Muftic: A special prosecutor, a possible impeachment
The goings-on in Washington, D.C. this week with the firing of FBI Director James Comey have rekindled the talk of impeachment of a president. Often in media discussions there have been historical references to the Watergate Scandal, a potentially similar situation spanning 1972 to 1974. It resulted in the resignation of President Richard Nixon. The issue of obstruction of justice could be what the cases have in common.
Unlike Watergate where an actual crime had been committed for which Nixon was charged with a cover up and obstructing justice, this year there has been no evidence presented to the public that a crime had been committed by a U.S. person. All intelligence agencies do agree the Russians had interfered in the 2016 elections. The Trump administration is leaving the impression that it is covering up something and trying to end the Russian investigation quickly by intimidation with threats of and/or firing and replacing those leading serious investigations with his preferred picks.
For those of us who remember Watergate and the resignation of Nixon in face of certain impeachment, the political atmosphere has the same feel now as it did then in the early stages of Watergate. The public is on the outside looking in and trying to connect the dots, wondering whether there is no evidence there as Trump claims. Or is there is a possibility there is evidence not yet uncovered that could lead to impeachment proceedings against Trump himself?
Before impeachment, convincing evidence must be found that he is culpable of high crimes and misdemeanors, including obstructing justice by misleading or quashing an investigation. That was the first article of impeachment which brought down Nixon.
Whether or not Trump tried to intimidate Comey at a dinner or whether the conversation constituted obstruction of justice sufficient to impeach, the timing of Comey’s firing is enough to raise suspicion that there is something damaging there yet to be discovered that could implicate Donald Trump himself. The action of firing Comey is intimidating by itself to investigators. It sends the message: if you show you are not on Trump’s side, you can get fired.
The investigation last week was at a critical juncture. Grand jury and congressional bodies investigating the Russian connection began issuing subpoenas and a report from the financial crimes unit of the U.S. Treasury Department was due to the Senate intelligence committee concerning money laundering; Trump had already replaced Preet Bharara, the federal district prosecutor who had been investigating U.S. and Russian money laundering activities. The head of the FBI was fired just as he was asking for resources to expand the investigation.
The political reality is that Republicans control whether impeachment proceedings will happen, since they have the majority in Congress and the House initiates impeachment (indictment) while the Senate holds the trial and convicts with a 2-3 vote. The Senate approves the appointments of the Attorney General and the FBI going forward. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has now appointed a special counsel to conduct an investigation of the Russian connection, taking the control out of the hands of both the Justice Department and the White House. The Justice Department is the only entity with the power to appoint a special prosecutor.
Who may be other participants in this historical drama? As in Watergate, it will be a free, courageous media and whistle-blowing Deep Throats that report the evidence to the public. Voters still wield power at the ballot box with the ability to change the majority in the House in 2018.
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