For Now It’s All About Public Opinion

This biggest political story of the week that just ended came out of the President’s mouth. Today’s article will be about impeachment and integrity; in Trump’s case the lack of the latter. Let’s explore.

ABC’s George Stephanopoulos interviewed Trump last week. During the interview Trump acknowledged that he would break federal campaign finance laws (seemingly again) and worse yet argued that it isn’t a crime. Basically it appears that Robert Mueller chose not to charge very senior 2016 Trump campaign officials with the federal campaign finance violation of accepting something of value from a foreigner because he didn’t think he could get past the “stupidity and ignorance defense”. In other words Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort and Donald Trump, Jr. would have said they didn’t know the law and didn’t think conspiring with a delegation of Russians was a crime. To me it is more like when you have been a criminal your entire adult business life crime becomes standard operating procedure.

While President Trump has maintained at least the appearance of plausible deniability – I recall learning that phrase during the Nixon administration – you would have to believe in unicorns to assert that he was both unaware and uninvolved in the conspiracy and exchange of information with the Russians. To date he has gotten away with it and like most criminals who get away with a crime they become emboldened.

When Stephanopoulos asked Trump if he would accept “dirt” on an opponent from a foreign power during the 2020 campaign, Trump replied that he probably would. When asked whether he would inform the FBI Trump replied in the negative. When Stephanopoulos informed the President that the (Trump appointed) FBI Director had testified that a candidate must inform the FBI of an offer of assistance from a foreign source Trump emphatically replied that the FBI Director is wrong.

In 2012 I had the privilege of being paid staff on the Obama campaign. I was far below the senior level of the campaign staff. If a foreigner offered me anything of value I would have immediately called the FBI and then called my direct supervisor who would have done the same. Within hours the FBI would have received several calls from Obama campaign personnel. I personally knew the all the individuals through and including the State Director and can vouch for their integrity. In no way would any of us accepted the offer and hid it!

Over the past several years on more than one occasion I offered a federal level campaign true opposition research on their opponent free of charge. In every case they established I was a registered voter – and therefore an American citizen – before they accepted it. That is the way real American campaigns operate. Perhaps I can buy Trump, Jr. and Kushner not knowing the law (which is no excuse) but Manafort was a veteran of politics and elections. As to President Trump, if he didn’t know in 2016 he certainly must be expected to in 2019.

Now we come to the question of should Congress impeach Trump. With Watergate as a teacher and the recognition that impeachment is a political proceeding the answer is that at this point it all depends on public opinion. Nixon resigned in the face of certain impeachment (think: indictment) by the House and removal by the Senate (think: conviction). When the impeachment hearings began removal was far from a certainty. It was only after public opinion overwhelmingly turned against Nixon that the game was effectively over and Nixon resigned.

If votes were held today I am confident that the 218 (or so depending on attendance and open seats) House votes to impeach exist. However, I am equally confident that the required 67 votes in the Senate to remove do not exist. Going back to the Watergate example how did the Senate turn against Nixon? It was public opinion that influenced enough Republican Senators. Digging a layer deeper: What changed public opinion? The answer was television.

Back then we primarily had three television networks (ABC, CBS and NBC) who presented factual news as they still do today. Today we also have a plethora of other news outlets, many part of the right wing disinformation machine dedicated to the formulation and propagation of right wing mythology. This cabal is led by Fox News. I am not alone in this theory; many have long openly speculated on whether Nixon would have survived if he had a Fox News.

Assuming you accept my theories thus far the question becomes where we go from here. I have long contended that the impeachment hearings have already begun; we just aren’t calling them impeachment hearings. At least for the moment forget about the Senate and only pay attention to the House committee hearings. Despite the Trump administration’s delay game, frustratingly slow progress is being made in getting people in to testify. Too many hearings are behind closed doors and if they get any screen time at all it is on a selected few cable networks and/or C-SPAN. What the House needs to do is get one or a few big name witnesses in for an open hearing that they schedule in prime time (say an 8 or 9pm EST starting time) and have it broadcast on all the major networks. Those hearings would get huge ratings and with the exception of Fox every broadcast network along with several major cable networks would cover them. The core Trump constituency still believes what they see and hear. Their problem is that they don’t have credible sources of news. When public opinion is swayed Republican Senators in self-preservation would suddenly get “religion”.

Until and unless that happens it is all up to the final check the founders put in the Constitution – the American voters.

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