Beleaguered Trump faces ‘beginning of the end’
Last night President Trump was under fire amid more damaging claims that he abused his power. Some are openly talking about his resignation. Will the public or the powerful decide his fate?
Tomorrow President Trump will embark on his first foreign trip. He will tour the Middle East and Europe for nine days. He will meet the Pope, speak to leaders of NATO and the Arab world and attend the G7 summit.
His glamorous wife Melania will accompany him. The pair will project an image of American power and dominate the global news.
But behind the facade, trouble is brewing. On Tuesday evening The New York Times reported the latest — and arguably most damning — of a series of allegations against Trump.
The paper said he had asked James Comey, then the FBI director, to drop an inquiry into one of his aides’ links to the Russian government. “I hope you can let this go,” he reportedly said during a private meeting in the Oval Office.
The White House denied the story. Trump’s supporters fought back, accusing the intelligence community of a politically-motivated plot to remove him based on hearsay.
But others said it could be obstruction of justice — the offence which caused President Nixon to resign in 1974. And it emerged only a day after reports suggested Trump had given classified information to Russia’s ambassador.
“The events of recent days may be the point of no return,” wrote David Remnick in The New Yorker.
Trump’s fate lies in the hands of Congress: it has the power to impeach and remove him.
His party, the Republicans, control both houses of Congress, and few congressional Republicans have turned on him. Yesterday Paul Ryan said he had confidence in Trump.
But on Tuesday the Republican chair of a congressional committee asked the FBI to turn over relevant evidence. Some Republican senators have called for further investigation. And last night, the Justice Department appointed a special prosecutor to investigate Russia’s alleged involvement in the 2016 election.
Trump faces other threats too. Yesterday his approval rating hit a new low of 42%. And in next year’s elections the Democrats, who would probably impeach him, may win control of Congress.
The public will determine the outcome, say some. If Trump’s poll numbers keep falling and his supporters abandon him, Congress will have to follow. If the public decides the allegations are baseless, opinion in Congress will follow suit. Republicans and Democrats alike want to win next year’s elections: they will do what the people tell them.
Do not assume so, others respond. Lawmakers tend to be more concerned with policy than the president’s personal popularity. Opinion polls are fickle and few people will think about impeachment when they vote. The Republicans have an unusual opportunity to enact a conservative agenda. They will only end Trump’s presidency if it helps them achieve that.
- If you were president, would you abuse your position?
- Will public opinion or powerful people in Congress determine President Trump’s fate?
- Work in groups of four. You are in charge of investigating what happened in the meeting between President Trump and James Comey. Discuss what you need to know and how you would find it out.
- Write a one-page memo explaining what we know about this scandal. Write it clearly enough so someone three years younger than you could understand it.
Some People Say...
“Where the people go, those who make decisions follow.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- The New York Times has reported that Trump told Comey: “I hope you can let this go”. This referred to an investigation into Mike Flynn, the national security adviser who resigned in February over inappropriate contact with the Russian government. According to the paper, Trump said Flynn was “a good guy”.
- What do we not know?
- We cannot be sure what happened. Congress could subpoena (demand to see) Comey’s notes; there may even be other records of the meeting. We also do not know if this will cost Trump his job. During the Watergate scandal President Nixon tried to shut down a federal investigation which would have been politically damaging. That was the reason he resigned: Congress was about to remove him from office for obstruction of justice.
- An informal group of seven major democracies.
- On Tuesday night one pro-Trump group emailed supporters to say “people in our unelected bureaucracy” wanted “to sabotage President Trump and our entire America First movement”.
- The reports were based on a memo Comey wrote shortly after the meeting. Congress usually treats an FBI agent’s notes taken in such circumstances as credible evidence.
- Yesterday officials said the disclosure had endangered an Israeli spy inside Islamic State. But Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, backed Trump’s account.
- The body which passes laws. It consists of the House of Representatives and the Senate.
- Paul Ryan
- Considered the most powerful Republican in the House of Representatives, he is its Speaker.
- Jason Chaffetz, the head of the House oversight committee, is not running for re-election in 2018.
- On Tuesday Susan Collins said Comey should testify before a committee. John McCain compared current events to Watergate, which cost President Nixon his job.