Talking about Impeachment

On Tuesday night, friend Louise and I went to a public affairs program in which political commentator and journalist Morton Kondrake interviewed William Ruckelshaus, first EPA Director, then Acting Director of the FBI, and finally Deputy Attorney General when he was forced out of office by Richard Nixon in the Saturday Night Massacre. For those too young to remember that 1973 event, both Ruckelshaus and his boss, Elliot Richardson, resigned rather than fire the Watergate Special Prosecutor, Archibald Cox. Cox was then fired by the third in line in the Justice Department, Robert Bork. Nixon himself was later forced to resign the Presidency rather than be impeached.

The topic of the public affairs program was the parallel between Watergate and Trump’s current firing of FBI Director James Comey in an apparent attempt to shut down the Russian investigation of Trump and his acolyte, Michael Flynn.

Kondracke is 78 and Ruckleshuas is 84, and I thought the conversation wandered a bit. But Ruckleshaus made an important point: impeachment is, in the end, a political process, not a legal one, and it’s driven by public opinion. It took a long time for enough public outrage to build against Richard Nixon so that Republican Senator Barry Goldwater and others finally went to the Oval Office to tell Nixon they could no longer protect him. We’re not nearly there yet with Trump, despite the growing stench of corruption and treachery emanating from the White House.

Seattle is a progressive city, and the political conversation here is all about impeaching Trump. I hear two different opinions about the wisdom of defaulting to Pence. One is that Pence doesn’t command the cultish loyalty of the Trump followers, so would be easier to beat in 2020. The other is that Pence, because he appears more normal than Trump, would command Republican support even though he is a right wing ideologue and was a highly unpopular governor of Indiana, likely to lose re-election when he was tapped as Trump’s running mate.

I don’t know which scenario is right, nor do I know whether the current Republican Congress will ever say “enough” to the incompetent bloviator we now have in the White House. There is some shift in public opinion happening, but as Ruckelshaus correctly notes, not yet enough.

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