Can Trump Be Taken Down By Robert Mueller's Russia Investigation? Here's How It Could Happen
This week, Special Counsel Robert Mueller filed the first charges in his investigation into potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Former Trump campaign associates Paul Manafort and Rick Gates were indicted on multiple counts, including "conspiracy against the United States." However, many people are also likely wondering what this investigation could mean for President Trump — and whether he could be removed from office because of it.
The impact of the ongoing investigation into possible collusion between Trump's campaign and Russian officials depends on its findings. If investigators do not find that the campaign was engaged in any type of wrongdoing, then Trump will likely remain in office. However, if they do find otherwise, it could potentially result in his removal from office, something that could occur through one of three primary processes: impeachment and conviction, removal from office via the 25th Amendment, or resignation.
This article outlines the ways that these processes could hypothetically unfold in the Trump administration. While removal from office is highly unlikely (indeed, no U.S. president has ever been forcibly removed from office), it is nonetheless important to understand how this process could occur in the United States, particularly as the country experiences such an unprecedented presidency — and president.
High Crimes And Misdemeanors
One of the grounds for impeachment in the Constitution consists of "high crimes and misdemeanors." The term "high crimes and misdemeanors" is intentionally vague and can include both crimes in the criminal code, and offenses that are not criminal in nature but that reflect abuse of the presidential office.
For example, as Newsweek noted, obstruction of justice is one of the many offenses that could constitute a high crime and misdemeanor — and, indeed, is the offense for which articles of impeachment were brought against Nixon before he resigned.
One of the many elements of Special Counsel Mueller's investigation is examining whether or not Trump may have obstructed justice by firing former FBI director James Comey.
Furthermore, collusion also constitutes another possible high crime and misdemeanor; the special counsel is directly examining whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to help secure Trump's election. If Mueller finds that Trump was directly involved in or knew of collusion, articles of impeachment could be brought against him for this reason.
A hypothetical special counsel finding of obstruction of justice or collusion could result in Trump's removal from office in the following way:
- Muller would reveal the results of his investiation to the Attorney General and/or directly to Congress.
- If the House of Representatives decides that the findings constitute an impeachable offense, like collusion or obstruction of justice, it can draw up and article or articles of impeachment. Only a simple majority is required to impeach the president.
- If the House does impeach the president, the Senate would then hold a trial to determine whetehr to convict the president. A two-thirds majority is required to convict the president.
- If the president is convicted, he will be removed from office and the vice president (in this case, Vice President Mike Pence) will be put in power.
Treason or Bribery
Treason and bribery constitute the two other specific specific offenses noted in the Constitution for which a president can be impeached. As president, Trump is not being investigated for bribery, as far the public is aware, though his company has faced bribery accusations in the past (which were never proven in court).
It is highly unlikely that the special counsel's investigation would reveal that Trump has engaged in treason, because, as Vox noted, the U.S. must be at war for an official to be accused of or charged with treason.
If, on the rare chance President Trump was found to have engaged in bribery or treason, a process resulting in his removal from office would occur that is very similar to the one described above regarding high crimes and misdemeanors. Mueller would have to establish and announce these findings, the House would have to impeach the president, and the Senate would have to try and convict him, which would then result in his removal from office.
The 25th Amendment
Section IV of the 25th Amendment of the Constitution allows the Vcce president, along with a majority of the Cabinet or Congress, to either temporarily or permanently remove the president from office if he is deemed unable to discharge his powers and duties.
Thus far, only other sections of the 25th amendment have only been used in cases of presidential death or medical procedures. For example, the amendment was invoked twice when George W. Bush went under general anesthetic for routine medical procedures.
Section IV has never been invoked -- and doing so would be absolutely unprecedented. Interestingly, Trump's former advisor Steven Bannon once told the president that he believed a 25th Amendment removal constituted the greatest threat to his presidency.
For Trump to be removed from office under Section IV of the 25th Amendment, the process would look like this:
- Vice President Pence and a majority of Cabinet members would vote to deem Trump unfit for office and report this decision to Congress.
- Pence would then be installed as president.
- Trump could file an official objection to this decision with Congress, which would then have to vote with a two-thirds majority in each chamber to continue to allow Pence to serve as acting president. If Congress cannot secure these votes, Trump would be re-installed as president. If it did secure the votes, Pence would remain president.
Trump could choose to voluntarily resign his post at any time. The procedure for presidential resignation is set out in 3 U.S. Code § 20 and dictates the following:
- The president makes the decision to resign and must produce a written document declaring his intention to resign.
- The president must deliver this document to the Secretary of State.
- Under the 25th Amendment, the vice president then assumes the presidency.
Trump could hypothetically be removed from office through impeachment and conviction, 25th amendment removal, or resignation. Hypothetically, Mueller's investigation could produce information that could commence any one of these removal procedures. You can be sure that Americans will be closely watching to see how the investigation continues to unfold – and what, if any, impact it has for their 45th president.