Calls for Donald Trump’s impeachment won’t get far without Republican support
Robert Delaney says the US president’s missteps over the firing of his FBI director have deepened suspicions of his motives, but he appears safe for now
“Everything that’s happened this week has chipped away at [Trump’s] credibility. I think it’s a very distressing situation,” Fox News anchor Chris Wallace said last Friday, summing up the dire situation US President Donald Trump has put himself in.
When one of the most respected personalities at a widely watched, conservative-leaning US cable news network makes such a statement about a sitting Republican president, the ground in Washington must have shifted.
Beginning with the firing of his Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey, Trump embarked on a week-long series of missteps that has many pundits wondering whether the always-outspoken president may have finally overplayed his hand. Other highlights from the week: Trump’s attempt to muzzle Comey by suggesting he possesses tapes of their conversations, a threat to end the tradition of regular White House press briefings, and the release of a letter from Trump’s tax lawyers attesting that the president has no significant dealings with Russia, “with a few exceptions”.
The questions raised by each of these moves drowned out proclamations that the president had gained momentum on crucial initiatives at home and abroad.
Those proclamations stood on significant accomplishments. The administration cleared a first hurdle in the effort to repeal and replace Obamacare, a key pledge Trump made during his election campaign. Then, the president announced a trade deal with Beijing that has far-reaching implications for US exporters.
This agreement included the clearance of liquefied natural gas exports to China, a market now worth somewhere between US$7 billion and US$25 billion a year. American LNG exports to China alone have the potential to whittle away the existing trade imbalance between the two countries by a third or more.
With these achievements, Trump should have been basking in glory instead of trying to beat back a tsunami of criticism about what many believe to be a cover-up of connections between his associates and Russian efforts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election.
The series of recasts, rationalisations and shout-downs from the president and his communications team since the announcement of Comey’s sacking has only deepened suspicions that Trump is hiding something.
But these suspicions alone won’t pave the way to Trump’s impeachment.
The effect Comey’s dismissal will have on the FBI investigation isn’t clear, though acting FBI director Andrew McCabe said all of the bureau’s investigations are continuing.
Separate probes in the Senate and House of Representatives are under the direction of Trump’s party because Republicans have a majority in both chambers of the legislative branch.
So far, calls for the appointment of a special prosecutor, who would be more removed from political influence, have been strident from the Democrats. Without Republican support, such a move won’t go ahead. Unless a groundswell of public rage pushes Republican lawmakers to act, the investigations will continue under the auspices of Trump’s party and an FBI soon to be directed by a Trump appointee. This diminishes the chances they will be thorough enough to turn up hard evidence that the president broke the law, if such evidence exists.
So, while Trump may have lost the solid support of Fox News and some other conservative pundits, the chorus of calls for his impeachment will be nothing more than noise.
Robert Delaney is a US correspondent for the Post based in New York