The House Judiciary Committee, a group within the United States Congress, launched an inquiry into President Trump on March 4. To be clear, an inquiry is not the same as an impeachment; it is merely an investigation into the alleged charges against Trump and his administration — including Russia’s potential interference with the 2016 election. If the inquiry finds that these crimes are verifiable, then Trump may be impeached — and if convicted, removed from office.
This decision has nearly split Democrats in the House of Representatives into two camps, with roughly half in support of the inquiry and the other half in opposition. Supporters hope the investigation will, at the very least, call attention to the corruption over Trump’s run for presidency and time in office. The opposition generally views the inquiry as a loser’s gamble, a move with underwhelming odds of getting Trump into an impeachment hearing, let alone out of office.
If the House brings an impeachment inquiry to the floor, it is possible the investigation could uncover new crimes or smoking gun evidence that, when televised to the American public, will make Trump’s removal inevitable. However, the public has already received the conclusion of an inquiry process in the form of former FBI Director Robert Mueller’s testimony to Congress on his two-year investigation into Trump.
While it’s possible that a Congressional Committee can uncover what the FBI has failed to discover, it is far more likely that the hearings will only rehash what we already know of Trump’s misconduct. In 2017, he fired former FBI Director James Comey after Comey refused to drop an investigation into Trump’s former National Security advisor Michael Flynn. And on more than one occasion, he asked his staff to commit criminal acts — like attempting to coax White House counsel Don McGahn into firing Mueller — though the staff members either dissuaded him or refused entirely. Their refusal prevents the case from solidifying any guilt, thus sticking his actions in a legal gray area; as Mueller testified, the report could neither exonerate Trump nor conclude that he had obstructed justice. Likewise, it found no evidence of collusion with Russian actors.
The report’s findings paint an unflattering presidential portrait, but will it be enough to secure an impeachment? And with a Republican-majority Senate and an even split among House Democrats and public sentiment that opposes impeachment by a wide margin, is a removal from office within the realm of possibility?
Of course, there are no easy predictions in a case with this many factors, but the current outlook isn’t too inspiring. More than a third of Americans would hope to proceed with the impeachment process regardless, arguing that some constitutional duty compels House members to pursue impeachment on principle, without regard for pragmatics. However, impeachment is not a legal process: It is a political one. It’s subject to the same factors — optics, strategy, timing — that should be considered before pursuing any political position.
With that being said, impeachment is not the most politically savvy move for the Democratic Party. For one, the impeachment process would take place sometime in early 2020, during the Democratic presidential primary elections. While the candidates are onstage presenting their visions for America’s future, Democratic leadership would be fighting backwards, trying to shave a few months off of Trump’s presidency. This is hardly a winning strategy.
Even with the full support of Democratic leadership, removing Trump from office would be a far-fetched goal. There is not enough time to run through the entire process, even under optimal political conditions. As for the moral argument — that Trump should answer for his crimes, optics be damned — it would be wiser to wait until he is out of office to try for an indictment.
In either case, the practical move is to step back, and allow Trump the last year of his term. If those who support impeachment truly believe that Trump’s actions are damning, then they should place their trust in the candidates and in the American people to decide. Considering the president’s three-year run-up of lies, scandals and criminal intent, it should be an easy decision.
Dillon Cranston is a sophomore writing about politics. His column, “Holding Center,” runs every other Wednesday.