David Rothkopf asked a good question on Twitter:
Trump fears Russia mess will delegitimize him. It may. What then? Are we prepared for what happens when election is shown to be corrupted?
— David Rothkopf (@djrothkopf) August 4, 2017
He provides a short thread of subsidiary questions, but I’d like to take a different approach.
The investigations will take time. Many things can happen between now and when the results come out. The bottom line is what the Russians did to influence the election results, how much of an effect they had, and who in the administration was involved.
An intelligence community assessment firmly states that the Russians interfered, through both propaganda means like the theft and release of emails and breaching some election systems. We have barely had a chance to assimilate this because of Donald Trump’s constant uproar. It’s hard to concentrate when the President is threatening nuclear war and encouraging white supremacists.
It is becoming possible that Trump will be removed earlier, although it remains hard to believe that this Republican Congress would do that.
We need to think about how we will react and what actions need to be taken if the congressional and special prosecutor investigations prove the worse scenarios to be true. In this post, I will describe three scenarios.
From what we know now, we must take steps to harden our election systems against hacking. That is true for all scenarios. The effort must not be used to disenfranchise voters; the problems are not in voter fraud, but rather the machines and electronic systems. Unfortunately, even this measure may be difficult in our current political environment.
The simplest outcome is that Trump and his children are accused of cooperation with Russia to influence the election or criminal financial dealing. If this happens before the 2018 elections, the Republican Congress will be the appropriate body to deal with it. Impeachment does not require criminal acts; it is a political judgment. If the information shows that the election was undermined and that people associated with Trump aided the undermining, the House should consider impeachment. It is then up to the Senate to convict.
Given the willingness of the Republican leadership to excuse Trump’s gross incompetence, it is not clear that they will consider impeachment. The Democratic leadership can push for impeachment. Public demonstrations, perhaps on the scale of the Women’s March in January, can influence both parties.
A Senate conviction under this scenario would result in Mike Pence assuming the presidency. He would appoint a Vice President.
Complicating all three scenarios would be definitive evidence that Russian meddling had thrown the election to Trump. We have no constitutional process for dealing with this.
The second scenario is that In addition to Trump and his family, most of his campaign staff, including Pence, are involved in election manipulation and/or financial fraud
The President and Vice President have never been replaced simultaneously. Spiro Agnew resigned from the Vice Presidency because of kickbacks from the Maryland construction industry before Nixon resigned. It has been argued that the appointment of Gerald Ford as Vice President in his place made it more palatable for Congress to consider impeaching Richard Nixon as a result of the Watergate scandal.
The order of succession after Pence is
- House Speaker Paul Ryan
- President pro tempore of the Senate Orrin Hatch
- Secretary of State Rex Tillerson
- Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin
- Defense Secretary James Mattis
- Attorney General Jeff Sessions
- Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke
- Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue
- Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross
- Labor Secretary Alex Acosta
- Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price
- Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson
- Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao (would not be eligible because not a natural born US citizen)
- Energy Secretary Rick Perry
- Education Secretary Betsy DeVos
- Veteran Affairs Secretary David Shulkin
- Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly Elaine Duke is Acting; don’t know if she’s eligible
Several people on this list, most notably Jeff Sessions, could be implicated. Wilbur Ross was vice-chairman of the Bank of Cyprus, which has Russian connections.
The last scenario is that Republican members of Congress are implicated in dealings with Russia. The Dallas News has documented campaign contributions to the political action committees of Mitch McConnell, Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham, and John McCain from Leonid Blavatnik, a Ukrainian oligarch with UK and US citizenship. He has indirect connections with the Kremlin.
This scenario would suggest multiple impeachments or removals from office, again an unprecedented outcome.
There are few legal precedents or constitutional provisisions for what I’ve outlined above. It would seem to me that much of the remedy would be up to Congress, but IANAL.
There is another aspect to all this: how we will react and what we may be able to do. One thing to remember when evaluating the scenarios is that a replacement President would be seriously weakened. His legitimacy would be questioned, as would that of the Republican Congress. However, this Congress has been willing to double down, and they might do that in the name of national unity and getting behind the President. Heeling Healing the nation.