On Friday afternoon, CNN reported that White House lawyers are researching impeachment, just in case they have to defend President Donald Trump against the threat many Democrats have mentioned. The White House denied the report, but it stands to reason that Trump’s administration would prepare for the worst.
“White House lawyers have begun researching important procedures in an effort to prepare for what officials still believe is a distant possibility that President Donald Trump could have to fend off attempts to remove him from office, two people briefed on the discussions tell CNN,” Evan Perez, the outlet’s justice correspondent, reported. Lending credibility to the report, Perez emphasized that the administration does not expect an impeachment to be likely.
“White House officials believe the President has the backing of Republican allies in Congress and that impeachment is not in the cards, according to the people briefed on the legal discussions,” Perez added.
After Perez’s story was published Friday afternoon, the White House responded that “it’s not true.” An attorney close to the office of White House counsel Don McGahn said McGahn would not authorize such legal research into impeachment.
Nevertheless, earlier this week, close advisers to the president — including lawyer and surrogate Michael Cohen — visited the White House to discuss the president’s need to hire personal attorneys.
But there are other reasons to believe the CNN report. On Tuesday, McClatchy D.C. reported that Democratic strategists are poll-testing the impeachment message. “In a significant development, party operatives say they expect Democrats to poll-test the public’s views on impeachment, trying to acquire hard data about an issue that until now has not been seriously analyzed,” McClatchy’s Alex Roarty reported.
Other strategists also reported that candidates and Democratic Party organizations will begin conducting focus groups on the question. “These operatives acknowledge they’ve been caught off guard by the speed with which impeachment has become a relevant issue — and are wary of the political damage it could cause if not handled correctly,” Roarty added.
“I’m not afraid of the I word — it’s independent, independent commission, independent investigator. That’s what I support,” Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) said in response to a question about Democrats calling for impeachment. “What I would suggest is that there needs to be a full investigation first. We need to get the facts and let the facts lead where they may.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) also shied away from impeachment. “What I’ve said over and over again is I would appreciate it, and I think the FBI and others would appreciate it, if the president would — would let our justice system do what it is constructed to do,” he said. Cummings stressed the need to verify the authenticity of former FBI Director James Comey’s memos.
“No one ought to, in my view, rush to embrace, you know, the most extraordinary remedy that involves the removal of the president from office,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) explained.
Even so, a poll released Thursday showed that more Americans support impeaching Trump than oppose doing so. The Democratic firm Public Policy Polling found that 48 percent of American voters supported impeachment, while only 41 percent opposed it. Worse, only 40 percent approved of the job Trump is doing, while 54 percent disapproved. Only 43 percent thought Trump will end up serving his full term as president, while 45 percent thought he won’t.
PPP is a Democratic firm, so some of their results should be taken with a grain of salt. For instance, the poll reported that 62 percent of voters think it is necessary for the president to release his tax returns, and 51 percent of voters said they consider Trump to be a liar.
The Democrat pollster reported that only 34 percent of Americans said Trump has “Made America Great Again,” while 55 percent said he has not. This seems an unfair question, just over 100 days into Trump’s presidency. Judging by the leaks — especially from the intelligence community — Trump has yet to make the federal bureaucracy loyal to him, much less achieving his full agenda for America. Many of his supporters would say he needs more time to “Make America Great Again,” and voters gave him four years to do so.
Nevertheless, even Public Policy Polling found that Americans were evenly divided on impeaching Trump — back in February!
At least twelve Democratic members of Congress have called for Trump’s impeachment since his inauguration. Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe called for Trump’s impeachment, following the president’s firing of former FBI Director James Comey. Tribe argued that firing Comey marked an “obvious effort to interfere with a probe involving national security matters.”
Democrats had blamed Comey for Trump’s victory last November, and so had long called for his firing. But as soon as Trump did it, they shifted course, arguing that the timing of act they had long called for suggested Trump’s desire to end the investigation into Russia’s impact in the 2016 election.
According to a Friday report from The New York Times however, Trump boasted about firing Comey to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. An unnamed American official reading from a transcript of the meeting to Times reporters quoted colorful remarks from the president about Comey.
“I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Trump allegedly told the Russian envoys. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off” (emphasis added). Later, the president reportedly added, “I’m not under investigation.”
The White House did not deny the conversation, but argued that the investigation into Russia’s influence on the 2016 election had impeded the administration’s ability to negotiation with Moscow.
“By grandstanding and politicizing the investigation into Russia’s actions, James Comey created unnecessary pressure on our ability to engage and negotiate with Russia,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said. “The investigation would have always continued, and obviously, the termination of Comey would not have ended it.”
Cementing the central partisan interpretations of the Comey affair, Spicer added, “Once again, the real story is that our national security has been undermined by the leaking of private and highly classified conversations.”
While Democrats and liberals might hope that amongst the leaks coming from the “deep state” might be a smoking gun to launch an impeachment of Trump, Republicans and supporters of the administration insist that those very leaks are illegal, and leakers should be prosecuted.
So long as Republicans hold majorities in the House of Representatives and the Senate, however, impeachment remains unlikely, no matter how damaging the leaks might become. Federal staff secretly loyal to former President Barack Obama over their current boss might continue to leak information they consider damaging to the current president, but until any concrete evidence of an impeachable offense surfaces, no Republican will consider siding with Democrats in calling for impeachment.
Even so, given current events, it is logical — and indeed perhaps even admirable — for the White House to consider the best possible line of defense. The leaks are not likely to subside, and vocal Democrats will continue to buck leaders of their own party in calling for impeachment. Trump might as well be as prepared as possible for whatever political storm is brewing.