Thursday, April 26, 2018

BTRTN: What Would Impeachment Really Look Like? Not Pretty... for Anyone.

Freedom fries, anyone? The faux royalty of the Macron visit was just so much camo for the panic in the White House, still reeling from the raid on Michael Cohen’s office. Steve thinks that it is time to start asking what impeachment would actually look like, and he doesn’t like what he sees.
It was a week of pomp and circumstantial evidence in Washington, D.C., as the President of the United States preened while hosting a major state occasion for the only Western European leader who makes the pretense of taking Trump seriously. The face that the White House put forward to the public was all Macron and cheesiness, as Trump lavished the French President with the trappings of royalty, rewarding him for initially appearing to sign up for the role of Trump’s poodle.  At the same time, Macron was viewed as maneuvering to score points back on the Continent by becoming known as the only global leader who can exert influence on Donald Trump (other than, uh, Vladimir Putin, that is).  Macron, however, established that he was not le President’s chien when he threw shade on Trump’s policies in his address to Congress, dissing his host on the increasing U.S. isolationism, scolding the U.S. for its withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, and reminding the chamber that the United States did actually sign the Iran nuclear deal, and that commitment should mean something. Trump no doubt found it, well, gauling. It probably made him want to croak, Monsieur.
While the White House had hoped that the dazzle and glamour of a state dinner avec les chic Macronesians would buy a few news cycles with no mention of Michael Cohen, Stormy Daniels, or Scott Pruitt, fresh meat appeared in the form of Trump’s nominee to head the Department of Veterans Affairs, Admiral Ronny Jackson. Reports surfaced that Jackson’s drinking problem once cause him to wreck a government car, that he doles out prescription medications so often that he was nicknamed the “Candyman,” that he is responsible for abusive work environments, all in addition to having no experience leading and managing a large organization, let alone the second most sprawling entity in government. These may be the exact four resume items you would use to screen for the absolute worst possible candidate to head the V.A.

But this news cycle had still more spin. Trump himself seemed to pump a cartridge or two of ammo into his own foot in a series of weekend tweets in which he boldly predicted that Michael Cohen would not “flip” on him. Trump apparently failed to grasp that a “flipper” cops to lesser charges in return for testifying about the crimes of the person who is being “flipped on.” In other words, Mr. President, when you tweet that Cohen won’t “flip” on you, you are pretty much acknowledging that you have committed crimes that he could testify about. Then, just hours after Macron had blown his last French kiss, word hit that Michael Cohen was going to plead the fifth in the Stormy Daniels matter. Say au revoir to the glitz, Mr. President... you are back in the swamp.

For all the Presidential bravado, it is now becoming clear that the raid on Michael Cohen’s office has Trump vibrating like a tuning fork. Recently Trump has been characterized as being “unhinged” so often that he appears to have no time available for being “hinged.” Trump’s assertion that Cohen won’t flip is merely his subconscious bubbling forth with the admission that there is criminal activity to find in Michael Cohen’s office, and with that terrifying realization, there is little else on Donald Trump’s mind.

We have expressed our belief that the primary reason that Donald Trump wants to remain President is because it is the best way that he can avoid prison for himself and his children. In the past, Trump may have comforted himself with the belief that he could bluff through the collusion inquiry by parrying any and all witnesses with an aggressive “he said, he said” rebuttal. Thusly, he reasoned, without direct evidence of his own involvement in collusion, the Senate would not convict him in an impeachment trial for obstruction. The argument? How can a man be obstructing justice if there was never proof that he had committed a crime?
But the raid on Michael Cohen’s office opens up an entire new world of vulnerability for Donald Trump. The warrant that gave law enforcement agents access to Cohen’s office was reported to have been based on possible violations of campaign finance laws triggered by the payment of hush money to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, and to the possibility that Cohen acted illegally in attempting to suppress the Access Hollywood video. 

