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Democrat hopes impeachment filing spurs 'intervention' at White House

President Donald Trump smiles as he walks on the South Lawn upon arrival the White House in Washington, Saturday, July 8, 2017, from the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

With a persistent contingent on the left buzzing about the improbable impeachment of President Donald Trump, one Democratic congressman has taken the first official step toward removing the commander-in-chief with a filing that he says may shock the White House into competence.

However, some on the right warn that the president’s critics are overreaching with talk of impeachment and indictments, even after the latest developments involving Trump’s son seemingly attempting to collude with the Russian government during the campaign.

On Wednesday, Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., along with Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, filed an article of impeachment against Trump, based on one of the articles filed against President Richard Nixon for obstruction of justice in 1974.

“Recent disclosures by Donald Trump Jr. indicate that Trump’s campaign was eager to receive assistance from Russia,” Sherman said in a statement. “It now seems likely that the president had something to hide when he tried to curtail the investigation of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and the wider Russian probe. I believe his conversations with, and subsequent firing of, FBI Director James Comey constitute Obstruction of Justice.”

Nixon resigned before facing an impeachment vote. President Bill Clinton was impeached by the House of Representatives in 1998, but he was acquitted in the Senate. President Andrew Johnson faced a similar outcome in 1868, impeached by the House and acquitted by the Senate.

Sherman has been crafting his articles of impeachment for a while, consulting with experts and trying to drum up support within his party. He announced his intent to file the document last month at a press conference with Rep. Green, who had previously called for Trump’s impeachment on the House floor.

“Our Constitution and democracy require that our leaders be accountable to the rule of law,” Sherman said at the time, insisting that he was not motivated by partisanship.

“This is driven by conscience,” Green said at the press conference. “It’s driven by a belief that no one is above the law. This is not something I’m doing because I want to be the first. It’s something that I’m doing because it has to be done.”

The White House dismissed Sherman’s filing as a stunt.

“I think that is utterly and completely ridiculous and a political game at its worst," Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday.

Sherman offered no false expectation that his filing will somehow win the support of the Republican-controlled House and Senate anytime soon, but he argued it was important to take his stand anyway.

“I have slight hope it will inspire an ‘intervention’ in the White House,” he said in a statement Wednesday. “If Impeachment is real, if they actually see Articles, perhaps we will see incompetency replaced by care. Perhaps uncontrollable impulses will be controlled. And perhaps the danger our nation faces will be ameliorated.”

He added, however, that if the “impulsive incompetency” of the Trump administration continues, Republicans may eventually get on board.

Recent polls show public backing for impeachment is inching toward 50 percent. A Morning Consult/Politico poll conducted from May 25-30 found 43 percent of respondents favored opening impeachment proceedings, up from 38 percent a week earlier.

Since 1998, polls appear to have a baseline of about 30 percent of voters who support impeachment, although the question is asked infrequently. Three months before the House voted to impeach Clinton, 29 percent of voters said he should be removed from office, according to a CNN/Time poll.

In 2006, a CNN/ORC poll found that 30 percent of respondents wanted to see President George W. Bush impeached. In 2014, an even larger number, 33 percent, felt Barack Obama should be impeached.

In that context, the 43 percent supporting impeachment for Trump is less striking, though obviously still not great news for the White House. More significantly, though, only 15 percent of Republicans backed impeachment in late May, suggesting Trump has still not lost the faith of his base.

Even among those who favor impeachment, the Morning Consult poll found only 43 percent believe Trump has already committed an impeachable offense. The other 54 percent said he is unfit to serve regardless of any specific offense.

Trump critics may take heart in these numbers, but support for impeaching President Nixon did not get much higher than this until the final months of the Watergate scandal. Support for removing him from office only cleared 50 percent after the Supreme Court ordered him to turn over audio tapes and the House began impeachment proceedings in July 1974.

