Two of President Trump’s most ardent defenders got together Monday evening on Fox News to discuss all things Robert S. Mueller III. Law professor Alan Dershowitz has consistently argued against the special counsel’s investigation, referring to Mueller as a “zealot” earlier this week. Fox News host Sean Hannity has consistently argued against the investigation, well, in nearly every way imaginable. And on Monday, Dershowitz and Hannity agreed on what they saw as Mueller’s endgame.
“Isn’t that ultimately Mueller’s goal, though? He writes a report in the hopes that Congress uses it to impeach [Trump]? That’s the plan,” Hannity said.
“I think that’s the plan,” Dershowitz agreed. “And he’s not going to come to conclusions in the report. He’s just going to lay out the evidence in a way that will make it hard if the Democrats gain control not to impeach.”
This has been the lingering question since early in Trump’s presidency. Was there something out there that might lead to his impeachment and removal from office? Was there the equivalent of Richard Nixon’s “smoking gun” tape, the recorded conversation that was viewed as incontrovertible evidence that Nixon had sought to obstruct the Watergate investigation? Could Trump face the same fate as the only president to resign from office?
Especially over the short term, it’s unlikely. There are several key advantages that Trump enjoys that Nixon didn’t — though some of them may be temporary.
The first is alluded to in Dershowitz’s response. Nixon’s resignation followed shortly after the House Judiciary Committee approved three articles of impeachment for consideration by the full House. It’s important to remember that, at the time, the House was controlled by the Democrats. The three articles of impeachment that passed (of five) were approved without needing any Republican votes (though, in each case, they received some). Should Democrats gain control of the House next January, they similarly assume control of the committees necessary to advance articles of impeachment. A Democratic majority could then impeach Trump.
Should that happen, though, it remains unlikely he would be removed from office. That requires a two-thirds vote in the Senate, and the odds of the Democrats winning a majority of the Senate in November remain mediocre. Two-thirds is out of the question. Nixon short-circuited that concern with his resignation in August 1974.
Couldn’t Republicans in the Senate be swayed to vote to remove Trump from office? This gets at another important bulwark Trump enjoys: support from his party.
Last June, the Brookings Institution compared Trump’s approval rating among Republicans with Nixon’s in the period following the initial Watergate revelations.
In May 1973, Nixon’s approval among members of his own party was 90 percent. Over the course of 1973, as Watergate unfolded, that figure sank. By mid-April 1974, his approval among Republicans was only a bit above 50 percent. It never got much lower — a remarkable…