These, however, seem like night court parking violations when compared to much more dangerous areas of liability, as Cohen is assumed to have played a role in any possible money laundering schemes that the Trump Organization may have been involved with. Indeed, Cohen is even suspected of being involved in potential areas of direct contact – and potential collusion – with the Russian government during the run-up to the 2016 election. 

In short, Cohen appears to be patient zero for just about any and every area of possible Trump malfeasance. Pundits were salivating at the prospect that this could lead to a plea bargain and eyewitness evidence from Trump’s most intimate advisor outside his own family. Have smoking gun, will travel.

In the grand liberal wet dream, Cohen would lead the conga line of dunces who have served as Donald Trump’s enablers, fixers, thugs, campaign advisors and Cabinet officers as they parade one by one in front of a Senate impeachment trial and sing their songs of money laundering, fraud, obstruction of justice, and the big “C,” – the cancer on this Presidency – collusion. When the roll call rolls and the bells toll in this Democratic fantasy, 68 Senators give Trump the thumbs down, and the President is measured for an orange jump suit in the Federal Confinement Resort and Spa in Cumberland, Maryland. The next day, tens of millions of Trump voters denounce the former President and admit to their neighbors that they had made a terrible mistake in voting for him. Beams of sunlight slice through the clouds and the United States of America reverts back to the precise cultural coordinates that had been in place on November 7, 2016. 

Dream on, lefty. 

The odds that Donald Trump’s presidency will end as a result of impeachment in the House and conviction in the Senate are remote. While the House can vote to impeach with a mere majority, the actual conviction and removal from office requires a two-thirds vote in the Senate. Depending on the outcome of the mid-term elections, the Democrats could well capture a majority in the House, and the Senate will be in play. It is not impossible that sixteen to eighteen Republicans would vote for Trump to be evicted from office, but it would probably require that Robert Mueller present incontrovertible evidence that Donald Trump personally and knowingly was overtly involved in collusion with Russia to tamper with the 2016 election. 

In today’s perversely polarized politics, that absolute level of incontrovertible evidence seems virtually unattainable.

Moreover, given those perversely polarized politics, one must ask the question of whether the impeachment and conviction of Donald Trump would actually  be a good thing for the United States of America… liberals and conservatives alike.

Far from serving as a process of correction, reconciliation, and healing, the impeachment, conviction, and removal of Donald Trump could just as easily be the guns of a new Fort Sumter... an apocalyptic rupture of the long-festering divide in this country.

Simply put, if Donald Trump continues to convince his base that the Mueller probe is a liberal Deep State conspiracy-based “witch hunt” designed only to nullify Trump’s electoral victory, then we are woefully na├»ve to believe that even “unassailable proof” of collusion would not be rejected by die-hard Trump supporters as manufactured evidence. Rather, we should all expect that an impeachment could be the match that lights the gasoline-soaked tinder. 

What follows is an imagined but sadly plausible assessment of what America might look like the day after the first time a President had been removed from office through the impeachment process.

We pick up the action on this imaginary day with the roll call vote in the Senate.  The evidence that has been presented by Robert Mueller is overwhelming. Witness after witness swears on risk of perjury (and losing their plea deals!) that they personally told Donald Trump about the coordination efforts with Russian hackers. Emails are presented that document the electronic trail of corruption. The lead editorial in The Wall Street Journal demands that the Senate evict Donald Trump from office. However, throughout it all, Donald Trump has remained his same essential self: combative, denying, lying, accusing, distorting, and playing the role of victim. He has denied every single charge. Millions of his faithful supporters believe him, and believe he is being railroaded.

Before the roll call gavel crashes down, fourteen Republican Senators have already announced their intention to vote to convict. All eyes are fixed on the four Republican Senators who have refused to reveal their intention. Rand Paul is the first of the hold-outs to be called.  A keen intellect who actually lives by a set of principles, Paul concludes that the  prosecution has effectively made the case that Donald Trump is guilty of committing high crimes and misdemeanors. Grimly, and without fanfare, he votes to impeach.

