- - Tuesday, September 11, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The anti-Trumpers have been doing cart-wheels over the Woodward portrayal of the president as an unhinged tyrant who’s clearly unfit to rule. Still, the only sure path to bringing him down — as it has been all along — is the Mueller report and whether it will persuade the House to begin impeachment proceedings. But a convincing case for impeachment, in truth, seems to be faltering. Consider:

The guilty plea of President Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen (tax evasion and campaign finance violations) was flagged by the media as the probable end for the president, with Mr. Cohen ostensibly primed to spill so much scandalous stuff that even Republicans might feel obliged to vote for impeachment. But that threat has faded.

Mr. Cohen’s most damaging charge is that Mr. Trump directed him to pay hush money to two women with whom he had affairs. But a score of prominent campaign finance experts — Harvard’s Alan Dershowitz and George Washington University’s Jonathan Turley spring to mind — insist, even if true, no felony was committed as Mr. Trump’s enemies have claimed. Even President Obama’s former White House counsel, Bob Bauer, sides with the president’s legal team here. So does Bradley Smith, the ex-chief of the Federal Election Commission (FEC), which enforces the campaign finance law.

Mr. Cohen, moreover, has turned into a very shaky truth-teller. He has told at least three damaging tales about Mr. Trump, which Lanny Davis, his personal lawyer, felt impelled to walk back or retract because of their tenuous ties to reality.

The New York Times had the bloggers atwitter suggesting that retiring White House Counsel Donald McGahn had given the Mueller team fodder for an “obstruction of justice” charge. Buried deep in the piece, however, was this: Mr. McGahn told “investigators that he never saw Trump get beyond his legal authorities ” And would this president have just heaped lavish praise on Mr. McGahn for his public service if he thought Mr. McGahn had placed him in legal jeopardy? Not a chance.

The tale that continues to excite the senses of the pro-impeachment forces is Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting at Trump Tower in June 2016 to secure proof from a Russian lawyer of Hillary Clinton’s supposedly criminal wrongdoing. The anti-Trumpers keep harping on that supposedly sinister episode. When the president tweeted that the encounter was “totally legal,” anti-Trump newsmen and politicians pounced. CNN anchor Alisyn Camerota insisted Donald Trump Jr., and probably the president himself, had seriously violated the federal election law. “An open and shut case,” she said.

Ms. Camerota then read that portion of the law which makes it a “crime for any person to solicit, accept or receive anything of value from a foreign person for the purpose of influencing any elections for federal office.” Donald Trump Jr. had solicited a thing of value (opposition research) from a foreign person (a Russian lawyer) to defeat Hillary Clinton for a federal office. Case closed? Not really.

Though it may come as a surprise to Ms. Camerota, foreign nationals are legally able to assist American politicians in important ways. Fox News legal analyst Gregg Jarrett, in his best selling book, “The Russian Hoax,” notes that the FEC’s government website is very clear on this point. The website warns that a foreign national “cannot make campaign contributions” — that is, monetary donations — but “can serve as an uncompensated volunteer for a campaign or political party.” Foreigners are permitted to attend campaign strategy meetings, offer advice and, yes, provide information.

Thus it would have been perfectly proper for the Russians (uncompensated by the Trump campaign) to have provided Mr. Trump Jr. with the anti-Hillary Clinton material he had requested but never received. (Mr. Trump Jr.’s actions were no different from what the Clinton campaign did: Use British and Russian nationals to compile opposition research on Mr. Trump. Which, by the way, liberals have not sought to criticize.)

Robert Mueller’s biggest hurdle will be proving that Mr. Trump plotted with Vladimir Putin to wreck Hillary Clinton’s chances for the presidency, a charge the Democrats have loudly proclaimed or implied but have conspicuously failed to substantiate. This “collusion” has been at the heart of the Democrats’ case against the nation’s chief executive. For Mr. Mueller to come away empty-handed here — which seems a strong possibility — will be a devastating blow to the pro-impeachment forces.

Removing any president from office is not easy. A sitting president, according to existing Department of Justice guidelines, cannot be indicted, so the only sure remedy to oust the nation’s chief executive is impeachment. If the Democrats capture the House this fall, they might, based on Mr. Mueller’s report to Congress, launch impeachment proceedings, no matter how flimsy the case. But conviction requires a two-thirds Senate vote, which today seems a left-wing fantasy.

Mr. Trump is not out of harm’s way. The White House is under siege hourly, with the media certain to publish seemingly alarming tales from the ongoing federal and state investigations on everything Trump. The prosecutorial class may still dredge up some business, tax or personal Trump misdeed that leads to public outrage and a fall from power. Yet many shrewd political observers believe that Mr. Trump, like the famed Timex watch that “took a lickin’ but kept on tickin,’” will somehow weather the continuing storm.

• Allan H. Ryskind was a longtime editor and owner of Human Events. His latest book is “Hollywood Traitors” (Regnery, 2015).


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