Building case against Trump
US politics is possibly heading towards a period of great turmoil.
US President Donald Trump is facing his biggest political battle less than five months after taking office. On June 8, former FBI Director James B. Comey deposed before the United States Senate Intelligence Committee and said that Trump put pressure on him in one on one meeting to drop the investigation against his former national security adviser Michael T Flynn, accused of harbouring close ties with Moscow. He also said that Trump and White House had spread lies against him and FBI. One can deem the unequivocal manner in which Comey spoke of the US President's continuing insistence on him to let Flynn go as some form of obstruction of justice, and this is a grave offence as per the US Constitution calling for prosecution.
Earlier there were reports that Flynn was under investigation by the FBI for having been a paid foreign agent of Turkey's President Recep Erdogan. This was apart from his close Russian connections which he later admitted and invited dismissal from President Trump. Now when the FBI investigations are on, and these refer to the links with the foreign countries, President Trump in a deliberate move talked to his FBI Director alone and said about Flynn, "I hope you can let this go". This is nothing short of telling his investigating official that you will have to do it in the midst of investigations itself. Trump plainly said that he wanted loyalty from the FBI Director to which Comey responded that Trump would get honesty from him.
US legal experts opine that what Trump has told Comey in the course of an ongoing investigation, seems like a deliberate effort to impede the probe and this is some kind of obstruction of justice. Saying Flynn is a good guy and telling Comey "I hope you can let this go" is a directive that Trump did mask as a request, say experts.
In his testimony, Comey also mentioned this by stating: "I took it as a direction. I mean the President of the United States with me alone, saying 'I hope this'. I took it as this is what he wants me to do."
The Justice Department of the US administration has not yet said whether Special Counsel Robert S Mueller is looking into allegations of obstruction of justice by the US President as a part of his task to oversee investigations into the Trump campaign's alleged links with the Russian government. However, Comey said on Tuesday that he had already given his memos recounting conversations with Trump to Mueller for scrutiny. Since it was a one on one conversation and Trump was interested in keeping it confidential, Comey feared that Trump might not have kept tapes of the conversation.
Following Thursday's testimony, Trump has got no excuses left. His lawyer has tried to defend him by saying that Trump is not a liar and he did not specifically ask Comey to drop the Flynn investigations, but nobody believes him. Even the Republicans, who are trying to find a way out to salvage the situation, believe the statement of the former FBI Director who is a known Republican Party sympathiser with values and strong ethics. They are not in a mood to give any ground to the Democrats at this time on the issue of prosecution or impeachment. The Republican Party is looking for other ways to defuse the situation, if possible.
A section of the Republicans who are anti-Trump has mooted the proposal that if Trump gets implicated further, the GOP leadership should consider whether the change of Presidency can be brought about through negotiations with Trump by promoting Vice President Pence under 25th amendment of the US Constitution. According to this provision, the US Cabinet can take a decision under extraordinary circumstances to ask the President to step down and nominate Vice President. Nobody among the Republican Party has discussed officially this with President Trump, but Constitutional experts have mentioned this possibility to the Republican Party leadership.
As per this amendment, President George Bush handed power to Vice President Cheney in July 2007 when he had to undergo a surgery. For 125 minutes, Cheney had full Presidential powers.
According to the US Constitution, the President in office can be impeached for treason, bribery, or other misdemeanours. Bill Clinton was charged with obstruction of justice and with perjury for allegedly lying under oath to a federal grand jury about his affair with Monica Lewinsky. One can charge the current President for lying on many issues, depending on the outcome of Mueller's investigations.
So far, two Presidents Bill Clinton (1998) and Andrew Johnson (1868) have been impeached. Articles of impeachment were passed against Richard Nixon by a congressional committee but Nixon resigned before the House of Representatives could vote on the matter. That way, technically, Nixon was not impeached.
The Presidential powers given to Cheney in 2007 for some time was a normal political situation. In the present surcharged atmosphere in the Republican Party and the White House, nobody has the guts to take up the talk of any alternative possibility with President Trump. So the Republicans are eagerly waiting for the newly appointed Mueller to come out with a report ruling out any involvement of Trump in the Russian affairs as also Trump did not put any pressure on Comey on Flynn issue. But if Mueller report also goes against Trump, the Republicans will have no option but to explore the possibility of replacing Trump without doing any long-term damage to the Republican Party.
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)