The Mueller investigation and the mid-terms

Barring some spectacular revelations, the Special Counsel’s investigation will not lead to Trump’s removal from office.

Robert Mueller is a man who is used to being in the line of fire. He fought and led Marines in battle in his service during Vietnam, where he was decorated for valour several times for his efforts.

He went on to become a lawyer, and after serving in various US District Attorney’s offices, he was nominated by President George W. Bush to be the Director of the FBI, where he would go on to serve for a total of twelve years (President Obama asked him to serve for an additional two years beyond his normal 10-year term limit, which was unanimously supported by the US Senate).

This made him the longest-serving FBI Director in history since the legendary, if controversial, J. Edgar Hoover. He is a registered Republican whose track record on various issues, including his refusal to cooperate with the CIA during its enhanced interrogation period under the Bush Administration, shows that his integrity goes beyond partisanship.

He was appointed as a Special Counsel to the US Justice Department after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the investigation into possible Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential Election. His powers, as a Special Counsel, are broad, and allow him to pursue any avenues of investigation into possible Russian interference or anything which emerges from the investigation, so long as he has the consent of Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein – this also explains why the investigation has taken as long as it has, and despite calls for him to close out his investigation prior to the US midterm elections in November, it is less likely to happen with each passing day.

The “Russia Investigation”, as it is called on the other side of the pond, has led to a number of former Trump aides and associates being charged with various crimes and misdemeanours ranging from campaign finance violations to bank fraud.

Mueller’s biggest problem is that, like it or not, his investigation has a bearing on American political life. Democrats have rushed to protect and praise his investigation, whilst Republicans, particularly those closest to the White House, have sought to undermine his investigation by questioning everything from the composition of his legal team, to the length of time the investigation is taking. Trump and his allies have taken a page out of Bill Clinton’s playbook, when his legal team and Democratic Congressmen sought to portray the Ken Starr investigation of Clinton’s extramarital affairs as illegitimate and politically biased. By trying to influence public opinion, Trump and his backers are looking to win the court of public opinion, which would make it very difficult for Donald Trump to be impeached by the US Congress.

Legal experts have said that they expect Mueller to submit a report to Congress outlining the conclusions of his investigation, rather than formally seek to charge the sitting President with crimes. To do so would create a constitutional crisis. US Justice Department guidelines have twice recommended that Presidents charged with high crimes and misdemeanours be handled through an impeachment process, as it would otherwise bring the Executive branch of government, which depends heavily on the President, to a screeching halt. Mueller’s report can trigger impeachment proceedings in the House of Representatives, which can pass articles of impeachment with a simple majority for consideration by the Senate. If the articles pass, the President is considered to be impeached. But it would take a two-thirds vote of the Senate to remove the President from office – which means that regardless of the outcome in the November midterms, that would require Republican votes to oust Trump from office.

That is very unlikely to happen.

There have been a number of signs over the past months that the Democrats are in a strong position to mount a bid to take back the House of Representatives from Republicans, who also control the Senate. American voters often vote against the sitting President in the midterm elections, which leads to a split in the legislative branch of government, and reducing the ability of that President to pass any legislation. Combine that with a charged, partisan political landscape and an energised, if fragmented Democratic party base, and the ingredients are there for them to claim victory in November.

But the Republicans look set to retain control of the Senate. There are 33 senators whose seats will be up for grabs in November, but the Democrats will be ‘defending’ 25 of them. Even if they were to win every Senate seat, which is highly unlikely, along with taking control of the House of Representatives; they would still need 7 Republican Senators to vote with them to remove Donald Trump from office.

Regardless of the outcome in November, Democrats will have to face a hard truth – the only way Trump is removed from office under the impeachment process is if the Republican party determines that his leadership is more of a liability than an asset.

Trump’s electoral victory in 2016 fractured the Democrats and Republicans alike. The Democrats have since found themselves without any real leadership or issues around which to unify the party, which has led to a battle between the establishment centrists and the grassroot left-wing elements of the party. The Republicans were faced with an insurgent candidate who won not only the nomination, but also the Presidency, which pushed more hard-line elements of the party to the fore. With Trump, and both houses of Congress, they are a powerful force – but without Trump around, and potentially without the House, the Republicans have a leadership crisis in the making.

Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the US elections will continue to be a highly charged, politically partisan affair. But it seems unlikely that the outcome of the report, which will be debated along partisan lines, will be powerful or shocking enough to force the Republicans to vote with Democrats in significant numbers to remove Trump from office.

The Democrats will win the House, but Trump will remain in place. The Republicans will keep the White House and the Senate, but will not be able to get much legislation done. Both sides will get a little of something they want, but it will weaken their hands going into the 2020 Presidential elections. Mueller may have fought in the jungles of Vietnam, but it is how he navigates the political minefields of Washington that will be his most important legacy.

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