NEW YORK –America’s largest city is abuzz over the latest revelations about Donald Trump’s crimes. I’m here on A book tour discussing Iran, but audiences want to know if Trump will be impeached.
Court documents filed in the case of Trump’s long-time personal lawyer Michael Cohen show The Donald paid off two women with whom he had sexual relations. Prosecutors consider the payments, totaling several hundred thousand dollars, to be illegal campaign contributions because they were explicitly used to prevent scandal during the 2016 presidential race.
Top Democratic Party leaders admit those payments constitute impeachable offenses, but have so far not called for impeachment. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (Dem-NY), who will head the House Judiciary Committee in January, has become the master of equivocation.
“Well, they would be impeachable offenses,” he told CNN. “Whether they are important enough to justify an impeachment is a different question.”
Case for impeachment
In my opinion, Trump is guilty of a number of high crimes and misdemeanors. He has escalated the undeclared wars in Syria and Yemen. He obstructed justice by firing FBI Director James Comey and lied about meetings his advisors had with Russians.
Norman Solomon, co-founder of RootsAction, has been building a grass-roots movement for impeachment over the past two years. (Solomon is also co-author with me of the book Target Iraq.) He said Trump regularly violates the Constitution’s emoluments clause. The Trump family directly benefits from foreign governments renting rooms in Trump hotels in Washington DC., among other shading business dealings.
“Trump has been violating these clauses since his first day as president,” Solomon told me.
I think pursuing impeachment is one legitimate tactic by what is emerging as a broad anti-Trump movement. For now, the Republican-dominated Senate is not likely to convict Trump. By voting for impeachment in the House, but losing in the Senate, the Democrats could end up strengthening Trump. But new evidence may yet emerge. And even a House vote to impeach would force Trump to focus on defending himself, and potentially reduce his ability to wreak havoc on the government.
Last year 58 members of the House voted to debate impeachment. Democrats now hold a majority and the party base remains very angry at Trump’s corruption and despotism. The House could start impeachment hearings at anytime and enjoy considerable popular support.
You noticed that I didn’t mention Trump’s collusion/conspiracy with Putin as one of the impeachable offenses. I think liberals have overplayed that connection, and it’s likely to backfire.
To date, there’s no evidence that Trump cooperated with Russia to illegally influence the 2016 elections or adopt pro-Russian policies as a quid pro quo for favorable business dealings.
Yes, the Russians spent a few hundred thousand dollars to set up fake social media sites to attack Hillary Clinton and support Trump. But, despite the liberal outcry, it had relatively small impact.
Trump won by less than 80,000 votes in three key states. The Democrats lost because Trump appealed to alienated white voters and the Clinton campaign tilted right rather than mobilizing new voters with a progressive program.
Yes, high level Trump officials met with Russians in hopes of getting dirt on Clinton. And Trump’s campaign advocated easing Russian sanctions and establishing better relations with Putin.
But those activities are just as easily explained as political maneuvers rather than conspiracies. Trump was looking for whatever support he could get. During the campaign he sometimes professed an isolationist foreign policy that included improving relations with Russia. For their part, Russian leaders hoped for an end to Hillary Clinton’s liberal interventionism.
If Putin and Trump had a secret deal, why did Trump immediately appoint ultra-conservative interventionists to key cabinet posts, who then cranked up hostility with Russia?
For too many Democrats, Putin bashing also serves a convenient political purpose, according to Alan MacLeod, a researcher at Glasgow Media Group.
“If Russia is to blame, there is no need for introspection, nor to cede political ground to progressives,” he told me. “Instead it can be business as usual. There is no need to change policies, reflect upon a poorly run campaign, … or to understand why their policies failed to inspire the American public.”
Attacking Trump from the right
Insisting on a Putin-Trump conspiracy also promotes Russia as a dangerous enemy, and allows Democrats to attack Trump from the right on national security issues.
Nancy Pelosi, who will become speaker of the House, summed up the mainstream Democratic Party view succinctly earlier this year.
“It seems that Putin is Trump’s puppeteer,” she said.
The new Russian boogie man not only challenges the United States in eastern Europe and the Middle East, it threatens our democratic elections, according to leading liberals.
Earlier this year Rep. Nadler and other Democratic House leaders called for increased sanctions against Russia. Nadler proclaimed, “If we do not take any action, the American people may not trust the outcome of the next election.”
As it turns out, Russian midterm election interference never materialized.
In reality Russia is a lesser imperialist power compared to the United States, or even Britain and France. It seeks hegemony in a limited number of places, such as the former USSR and Eastern Europe, and more recently, in parts of the Middle East. Putin heads an authoritarian government that oppresses the Russian people. But Russia is no more threat to the people of United States than any other lesser imperialist power. We face far greater threats from the neocons currently occupying the White House.
I view Russian interference in US elections the same way I see its espionage. Both countries carry out illegal spying on one another. Occasionally a spy is caught. One side self righteously denounces the other, but no one believes espionage will topple either government.
A recent Gallup poll showed that 58% of the American people favor improving relations with Russia while only 38% want more sanctions. So in both factual and practical terms, the Democrats should stop braying about the Trump-Putin conspiracy and focus on the White House’s real crimes.
Reese Erlich’s nationally distributed column, Foreign Correspondent, appears every two weeks in 48Hills. His bookThe Iran Agenda Today: The Real Story from Inside Iran and What’s Wrong with US Policy is now available. Follow him onTwitter, @ReeseErlich; friend him onFacebook; and visit his webpage.