News & Politics

Steve Bannon: Manafort Verdict, Cohen Plea Mean 'November Is a Referendum on Impeachment'

White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon listens at right as President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting on cyber security in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The 2018 midterm elections this November are a “referendum on impeachment,” according to former Trump aide Steve Bannon. On Tuesday night, Bannon suggested that the verdict of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and the plea deal involving former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen have transformed the nature of the November elections.

“Today clarifies that November is a referendum on impeachment — an up or down vote,” Bannon told Bloomberg White House reporter Jennifer Jacobs. “Every Trump supporter needs to get with the program.”

On Tuesday, Manafort was convicted of 8 counts of financial crimes, mostly dealing with payments he received working for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s puppet in Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych. Neither the payments nor the crimes have any direct connection to Manafort’s work on behalf of the Republican candidate for president in 2016.

Trump stood by Manafort, saying he felt “very badly” for the former campaign chairman, whom he called a “brave man.”

Cohen’s plea deal proved far worse for the president. Trump’s former lawyer pled guilty to 8 felonies involving payments made to former porn star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal. Cohen said the $130,000 payment to Daniels was made “in coordination with and at the direction of a candidate for federal office.”

Even if Trump or his current lawyers could argue that the payments were not campaign finance matters, Cohen has invalidated that argument by pleading guilty to violating campaign finance law regarding them. Indeed, Cohen has hired as his lawyer a former Bill Clinton lawyer, Lanny Davis.

Davis has said that Cohen knows information that would implicate Trump in the Russian efforts to intervene in the 2016 election, and that Special Counsel Robert Mueller would find Cohen’s testimony quite useful against the president.

Trump attacked Cohen on Twitter Wednesday morning, saying, “If anyone is looking for a good lawyer, I would strongly suggest that you don’t retain the services of Michael Cohen!”

Most legal experts have said that these cases will not place Trump in immediate legal jeopardy, the Associated Press reported. Even so, they will likely lead Democrats to become more hostile to the president and more likely to push for impeachment.

CNN’s Chris Cillizza also suggested that Trump is unlikely to be indicted or charged with criminal wrongdoing as president, but that Tuesday’s events will spur Democrats forward in their push to impeach him.

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) has led the charge for Trump’s impeachment, even going so far as to say that “there is no law” presenting a concrete standard by which to impeach a president. On the contrary, the Constitution stipulates that the president should only be impeached for “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” A poll last year found that even most of those who think Trump should be impeached do not consider him guilty of such crimes.

Bannon has suffered a tremendous fall from grace, thanks in part to Michael Wolf’s book “Fire and Fury.” The former Trump aide seems to have been Wolf’s primary source, and Bannon spread many malicious whoppers against his former employer.

On this issue, however, Bannon may indeed be right. If his message gets out, the turnout for this midterm election may skyrocket. If Democrats run on impeachment and Republicans run on keeping the president in office, 2018 may turn out to be a referendum on Trump.

Even so, Democrats are unlikely to win the U.S. Senate, because there are more vulnerable Democrats up for re-election than there are vulnerable Republicans. Even if Democrats take the House of Representatives, they will not be able to remove President Trump. The House can impeach a president with a simple majority vote, but only the Senate can remove a president, and that requires a two-thirds majority.

That isn’t going to happen, but Trump could be formally impeached by the House, as Andrew Johnson was in 1868 and Bill Clinton was in 1998. Richard Nixon resigned before impeachment proceedings.

While Republicans should turn out to support the president, the most Democrats can hope for is a symbolic impeachment vote in the House. Even so, that should motivate Republicans.