A potential theory of impeachment

If the New York Times is right, Mueller’s theory of wrongdoing by President Trump boils down to “defraud[ing] voters.” This theory is worthy of ridicule.

If Democrats want to impeach Trump, and I think they do, they will need theories that are more concrete. David French envisages one: a claim that Trump participated in an effort to provide false testimony to investigators. This allegation, he notes, was part of the basis for the impeachment proceedings against Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.

French sees such an allegation presaged by Mueller’s finding that when Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen lied to Congress about the status of his client’s effort to build a Trump Tower in Russia, he did so after “circulating” his false report.

Mueller is saying that Cohen’s prepared false testimony was reviewed by others before he lied to Congress. He also says that Cohen is cooperating in the effort to investigate this matter.

Who does Cohen say reviewed his false statement to Congress before it was submitted? If he says Trump reviewed it, then he is alleging that Trump committed an offense that, as noted above, appears in both the Nixon and Clinton articles of impeachment. In Nixon’s case it was described this way:

approving, condoning, acquiescing in, and counselling witnesses with respect to the giving of false or misleading statements to lawfully authorized investigative officers and employees of the United States and false or misleading testimony in duly instituted judicial and congressional proceedings.

In Clinton’s, the prosecutor alleged that the president “corruptly encouraged” witnesses to make false statements in a federal civil action and that he “made false and misleading statements to potential witnesses in a Federal grand jury proceeding in order to corruptly influence the testimony of those witnesses.”

I want to emphasize that we’re a few steps away from such an article of impeachment in Trump’s case. First, we don’t know whether Cohen is saying that Trump reviewed his false statements. He may be saying it was others involved with the campaign. Second, we don’t know whether, assuming Cohen is saying that Trump reviewed his false statement, Cohen is telling the truth.

Impeaching President Trump based solely on the say-so of a sleazy lawyer like Michael Cohen may not be beneath House Democrats. However, doing so would be outrageous — and probably viewed as such by most fair-minded Americans.

It’s possible, however, that Cohen has documents that show President Trump’s involvement. It’s also possible that, even if Cohen and Trump didn’t communicate about the former’s testimony to Congress, Cohen communicated with people close to Trump. If such people knew Cohen’s testimony was false, then they may be in legal jeopardy, and Mueller may be able to squeeze them into saying they communicated with Trump about what Cohen was going to say.

All of this is speculation, and one can argue that French, a Never-Trumper, is getting ahead of himself. However, I think his conclusion is worth considering:

We do not know if Trump is guilty of the same kind of misconduct that ended the Nixon presidency or that resulted in Clinton’s impeachment, but the special counsel’s filing provides a roadmap for continued investigation. It also strongly hints at potential presidential jeopardy for misconduct that has clear echoes in recent presidential scandals.

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