by a whistleblower, Trump doubled down and released a transcript of the conversation with the Ukrainian leader. His base will support him to the end and McConnell will see that the impeachment process does not result in his removal. 

He is taking a calculated risk that he can take Biden out of the race and that the Democrats will nominate a candidate who can be painted as a socialist extremist. Mr. Trump has raised substantially more money than the Democrats. Consequently, he can blitz the airways with hit piece advertisements making Biden appear corrupt while the right-wing media makes its case about the unfairness of the impeachment proceedings. 

This is classic Donald Trump. He is a master at turning our presidential elections into a reality show where he is the winner. He did it in the Republican primaries in 2016. With an energized base, he believes he can do it in the 2020 general election.

Unfortunately his actions have created a constitutional crisis. I realize that last statement will enrage certain Republican readers, but consider if the roles were reversed and a Democratic president undertook Mr. Trump’s actions. Is there any doubt the Republicans would not be on the impeachment bandwagon? 

Trump has never believed that the rules apply to him and so far he has been proven right. But, unless they are challenged, the precedents created have the potential to significantly change how the Constitution is implemented, consolidating more power in the executive branch and threatening the system of checks and balances envisioned by our founding fathers. 

Jim de Bree is a Valencia resident.

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