Thursday 9 March 2017 – The tantalising, but unrealistic, prospect of President Trump being impeached for his Obama “wiretap” accusations

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The controversy over Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated allegations that President Obama “wiretapped” Trump Tower during last year’s election campaign continues to consume the media both here in the UK and in the United States.  Seemingly after reading an article on a right-wing conspiracy-fuelled website, earlier this week the President took to Twitter in the early hours (as he clearly enjoys doing) to make the remarkable and deeply serious allegations against his predecessor:

 

“Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!”

 

“Is it legal for a sitting President to be “wire tapping” a race for president prior to an election? Turned down by court earlier. A NEW LOW!

 

“How low has President Obama gone to tapp [sic] my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!”

 

Without any evidence that President Obama did what is claimed, Trump has yet again blatantly and deliberately introduced lies into the public domain. Once there they were seized on by both his supporters and his opponents in the media, generating a media onslaught that conveniently distracts both the media and the public away from the controversy around the Trump campaigns connections with the Russian government.  This Russian connection story hasn’t completely gone away, but while the media obsess with the President’s false accusations then the focus is taken away from an area Trump would like to have us and the media forget. This, at least, was Trump’s hope. He perhaps thought he was being clever when he changed the subject abruptly with his series of tweets. However, the President’s accusations have the potential to be an even greater scandal than the Russian story and could even lead, albeit extremely unlikely as it may be, to his impeachment and removal from office.

 

Now that would be an amazing story that would perhaps be unrivalled since the days of Watergate and the resignation of President Richard Nixon over forty years ago. Of course, with Congress and the Senate both controlled by the Republicans, it seems highly doubtful that they would vote to impeach a Republican president – even one as disastrous and controversial as Donald J. Trump. Yet according to Noel Feldman, a professor at Harvard Law School, that is a possibility. He argues that if Trump’s accusations are proven false it would be a “major scandal” that “could get the current president impeached.” As neither the president or any of his team have offered a single shred of evidence to substantiate his claims, it seems likely that the claims at least can’t be proven true – if not actually proven false. When asked for evidence his team seem to suggest that the president, as he is president, has access to information and intelligence that us mere mortals are unaware of. This is their only answer to what in reality was a sleepless president making outrageous accusations against a former president after visiting a website no doubt run by a bunch of paranoid, right-wing, conspiracy theorists!

 

Writing in Bloomberg, Professor Feldman explained how he believes such serious accusations could lead to an impeachment if they are shown to be false:

 

“Given how great the executive’s power is, accusations by the president can’t be treated asymmetrically,

 

“If the alleged action would be impeachable if true, so must be the allegation if false. Anything else would give the president the power to distort democracy by calling his opponents criminals without ever having to prove it.

 

“If the allegation is not true and is unsupported by evidence, that too should be a scandal on a major scale. This is the kind of accusation that, taken as part of a broader course of conduct, could get the current president impeached.”

 

President Obama was said to be furious over the allegations, but has said that there are more important things to worry about than the president’s accusations against him, but Professor Feldman argues that as Trump can’t be sued for libel as long as he is president, then he has an extra responsibility to be truthful. He said:

 

“An allegation of potentially criminal misconduct made without evidence is itself a form of serious misconduct by the government official who makes it”

 

“When President Trump accuses Obama of an act that would have been impeachable and possibly criminal, that’s something much more serious than libel. If it isn’t true or provable, it’s misconduct by the highest official of the executive branch.”

 

Those like myself who are deeply opposed to the Trump administration can only hope that the president’s latest lies will indeed lead to impeachment, but then this president seems to be made of Teflon. No matter what he says or does, no matter what controversial statement, policy or executive order he puts forward, he seems to carry on regardless.  President Trump has only been in office seven weeks and it is simply incredible the level of controversy that has surrounded him and his administration in those few short weeks.  Whether the president will survive through the remainder of his four-year term of office is anyone’s guess, but nothing would surprise me.  I would like to think that even a Republican Congress and Senate will tire of the controversies their president attracts and that sooner or later Trump will do something that is beyond the pale even for a GOP that was so desperate to destroy Obama’s legacy and keep Hillary Clinton out of the White House that they have accepted this compulsive liar and ego-maniac as their highest representative. But then again, maybe not.


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Meanwhile, two leading psychiatrists have suggested that President Trump is “dangerous” to public safety.  In a letter to the New York Times, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, and Dr. Robert Lifton, a lecturer in psychiatry at Columbia University said that his “repeated failure to distinguish between reality and fantasy” and “paranoid claims of conspiracy” cast doubt over his ability to react rationally in a crisis. Although the two men said it would be unwise to psycho analyse the President from a distance, they wrote:

 

“Nevertheless, as psychiatrists we feel obliged to express our alarm. We fear that when faced with a crisis, President Trump will lack the judgment to respond rationally.

 

“The military powers entrusted to him endanger us all. We urge our elected representatives to take the necessary steps to protect us from this dangerous president.”

 

These comments follow on from earlier ones by a group of 35 mental health professionals who said that Trump was showing “grave emotional instability”.  Professor Herman and Dr Lifton argued that his recent accusations of “wiretapping” by President Obama and his response to claims of links with Russia demonstrate their concerns about President Trump:

 

“We are struck by his repeated failure to distinguish between reality and fantasy, and his outbursts of rage when his fantasies are contradicted. Without any demonstrable evidence, he repeatedly resorts to paranoid claims of conspiracy.

 

“Most recently, in response to suggestions of contact between his campaign and agents of the Russian government, he has issued tirades against the press as an “enemy of the people” and accusations without proof that his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, engaged in partisan surveillance against him.”

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