President Trump has been under constant attack since the day he was elected. He has been attacked for narcissism, for saying untruths, for incompetence. Now, however, two different kinds of investigations have been launched. One is a criminal investigation. It is now headed by Robert Mueller. The other is a congressional investigation. It is being done by committees in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. It is informational only, although, if it revealed crimes, it could refer the matter to the Attorney General. What it can also lead to, however, is a motion in the house to impeach the president.
The elements needed to prove a crime are very different from what is needed to impeach, and then to convict, a president. A crime is established only when it is proven that a criminal law has been broken, and that the one charged with that crime intended to break that law. So, for instance, proving the crime of obstruction of justice requires proof that the one charged either told an untruth to an authorized government investigator, or prevented that investigator from obtaining relevant information regarding that investigation, for instance by coercing a witness or hiding or destroying documents. It also requires proof that the one charged did these things with the intent to obstruct the investigation.
The elements necessary to justify impeachment and conviction are far less clear. What is clear is that impeachment is not the same as conviction. Impeachment is only a statement of charges, like an indictment. It requires only a majority of the House of Representatives to begin impeachment proceedings. If impeached, the president is then tried by the Senate, and can only be convicted by a two-thirds majority of the Senate.
The Constitution states the grounds for impeachment as “Treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” What that means is not clear, but we know what it does not mean. A president cannot be impeached for incompetence or negligence in the conduct of his or her office. Only two presidents have actually been impeached, and both of them (Andrew Johnson and William Clinton) were acquitted. Nixon resigned before impeachment proceedings were completed. Conclusion: it is very, very tough to impeach, and convict, a sitting president.
Nothing revealed or even inferable from what has been revealed establishes that Donald Trump committed a crime. Others around him may have done so, but there is no evidence that Trump participated in a crime, and, absent a smoking gun (think the Nixon tapes), it is highly unlikely that he will ever be convicted of a crime regarding the evidence involved here.
If he is not likely to be convicted of a crime, then it is also highly unlikely that there will be justifiable grounds for impeachment. Nixon was clearly guilty of obstruction of justice. Clinton was clearly guilty of lying under oath. Trump is narcissistic, incompetent, a chronic liar, and perhaps even hazardous to the health of the nation. None of those are grounds for impeachment.
So what is this all about? It is about what is being called “the Russia thing.” Those pursuing Trump want to prove that Trump’s staff colluded with the Russians to manipulate the election or colluded with the Russians to use the office of the president to profit the president or his family. Either one of these should and would result in a huge political swing away from the right in America. That is a political goal, and it should be pursued politically.
What I am implying here is that talk of criminal investigation or impeachment investigation is at best way too early and at worst counter-productive. If Robert Mueller concludes, as he very likely will, that the evidence does not establish that the president committed a crime, it will allow the president to gloss over all his true failings. The political pursuit of crimes or impeachment would only serve to encourage more incompetence and more damage to the country. If his real “crime” is incompetence and policies damaging the people, the real solution is the ballot box.