June 21, 2019 / 0 Comments / Uncategorized

Impeach/Prosecute Trump?

The Impeach Trump people
were bitterly disappointed by Robert Mueller’s report and his press conference.
As Trump has tweeted, Mueller found insufficient evidence to show that Trump
actively conspired with Russia. As some have noted, it seems that Trump tried
to do so, but was thwarted by both ineptitude and the refusal of some to act on
his orders. While Trump claims that the report exonerates him on the obstruction
charge, Mueller has asserted that this is not the case—but has done so within a
context that is rather complicated.

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Those who are not
supporters of Trump see the report as showing that Mueller could not charge
Trump with a crime because Department of Justice policy forbids doing so; but
they see within its words evidence that Trump did engage in obstruction. When
Mueller held his press conference, he made a statement that simultaneously fueled
the hope of the anti-Trumpers and confused them: “If
we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we
would have said so.”
When I teach critical thinking, I point out that the LSAT
includes conditionals (if..then statements) and negations in the “games”
section because people are generally very bad at both. In my next class, I will
use Mueller’s statement as an example that combines both. Those who dislike
Trump have sometimes tended to see Mueller as making this argument:

Premise 1: If we had had confidence that the president clearly
did not commit a crime, we would have said so.

Premise 2: We did not
say so.

Conclusion: The
president committed a crime.

But sticking carefully
to his words, this is what he seems to be arguing:

Premise 1: If we had had confidence that the president clearly
did not commit a crime, we would have said so.

Premise 2: We did not
say so.

Conclusion: We did not have confidence that the president
clearly did not commit a crime.

While I am no fan of
Trump, not having confidence that the president did not commit a crime is
different from claiming that the president did commit a crime. As such, while
Trump has not been exonerated (which would require saying that he did not
commit a crime) he has also not been shown to have committed a crime. This
might be because, as noted above, Mueller is working within the technical
policy of the DOJ: he cannot say that Trump committed a crime because the policy
says he cannot say Trump committed a crime. Or, as Trump’s supporters claim, he
cannot say that Trump committed a crime because there is not enough evidence. Mueller
could, of course, clear this up with one statement—but his devotion to policy
and rules seems to prevent him from doing this. Like many a professor I have
known, he seems exasperated that people have not done the reading and that they
do not clearly grasp what seems utterly obvious to him. While such devotion to
the rules can be praiseworthy, the result is that the report seems unclear:
people want to know whether Trump did or did not obstruct justice; they do not
want an exercise in logic and policy. But how does this tie into impeachment?

While many Democrats
would love to impeach Trump, some of them realize that the Mueller report is
not a political silver bullet: while a careful reading and analysis might
reveal that Trump committed impeachable offenses, such care and analysis do not
work politically. There is also the fact that the Senate will back Trump,
probably regardless of what he does. As such, if the Democrats push for
impeachment, they will fail. This could have the effect of demoralizing the
Democrat’s base while igniting Trump’s base, thus helping him win a second term.
As Pelosi has calculated in her coldly political mind, impeachment will not pay
off for the Democrats: they have a better chance of winning in 2020 if they do
not impeach. So, if they win, should Trump be charged once he is out of office?

While I do believe that
people should not escape justice, there would be a serious problem with
prosecuting Trump for his actions in office. This problem is that it would,
even if Trump were guilty, create the impression that the Democrats were using
the machinery of justice against a political opponent for political reasons. While
Trump himself is clearly fine with using such tools against his foes, even the appearance
of doing so would be damaging to the country. Trump’s supporters would,
obviously, believe that Trump was being victimized by the Democrats and react
negatively—many (especially on Fox News) would call for revenge in places where
Republicans held power or when the Republicans won the Presidency again. As
such, even if Trump deserved to be prosecuted for obstruction, he should not be—for
the consequences of even seeming to use the justice system as a political
weapon would be too dire. This, of course, does come at a price: I am accepting
that wrongdoers should sometimes be let off the hook on utilitarian grounds—thus
setting a precedent for tolerating misdeeds.

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