The question is no longer whether there are grounds to impeach Donald Trump. It is when enough Republicans will put their loyalty to America ahead of their loyalty to their party.
Trump’s statements last week about his firing of former FBI director James Comey provide ample evidence that Trump engaged in an obstruction of justice – a major charge in impeachment proceedings brought against Richard M. Nixon and Bill Clinton.
It’s worth recalling that the illegality underlying Nixon’s impeachment was a burglary at the Watergate complex, while the illegality underlying Clinton’s was lying to a grand jury about sex with an intern in the White House.
Trump’s obstruction is potentially far more serious. It involves an investigation about whether Trump or his aides colluded with Russia in rigging a presidential election – the most direct assault on American democracy in history,
Last Thursday, in an interview with NBC News’s Lester Holt about his firing of Comey, Trump said: “I was going to fire regardless of recommendation.” Trump also said that he had pressed Comey during a private dinner to tell him if he was under investigation.
Trump conceded that the ongoing investigation into Russian influence on the 2016 election, which includes a probe into the possibility that Moscow was coordinating with the Trump campaign, was one of the factors Trump considered before firing Comey.
“In fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won,’ ” Trump said.
The law is reasonably clear. If Trump removed Comey to avoid being investigated, that’s an obstruction of justice – an impeachable offense.
On Friday, Trump tweeted that Comey “better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”
Here, the law is also clear. Seeking to silence, intimidate or even influence someone who is likely to offer evidence in a congressional or criminal proceeding is also an obstruction of justice – and an impeachable offense.
As a practical matter, though, nothing will happen until a majority of the House decides on bringing a bill of impeachment. Which means, under the present congress, twenty-two Republicans would have to join with House Democrats to put enough pressure on the Speaker of the House to allow such a bill to be considered.
The odds of this occurring in this Congress, under present circumstances, are approximately zero.