I read Wednesday that the independent counsel has been investigating whether the President committed obstruction of justice by interfering with the FBI. This of course contradicts the President’s repeated insistence that he is not under investigation. Before this news, prediction markets were giving President Trump only a 40% chance of completing his full term. PredictIt co-founder John Aristotle Phillips said: “It’s almost 50-50 that he won’t be in office by the end of 2018.”
Do you believe the impeachment process could move that quickly?
For President Nixon and the Watergate scandal, a Senate Select Committee was created in February 1973, began hearings in May, and issued its report in late June. The House didn’t pass its impeachment inquiry until February 1974, after which the House Judiciary Committee held its own investigation and hearings, culminating with the House impeaching President Nixon in July. He resigned in August, before the Senate began a trial.
For President Clinton and the Monica Lewinsky scandal, independent counsel Kenneth Starr was appointed in October 1997 and released his report in September 1998. The House Judiciary Committee began considering impeachment the same month. The House passed an impeachment inquiry in October and impeached President Clinton in December. The House process was slowed by November mid-term elections and Speaker Gingrich’s resignation after Democrats gained five seats despite predictions that Republicans would gain as many as thirty. The Senate cleared the President on all counts in January.
So for Nixon, the process, from report release to his leaving office, took roughly thirteen months, after four months for the initial investigation. For Clinton, the process, from report release to acquittal, took sixteen months, after eleven months for the initial investigation. Those total seventeen and twenty-seven months, and so average a little under two years. That gives those betting on President Trump leaving office by the end of 2018 reason to be hopeful.
But when did the clock start? The FBI confirmed in March that it was already investigating possible collusion between Russia and members of the Trump administration, but not of the President himself. Four Congressional committees are conducting similar investigations, but again not of the President. However, all five investigations could and almost certainly will include details about the President, and their scopes could expand. Kenneth Starr was appointed to investigate Whitewater real estate deals, but ended up deposing President about a sexual affair. There’s also no knowing when any of those investigations will be completed and their reports released.
So given the historical precedents, 50-50 sounds like pretty reasonable odds. How confident are you that the President will still be in office after the 2018 mid-terms? Since you will have completed your third term as chair of the House Judiciary Committee and your successor will take over in January 2019, do you predict you’ll be handing over the impeachment process too?