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How should Idaho’s GOP act if Trump is impeached?

August 5, 2018

Steve Taggart

The odds are rapidly rising that President Donald Trump will face a serious effort to impeach him next year.

That possibility brings back unpleasant memories. In the 1990s I worked for a Utah GOP U.S. House member who sat on the House Judiciary Committee during the Clinton impeachment effort. It failed spectacularly, but fractured the country.

It is clear to me that Robert Mueller, the special counsel, who has already indicted or extracted pleas from a host of Trump associates is closing in on the president. The recent indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officers left open the question of their American co-conspirators, who are likely to be people in and around the Trump campaign, perhaps even Trump family members.

Michael Cohen, the president’s former “fixer,” has tapes of him with Trump and is purported to be willing to testify that his client knew of the infamous Trump tower meeting. While both he and Trump have problems with truth-telling, he is a significant defection.

And, don’t forget that Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chair and political consultant is going to trial this week. He received millions from pro-Russian forces in the Ukraine geared towards reconfiguring U.S. policy in a pro-Russia direction.

It is also abundantly obvious that Putin has some leverage over Trump whether because of a claimed compromising video, financial connections or something else which has not yet come to light. The fiasco in Helsinki was just jaw dropping. The backpedalling helped minimize the damage but there is little doubt in my mind that something is very wrong there.

Finally, the White House’s constant lies and dissembling demonstrates that the occupant knows his vulnerability. The “witch hunt” has already found a bunch of witches and is after the chief one.

In the end, I predict Mueller will indict a bunch more of the people in Trump’s orbit and then send Congress a report on Trump himself or name him as an unindicted co-conspirator. Either approach will be devastating.

All signs point to Democrats taking over the U.S. House in November. If so, the temptation will be huge to take any Mueller report or action and run articles of impeachment. Such only requires a simple majority. The Democratic base will be howling for that step.

But, will that be best for the United States as a country and our political system? I suspect Democrats will have the votes to impeach Trump. But, an impeachment trial itself is separate procedure before the Senate. It will be highly divisive, hyper political and must attract the votes of two-thirds of the U.S. Senate to succeed. That is a virtually impossible bar to clear because Republicans will likely hold the Senate majority or, at minimum, a strong minority.

There are other alternatives that can hold Trump accountable short of impeachment. That is where Idaho’s members of Congress can play a role.

Taking a hard line in defense of Trump if the evidence is otherwise is untenable. The key is putting the interests of the United States before raw partisanship.

Sen. Jim Risch has been deeply involved in U.S. intelligence and is the next likely chair of Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He knows what Russia was up to and that they are an enemy, not an ally. If the ties between Trump and Russia are what seems to be developing, he could play a key role in exploring the implications for U.S. security.

Sen. Crapo is a full committee chair in the Senate and Rep. Mike Simpson is a senior U.S. House member. Crapo was a key driver beyond the most recent Russian sanctions bill. Both should seriously consider bringing a censure motion against the president as an alternative to impeachment if my predictions above prove accurate.

During the Clinton Senate trial, a censure alternative was proposed, but raw partisanship on both sides prevented that idea from gaining traction. Censure would constrain the damage going forward and provide the opening for a Republican alternative in 2020.

Long term, the Idaho GOP more broadly needs to be thinking strategically in post-Trump terms. It is defensible to say that one appreciates the policy direction of the current administration without embracing the growing baggage. That kind of separation will be critical to preserve credibility once Trump eventually leaves the scene.

Of course, if the Mueller effort fizzles, none of this will matter. But I think the odds are against that.

Steve Taggart is an Idaho Falls attorney specializing in bankruptcy (www.MaynesTaggart.com). He has an extensive background in politics and public policy. He can be reached at staggart101@gmail.com. This column originally appeared on idahostatejournal.com.

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