While Democratic leaders in Congress have largely kept their distance from the impeachment buzz, many progressive activists have embraced it. MoveOn.org announced last month that it supports impeaching Trump based on his pressuring and firing of FBI Director Comey.

“The three previous impeachment inquiries in the House (involving presidents Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton) rested on less evidence than is already publicly known about Trumpand on issues far less serious than the Trump team's possible collusion with a foreign adversary to win the election and Trump's subsequent attempted cover-up,” former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich said in a recent MoveOn fundraising email.

More than a dozen city councils around the country have already passed largely symbolic resolutions calling for Trump’s removal. An attorney who promoted a resolution in Newton, Massachusetts said the intent is to prove to members of Congress that there is support for the campaign.

Sherman acknowledged in his statement Wednesday that filing his articles of impeachment is “the first step on a very long road.”

According to Jessica Gabel Cino, a professor and associate dean at Georgia State University College of Law, the impeachment process is a complicated and twisty one that is ultimately more political than it is legal.

“Impeachment proceedings are a quasi-judicial, quasi-political process,” Cino said.

Any member of the House can do what Sherman has and file an article of impeachment. A majority of the House and two-thirds of the Senate must vote for it in order to actually remove a president. There is no appeal process.

“The drafting of articles against Trump may be an attempt to prod the other side to take notice of what's going on in the White House,” Cino said. “The proceedings won't be immediate and frankly they may want to wait for [special counsel Robert] Mueller's findings before bringing it to the floor for a vote.”

Calls for Trump’s impeachment are typically based on at least one of three reasons:

  1. Alleged collusion with Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election
  2. Alleged efforts to obstruct the FBI’s investigation of Russian interference
  3. Alleged violations of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause because Trump businesses are accepting payments from foreign sources

Before Trump took office, a law professor at the University of Utah told KUTV that alleged fraud involving Trump University might justify articles of impeachment.

“The Constitution's standards for impeachment and removal of a president are met by anything that a majority of the House and two-thirds of the Senate are willing to vote for,” Cino said.

Criminal activity does not need to be proven, nor does a crime even need to be alleged. The Clinton and Nixon cases have established a precedent for treating obstruction of justice as an impeachable offense, though.

Critics have cautioned congressional Democrats against overreaching and repeating the mistakes of the past.

“There's no bipartisan consensus now that Trump should go, and an obvious political peril, as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has recognized, in Democrats' campaigning not just for a check on the president the usual off-year opposition theme but for a futile 1999-style impeachment trial,” American Enterprise Institute scholar Michael Barone said in a Washington Examiner op-ed.

Premature talk of impeachment is not only an affliction of the left. Last fall, when Hillary Clinton was widely expected to win the election, congressional Republicans were already talking about impeaching her. Some conservatives even argued she should be impeached before she takes office.

With the number of Senate seats up for grabs in 2018, it is mathematically impossible for Democrats to secure a two-thirds majority in the chamber before the end of Trump’s first term. Impeachment only becomes plausible, then, if at least a handful of Republicans are willing to oust their own president.

Given Trump’s sustained popularity among Republican voters, there is little impetus to turn against him so far. Still, bookies, financial analysts, and political experts have concluded the odds of impeachment are higher today than before Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian attorney was revealed.

Irish betting site PaddyPower has odds of impeachment by 2021 at an all-time high of 60 percent; Ladbrokes now puts it at 48 percent. Tina Fordham, chief global political analyst at Citi, said in a note Wednesday that likelihood of impeachment is higher, but it remains unlikely.

If Trump was forced out, Rep. Sherman acknowledged in his statement that the alternative is the arguably more conservative and more competent Vice President Mike Pence taking his place.

“I served with Mike Pence in Congress for twelve years and I disagree with him on just about everything,” Sherman said. “I never dreamed I would author a measure that would put him in the White House. I am introducing Articles of Impeachment to begin a long process to protect our country from abuse of power, obstruction of justice, and impulsive, ignorant incompetence.”

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