The president has endured his worst week in office - but just how bad can it get?
The evidence is mounting. The gaffes are becoming more regular – and erratic. The net is closing. The walls are tightening. The odds are tumbling.
In the wake of the last week – tumultuous even by Donald Trump’s standards – what once seemed an unlikely possibility, has now turned into a very real thing: the first-ever successful impeachment of a sitting president. ‘First ever?’ I hear you cry. Yes, because Richard Nixon resigned before having to face the music back in 1974, while Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were both acquitted, in 1868 and 1999 respectively.
But what exactly is impeachment, will it actually remove Trump from office, and if it did, what would happen afterwards?
Glad you asked.
What does Trump have to do to get impeached?
Article II of the United States Constitution (you know it all by heart obviously, but just in case you have a momentary lapse of memory) states in Section 4 that "The President, Vice President, and all civil Officers of the United States shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors."
What exactly are ‘high crimes and misdemeanors’? Well, that’s open to debate, although the only opinions who matter are the House of Representatives, the lower house of Congress. They alone can impeach a government official.
And this is where it gets interesting, since the Republicans – Donald Trump’s party – have a majority at this moment in time, with 241 representatives compared to the Democrats’ 194.
This means that his own side would have to turn on him in order for an impeachment to proceed. Ultimately, the House Judiciary Committee will decide, by majority vote, whether there are grounds for impeachment – and the Republicans enjoy a 24-17 advantage here.
So he won’t get impeached then?
Thus far, they have ridden out the storm but, with their seats up for re-election later this year, if public opinion turns against Trump – that is, even more than it has already, with the President ‘enjoying’ record-breakingly low approval ratings – then they may quickly go against him if they think it might be a vote-winner.
That, of course, is the cynical, political way of looking at it – which is probably the most accurate of course – but there also remains the chance that, at some point, they may feel that, morally, they cannot justify their own president’s behaviour any more.
However, given that Trump’s litany of appalling behaviour, his embarrassing deference to Vladimir Putin, his leaking of classified information to Russia which potentially endangered American lives, his castigation of his own country’s intelligence services and his constant lies have failed to move any Republican to flip on a moral basis, it’s unlikely that they’ll change now.
Has Trump done enough to be impeached?
Again, this is open to debate, but experts believed a year ago that there was already enough material, given his refusal to divest from his business interests. His dismissal of FBI chief James Comey and his alleged words to him about the investigation into Mike Flynn were big red flags yet that there were some serious Russian skeletons in Trump’s cupboard, but the last week - with two of his closest allies, Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen, being found guilty of serious financial crimes - has moved him closer than ever before.
Cohen in particular is potentially the most dangerous to Trump, with Laurence Tribe, a Harvard Law scholar and one America’s most prominent constitutional lawyers, saying that, “It’s certain that Cohen will work with Mueller but very hard to predict whether Manafort will.”
Some are already speculating that Trump has urged Manafort not to flip to Mueller, with the president aiming to pardon him at a later date in return.
Meanwhile, Cohen has directly implicated the president in his crimes, stating in his guilty plea that he violated campaign finance laws at the direction of “the candidate” for the “principal purpose of influencing [the] election”.
So, if he is impeached – what then?
Simply being impeached does not mean he would leave office. Impeachment is no more than the equivalent of being charged in a criminal case: you still have to be found guilty before going to jail. So who decides if he’s guilty? Well, that would be the upper house of Congress, the Senate.
Again, in a perfect world, they would apolitically judge whether his alleged ‘crimes’ were sufficient to be convicted, but this is the real world and, again, the numbers are in Trump’s favour, since the Republicans enjoy a 54-46 majority - and the constitution needs a two-thirds majority for a conviction.
The only two presidents to be impeached, Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998, were both acquitted with the political makeup of the Senate standing in their favour.
However, if Trump were convicted in the Senate - either by a change of heart by Republicans or a change in numbers after the November midterms - he would be automatically removed as president. What would subsequently happen is so unprecedented that it’s difficult to be sure – it would also obviously depend on the crime that he was convicted of. However, Trump ending up in jail would not be an impossible outcome.
Currently, it’s very hard to say how the midterms will pan out - some have predicted a ‘blue wave’ with ‘soft’ Democrats who might have been complacent during the 2016 Presidential race making sure to come out and vote this time, while others believe that the threat of impeachment of a President who retains support amongst die-hard Republicans, and can claim to have kept - or at least attempted to keep - all of his campaign promises, will in turn bring out the red vote.
If Trump was removed as president, who would take over?
Much like the Royal Family, there is a clear line of succession in place in American politics. If Trump is removed, then Mike Pence, as Vice President, would automatically take over. Simple.
However, if some more outlandish blogs and writers are to believed, then it’s not just Trump that’s in trouble at the top of the political tree. Patribotics – the blog of Louise Mensch, so, yeah, attach as much weight to that as you see fit – wrote last year that “evidence… exists against multiple men in the line of succession to the US Presidency, as it relates to Russia’s hack on America”. Specifically, they go on to detail possible charges against Trump, Pence and even number three in the list, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.
If they were all impeached and convicted, this would mean that Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, the fourth in the line, would become president. Apparently, “sources with links to the intelligence community say they do not know of any collusion by Hatch in either money-laundering or in accepting Russian intelligence; this does not mean, they warn, that such evidence does not exist.”
So, if this all goes down, say hello to President Hatch.