Ted Cruz, however, has withheld his vote simply to ensure that all eyes are on him when he exacts his revenge. “Impeach!” he shouts out lustily, allowing himself the surging release of his bitterness from Trump’s savage insults to his wife and slander of his father. Only one more vote is needed. 

It quickly becomes clear that Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa has withheld her vote for one purpose only: to be seen on national television as the Trump loyalist who will give one, last full-throated damnation of the impeachment process as a witch hunt. Knowing that the world is watching, she decries the entire tribunal as partisan, biased, and illegitimate. She votes against conviction.

It all comes down to Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who patiently milks the telegenic moment for all it is worth, pausing to soberly note the gravity of the moment and that the fate of this Presidency, and indeed the nation, rests in his hands. Citing the weight of evidence and the sanctity of the rule of law – and never once revealing the profound satisfaction at knifing the man who dared call him “little” – Rubio votes to impeach. Donald Trump is stripped of the Presidency. 

The moment is electric, triggering a shocking firestorm of reaction at both ends of the political spectrum. In New York City, the crowd on Park Avenue extends from Trump Tower all the way to Grand Central to the south and swells into Central Park to the north. An immediate patriotic and uplifting chant of “U.S.A.!” is rapidly drowned out and supplanted by bitter and unforgiving voices screaming “Lock him up!,” which carries on for nearly 45 minutes. 

The news is carried live on Fox News, which senses a defining audience moment. With raging rhetoric, Sean Hannity wastes no time in categorizing the impeachment as an illegal coup. Whipping his faithful into a frenzy, he easily convinces his weak-minded storm troopers that their vote in the 2016 election has been brutally stolen by the liberal media, the Deep State elitists, the biased FBI leadership, the Washington establishment, and the conflict-of-interest ridden Mueller investigative team. He urges their faithful out into the street, warning that they could encounter the roving militia of the leftist police state. This is why we have a Second Amendment, he notes smugly. If Obama had gotten his way, you would not have your guns to protect yourself from the leaders of the coup

Donald Trump, of course, is not placed in ball and chain. He has not been convicted of a crime. He is a free man, simply no longer President of the United States. Ever since the Special Prosecutor was appointed, Donald Trump has been preparing for this moment. He has waged a non-stop war against the motives, legitimacy, alleged biases, practices, and factual basis for the impeachment charges. He has never flinched... never admitted to any wrongdoing, consistently claiming that the allegations were “fake news,” the supporting documents and evidence was all phony, and the testimony against him was compromised because it had all been forced under pressure of criminal prosecution. 

Sean Hannity announces that he now has former President Trump on the phone. 

“Mr. President,” Hannity says, instantly revealing his own bias, “Mr. President, what do you think of this travesty?” 

“Well, Sean, it’s a disgrace. It’s a coup, that’s what it is. I bear no bad feelings towards Mike Pence, who is a good man. But he is not the legitimate President of the United States, and everybody knows that. I am sure Mike would agree with me. It’s going to be tough for him to govern when so many people believe that I am still the rightful President of the United States.”

Hannity is eating it up, with an image of ratings near Super Bowl levels. “Mr. President, what message do you have for your supporters? What should they do now?”

Trump pauses for effect. “Well, Sean, I am sure that the people know that this is a coup, and I think people who have just been the victims of a coup... well, they know what to do.”

Meanwhile, over on CNN, Anderson Cooper has scored the big interview with Mike Pence. Pence is hoping that his mournful, heavy-heart pose will thread the needle, appearing to share the outrage of the Trump die-hards while nonetheless emphatically asserting the legitimacy of his newly declared oath of office.  “Anderson, many Americans are hurting today, because they question the process that led to the impeachment of Donald Trump. It is certainly not my wish to have to step into this role under such challenging circumstances. But the Constitution that I have sworn to uphold has mandated that I serve, and I humbly ask for the support of all Americans during this difficult time.”

