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VERDA ÖZER >Is Trump a goner?

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President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s meeting with Donald Trump was expected to be “either in the format of a full stop or a comma” in terms of the allies’ future ties, as Erdoğan put it. Yet the meeting seems to be a full stop in Trump’s career rather than bilateral relations! Since the developments prior to and after the meeting brought Trump’s impeachment into question, the joke that “Erdoğan might be the last leader Trump meets” is doing the rounds.

Trump’s relations with Russia are claimed to be “shady.” The FBI has been carrying out an investigation on this critical issue since July 2016. Congress, on the other hand, also set up an investigation committee right in the wake of Trump’s presidency. Yet the fact that Trump’s Republican Party dominates the two wings of the Congress makes this committee political and hence function-less.

However, the FBI’s investigation is quite serious. The recent assignment of one of the FBI’s former directors, Robert Mueller, as special counsel has made the investigation now even more critical. Furthermore, the developments which “exploded” one after the other last week have moved the earth in the U.S. First, Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. Thereafter, he buffaloed Comey via Twitter, writing, “He better hope there are no tapes of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”

Moreover, it was exactly on the days that Trump hosted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in the White House that he allegedly shared vital intelligence with the Russian minister, according to the American press.

Actually, the authority of the U.S. presidents is so broad that they can directly fire (without the approval of the Congress) the ones who they have hired. They are also authorized to share intelligence with another country. Hence the real issue here is that Trump has exercised these authorities amid the allegations around Russia. The other problem is the mistakes he is doing while trying to manage this process, such as his indications that he is secretly taping meetings in the White House or his intervention in the justice system. Thus it is these mistakes rather than his shady relations with Russia which might burn his fingers.

Then where do we go from here? Mehmet Yeğin, an expert on American politics and an instructor at İstinye University, says, “In the event that he has shady relations with Russia, they will come to light eventually, but late.” Accordingly, the authorities of the U.S. presidents are so broad that Trump could delay this process for a long time. He could also use the so-called “executive privilege,” the right of U.S. presidents to withhold information from Congress or the courts and extend the investigation.

For example, Richard Nixon prolonged the investigation process during the Watergate scandal in this way. He handed over the tape recordings in a late and incomplete fashion, by dropping some “vital” parts. He also fired the special prosecutor in the middle of the investigation which became known as the “Saturday Night Massacre. In short, Nixon delayed the result of the process as much as he could and resigned when he realized he wouldn’t be able to escape his impeachment.

After all, the impeachment of a president requires first a majority vote by the House of Representatives and then a two-thirds majority in the Senate. But this option is impossible for Trump at the moment since the two wings of the Congress are dominated by Republicans who think it is their time to realize the items on their agenda one after the other.

But in two years, mid-term elections are to be held in the U.S. Republicans aim to win the elections in 2018 and therefore don’t want to lose Trump’s voter base. After all the latest surveys indicate that Trump’s voters are still with him. Hence Mehmet Yeğin doesn’t expect Trump’s impeachment until then. According to him, the case of impeachment could gain currency before 2018 only if the FBI comes up with findings “of real significance” which could suddenly turn the public tide against him.

Fred Hof, the director of the Atlantic Council’s Center for the Middle East, is of similar opinion. When we talked yesterday, Hof said Trump’s impeachment was “almost certainly not a near-term prospect.” He emphasized that not only Republicans, but also Democrats are disinclined to go down the road. “Absent a legal ‘smoking gun,’ they would drop the issue and oppose Trump on other matters. After all, the only member of Congress who has publicly raised impeachment as a possibility to date is a Republican: Justin Amash,” he says. Hof also expects Trump to resign rather than face indictment if the FBI develops sound evidence of presidential lawlessness.

Yet the possibility of impeachment after the 2018 elections is quite serious. First of all, the election pressure will have disappeared. Secondly, U.S. mid-term elections usually end up with the greater number of seats of the opposition party in Congress.

Facing such a negative result, Republicans certainly wouldn’t hesitate to pin the blame on Trump. Last but not least, in the event that Democrats get the upper hand in Congress, the investigation could change course to the detriment of Trump.

Then the vice president, Mike Pence, would become the new president and hold the presidency until the next elections. 

So stay tuned.

May/20/2017

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