Yesterday, the Washington Post revealed that, apparently as a way to brag, President Trump let slip some highly classified information to Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, and Ambassador, Sergei Kislyak. In an added bonus, the New York Times reported today that the information originally came from Israel.
In short, the whole episode confirms what we’ve already known: our president is a colossal idiot. We can quibble about the specific nature and character of his stupidity—David Roberts’ excellent piece for Vox on this point landed a couple days before this latest news, but surely this episode has cemented it as the predominant view—but it’s a stupidity that seems, at the very minimum, certain to get Americans and American allies killed.
By now you’ve seen the uproar, from both sides of the aisle. Hell, it even got former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum—you know, the guy who coined the term “Axis of Evil” and remains unapologetic about both his rhetoric and the Bush Administration’s larger foreign policy—to decry it as a massive foreign policy gaffe.
And if even someone like David Frum is saying Trump should resign, surely the pressure to oust the man is rising, right? Well, I wouldn’t get my hopes up yet—and not just because it was just yesterday that I was calling anyone who thought last week’s scandal would actually take him down a “chump”. Here’s my thinking:
This incident surely would fall under the “the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office” clause in Article 4 of the 25th Amendment. If the Trump Administration were so inclined, they could use it as grounds for stripping Trump of his power. However, The rest of the Trump Administration has done nothing to show that they are “so inclined”—either because they still legitimately believe in the man, or because they believe they can use him for political, financial, or ideological gain.
At this point, I am absolutely sure it isn’t the former. Call it a hunch.
On the latter point, the Administration is likely divided into two camps: those who would have their role and influence vastly diminished or eliminated were Trump not in charge (I bet both Bannon and Kushner fall into this category, ironically); and those who see Trump as neither a great boon nor a great impediment to their personal agendas, and so are content to keep him in place because the alternative would be thornier. I’m sure Mike Pence would love to be President himself, but it’s not like Trump has done anything but endorse a typical Republican legislative agenda; removing him would just piss off the people across America who still do legitimately believe in the man and allege that he is the victim of a vast conspiracy to drag him down.
As the Post notes and this analysis confirms, Trump’s broad authority as President to declassify information makes it unlikely he broke the law, so this itself is not likely to be an impeachable offense. However, as the New York Times notes, GOP legislators are increasingly trying to distance themselves from him, and this will only accelerate that process. However, the speed of that distancing is downright glacial, probably for many of the same reasons I enumerated earlier. Legislators are, after all, the ones directly accountable to constituents who still love Trump.
This all might be playing into the hands of the Democratic Party—though not supporters. Congressional Democrats would inevitably support any impeachment proceedings that are brought forth in the next year and a half, of course—but, without a doubt, some schemer in the backrooms of the Party has noted that, if the Democrats can win a House majority in the 2018 midterm elections, the Speaker of the House—third in line for the Presidency—would be a Democrat. It would be infinitely easier to impeach Vice-President Mike Pence, a mainstream conservative, in a Democrat-controlled House—and with some cunning, they could impeach him and Trump at the same time. It’s unlikely, but if they could convict both the President and the Vice-President, then the Presidency would fall to the new Speaker of the House… presumably, in this scenario, Nancy Pelosi.
Image: Shealah Craighead (public domain)