How Can Trump Be Impeached? The Professor Who Predicted His Win Explains How To Get Him Out Of Office
Getting Donald Trump out of the White House is likely dependent on one of four scenarios: his death, his resignation, his failure to secure re-election in 2020, or an impeachment that results in conviction. Though that fourth option gets tossed around frequently by hopeful Democrats, many Americans don't actually understand how and why Trump could get impeached. In the book The Case for Impeachment, out now, "prediction professor" Allan J. Lichtman explains exactly how it could happen.
"I wanted to give the American people a guide to what the history of impeachment is all about, how impeachment works, and how the current situation with regard to Donald Trump relates to impeachment," Lichtman tells Bustle in a phone interview.
If you recall, Lichtman, a professor at American University, made headlines last year when he forecast that Trump would win the Oval Office, despite numerous polls that indicated the exact opposite. (Thanks, Nate Silver.) In his new book, the professor makes another fiery prediction: Donald Trump will be impeached. The only question is how.
In the first chapter of the book, Lichtman explains why impeachment exists and how the process works — a necessary primer for every point made thereafter. Next, he presents the historical precedence of impeachment in the United States: two previous presidents, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, have been impeached; and one previous president, Richard Nixon, resigned shortly before he could be. As Lichtman notes, that's one for every 14 presidents. "Gamblers have gotten rich betting on longer odds than that," he writes.
Understanding the reasons for these impeachments is essential in fully comprehending how Trump could become number four on the list. "People don't really understand how impeachment works," Lichtman tells Bustle. "And to understand that, you have to go back to the signing of the Constitution and to impeachment efforts."
Lichtman begins his history of American impeachments with the story of an oft-overlooked president, Andrew Johnson, who ascended to the Oval Office after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, and was impeached in 1868, primarily because of his deliberate violation of the Tenure of Office Act and abuse of discretionary powers.
"We might not easily think of parallels between Andrew Johnson and Donald Trump, but they're there," Lichtman says. "They're both very stubborn men who believe they were right, who do not listen to those around them, who are very thin-skinned when it came to criticism. They were men who were kind of mavericks in their own time who did not have strong relationships with the Republicans in the Congress."
The book then continues its historical analysis with a far more famous case: the near-impeachment of Richard Nixon, who resigned from office in 1974. The parallels between Trump and Nixon are frightening.
Lichtman says: "Like Trump, Richard Nixon saw enemies surrounding him and wanted to lash out against his enemies. He wasn't, like Trump, much of a believer in the free press. He looked at the press as an enemy. Like Trump, he always believed in attacking and getting even. Like Trump, he did not have strong, guiding principles. He was very, very pragmatic and was concerned above all with Richard Nixon, just as Donald Trump is concerned above all with Donald Trump. And of course, neither Nixon nor Trump had much respect for the law and they, both of them, tended to lie and deflect when placed under pressure."
The book also delves briefly into the case of Bill Clinton, who was impeached on two charges, perjury and obstruction of justice, both of which stemmed from an incident in which Clinton lied under oath about an extramarital affair. This scenario could easily be duplicated in the case of Donald Trump. In the event of a civil suit (like the defamation suit Gloria Allred has already filed against Trump), the President could be forced to take the stand. Trump — who has come under fire for his "alternative facts" in the past — could be impeached if he lied under oath.
Though that certainly remains a possibility, Lichtman lays out several more likely scenarios under which Trump could qualify for impeachment: his suspected ties to Russia; his abuse of the executive branch of government; and his violations of the emoluments clause, among others. Though none of this information will be shocking to those who follow the news with any regularity, there are potential scenarios presented by Lichtman that even the most avid of political junkies will find surprising. In Chapter 7, Lichtman argues that Trump's stance on climate change — yep, climate change! —could be an impeachable offense as a "crime against humanity."
"I don't think the idea of Trump being impeached for a crime against humanity is all that far-fetched," he tells Bustle. "Typically, of course, we associate a crime against humanity with genocide... but very recently, the international criminal court has prioritized crimes against the environment. And climate change would fit under that rubric because climate change affects the survival and well-being of everyone on the planet."
While it is certainly appealing to imagine a future where global warming is Trump's Achilles' Heel, Lichtman says the president's connections to Russia will probably be his downfall, and his conflicts of interest would be "the next most likely action for impeachment."
"Trump did not do what he should have done and divest himself from his business interests," he says. "Sure, he would have taken a financial hit, but he's a multi-billionaire. He still would be a billionaire, and no one forced him to run for president. And it is the responsibility of a president to make sure that they separate their private economic interests form the interests of the nation, and Trump hasn't done that."
Though Lichtman is confident in his prediction of an impeachment, he can't make any forecasts about the likelihood of a conviction. Though an impeachment only requires a majority vote in the House of Representatives, a conviction requires a two-thirds vote in the Senate. No president has yet been convicted, though Andrew Johnson came within one vote.
Lichtman speculates that the 15th president that may have escaped a conviction because Congress found the person next-in-line for the presidency — Benjamin Wade, the President pro tempore of the U.S. Senate — to be a controversial and divisive figure. However, that is not the case with Donald Trump. Vice President Mike Pence, who would take office if Trump were impeached, is a "predictable, standard-issue Christian conservative" writes Lichtman. And of course, Pence would have the power to appoint his own vice president — perhaps, he would even choose Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, thus "completing the ultimate dream team for Republicans."
Though Lichtman personally disapproves of Donald Trump, he took pains to keep his book nonpartisan. "Notice I do not quote a single Democrat. Not one," he says. "I did not want to make an argument based upon what Trump's political opponents had to say. It's not a rant. It's not a partisan attack. In fact, I make very clear that Trump should not impeached because you don't like his policies or you don't like him personally or you think he’s an unconventional president. He should only be impeached if he threatens our constitutional order, our liberties, our freedom, and our national security."
Nonetheless, Lichtman — who received a note of gratitude from Trump after predicting his election win — does not anticipate this book going over too well with the Commander in Chief, despite the fact that his final chapter is actually meant to help Trump. In "The Way Out," Lichtman offers the president a "blueprint" for avoiding impeachment, and suggests that Trump — among other actions — divest his business interests, fire Steve Bannon, hire a White House shrink, and get on board with a carbon tax. "Maybe one of my suggestions will come to pass, but you never know," Lichtman says. "Trump is extremely unpredictable."