But it is in steamy streets of small towns in the deepest Red States that the match lit by Hannity ignites the parched, dry kindling of partisan and class rage. Word spreads through social media of a full-throated rebellion against the leftist coup. A crude web post urges Alabamans to bring their AR 15s to a rally in front of the First White House of the Confederacy at 644 Washington Avenue in Birmingham. Local police are no match for 3,000 gun-toting rednecks with more ammo than brains and even more beer than ammo. Police fire tear gas, which serves only to vindicate Hannity’s warning that the Deep State will attack. Shots ring out in Montgomery. By sunrise the following morning, gun violence has spread to dozens of cities across the American south.

Former President Trump is back on Hannity the next night. “Who can blame these patriots?” Trump blasts. “I mean, Sean, these poor people – they know what happened. They know that biased Mueller and all the crooked politicians – on many sides – have rigged the system so that they could screw the American voter. If I were out there on the streets in Montgomery tonight, I’d like to think that I’d have the guts to attack the local militias that are being called out to enforce the coup. Even if I didn’t have a weapon, I would lead the charge against the militia… it’s not legitimate, you know?”

Hannity is nearing climax. “Mister President, it sure seems to me that many of the Red States that gave you your electoral victory are looking to you tonight… looking for guidance… looking for your legitimate leadership… Mr. President, perhaps those states need a legitimate leader…”

“You know, Sean, many people are telling me that there is great interest in many parts of our country for a government that is truly in touch with the needs of the people. People in those states want a government that serves the  people… not the liberal rich elite, not the Deep State, not the Washington establishment, not Wall Street, not the biased fake news media. You know, Sean, I’ve heard that  people are asking whether it is time for… well, I think they would want to call it the United States of Trump… You know, Sean, it’s not a bad idea...”

You get the point.
An unrepentant, raging Donald Trump, found guilty by the Senate, terrified for himself and his family, would do just about anything to avoid prison.  Including fanning the flames of civil unrest.

When we lust for impeachment, let us indeed be careful what we wish for.

Let us be clear: just because we are wary about impeachment does not mean we are opposed to justice being served. 

In our view, the best outcome is far simpler, though it is wholly contingent on the  issuance of a final report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller that is so comprehensive and so compelling case that at least eighteen Republican Senators acknowledge that Donald Trump has been proven guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors.

Then, Mueller, alongside key Republican leaders like McConnell, Cornyn, Grassley, Cotton, and Graham, walk into Donald Trump’s office and dictate the terms of a deal. 

If Trump puts the country through the hell of a fiercely contested impeachment process, he and his family will be open targets for any and every criminal charge and prison term that the special prosecutor and the District Attorney in New York City are prepared to throw his way.

However, if he agrees to fixed conditions, he can avoid it all. No criminal prosecution or jail time, for him, or any of his children. All he has to do is agree to the  following:

He must resign the Presidency immediately.

He must admit guilt to high crimes and misdemeanors, and testify that the charges are true. He must clearly state that the crimes he stands accused of are not lies and are not fake news. He must do so in a video statement that is to be aired on all news networks.

He, and his entire family, must agree to never appear in public again. No television. No interviews. No Fox News. No politics. Nothing. Just for the fun of it, Mueller could complete the deal by offering him $130,000 in exchange for agreeing to keep his mouth shut. 

Impeachment is our legal and constitutional solution, but it will not bridge the catastrophic divide in the perception of reality that Donald Trump has fostered. If Donald Trump’s supporters are convinced that he has been unjustly victimized, then the next Democratic President will be impeached fifteen minutes after being sworn in. The center will not hold, and the rule of law will have been bent to the rule of personal opinion. The fabric of the nation could be torn into permanent bifurcation, violent conflict, and insurrection. 

Perhaps the only thing that will stop Trump supporters from bitter alienation from the country is if they finally accept that he is a morally bankrupt, corrupt, congenital liar who has deceived them.
And they will only believe it if they hear it from one person: Donald Trump. 

Robert Mueller, good luck in finding the evidence you need. Then let’s all give careful thought to what happens next. Impeachment may make liberals feel good, but it may be the one thing that could make a terrible situation irretrievably broken.

Perhaps that would be the right time to sit down with Donald Trump and talk about the art of the deal.

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