Research fellow holds Trump impeachment unlikely

Hannah Thoburn töötab Washingtonis konservatiivses mõttekojas Hudson Institute, kus ta on spetsialiseerunud Ida-Euroopale, Venemaale ja Atlandi-ülestele suhetele. PHOTO: Evelyn Kaldoja

Even though the Russia investigation promises new details regarding Trump’s inner circle, impeachment seems unlikely, says Hannah Thoburn from the conservative Washington think tank the Hudson Institute.

Comparing when Donald Trump took office versus today, has the system adjusted to him, or have tensions rather intensified?

We can say it’s both. Tensions remain, and remain considerable, as the investigation into the presidential election continues. Some members of Trump’s campaign team have been arrested.

That said, many have adjusted to reality, how Trump governs. It is still held to be unorthodox how he makes use of Twitter so often, so vocally and boldly; however, people seem to accept it more readily and have simply become used to it.

Government institutions are generally working routinely. Of course, as it is with any administration, changes have been carried out in several departments. For example, there are interesting developments in the Department of State.

It is noteworthy how several congressmen and senators have decided to resign and not to run for another term. Several have said the situation in Washington is too complicated, and that Trump is one of the reasons. Most are republicans.

Therefore, things will continue to change in the process of adaptation; however, they aren’t nearly as blustery as they were ten months ago.

What do these leavers mean when they say the situation is too complicated?

I’m sure every congressman and senator who has decided not to run for another term has a specific answer to that question.

However, the general mood seems to be that they don’t like how the White House is working with Congress; they believe that a situation where Trump is often very vocal as concerns certain political thoughts does not help them do their job; that there is too much interference in Washington and they cannot do the work they’ve been elected to do. This seems to be their chief, albeit not only concern.

A lot of those who have resigned are moderate republicans who have disagreed with Trump from the first. They do not like where US policy is headed, and they are saying they’ve had enough.

What is the situation concerning top republicans, like [Speaker] Paul Ryan or [Senator] Lindsey Graham? Are they still putting on a brave face?

Yes, they are.

It is interesting to look at what happened after Chairman of the Senate’s Committee on Foreign Relations Bob Corker said he would not run for a third term. He seems liberated: he can speak his mind as he no longer has to keep up appearances or hide how he really feels. He is very vocal in terms of opposing most of what Trump says.

It is the same with Senator Jeff Lake: he will not run again either. He gave a very emotional speech in the Congress.

Their message is that they’re tired of lying, tired of pretending; that things are bad, and they are coming out and saying it because they will not run again. People who plan to remain in politics keep playing politics.

In other words: while some republicans are leaving, no one is fighting?

Many Washington commentators are saying the same thing: you are running, leaving, not fighting; why do you not create a new party, launch a new project, try to change things from within; why are you just giving up?

I would never say they are giving up. Everyone has their reasons. However, that is what Washington is talking about. I do not believe an answer exists to that question.

What are the “interesting developments” in the state department you mentioned?

There is reorganization. Several top-level officials have left.

The American Foreign Service Association released interesting statistics a few days ago that suggests the number of new foreign service officials has dropped drastically. That young people are no longer interested in taking the foreign service exam, and that 60 percent of all top-level diplomats have quit in the past five months.

These are worrisome trends. However, we have not yet seen the full reorganization plan. I would not be surprised were there an attempt to reduce the foreign service. If that is the plan, Foreign Secretary Rex Tillerson is probably not losing sleep over it.

To what extent does Trump steer US foreign policy, and to what extent is it up to Tillerson, Defense Secretary James Mattis, Trump’s Chief of Staff John Kelly et al?

It is hard to say. The foundations of Trump’s foreign policy are laid by Trump. Mattis, Tillerson and others have a say; however, it is still a very Trumpian foreign policy. Just as Obama had his personal influence: recommendations by advisors could have a certain effect, while it was still Obama’s policy at heart.

The investigation into Trump’s inner circle concerns Russia, and he also said some things about Russia during his campaign. Is there a Russia-policy of some sort by today?

I don’t think there is. A large part of actual foreign policy is still being prepared. The US National Security Council is still working on the national security strategy, which is entirely normal as these things take time.

There is no special Russia-policy. It is very difficult to imagine a constructive Russia-policy in a situation where the public is extremely concentrated on Russia as the bad guy, in the middle of an investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential election.

We shall see what will come of the second meeting of Trump and Putin in Vietnam (Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin met at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit (APEC) in Vietnam the day before yesterday – ed.). The meeting will concern North Korea, which is probably the most interesting thing for those two to discuss as it is not nearly as loaded as Ukraine, Syria, or any other potential topic. Perhaps North Korea was chosen as the topic to see whether it is possible to do anything with Russia.

How confidently does the investigation suggest Russia tried to directly influence Trump through connected persons? And to what extent are these things simple coincidences?

It is impossible to say. The investigation is still in the very early stages. More things will come to light. So far, we’ve only seen a few arrests and accusations, and we simply don’t know what they’ve uncovered. Robert Mueller (special investigator looking into Russia’s alleged meddling in the US presidential election in 2016 – ed.) probably knows a lot more than we do.

However, it was shocking when the first allegations came to light a few weeks ago. We learned that one of those people (the Trump campaign’s foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos – ed.) was first arrested in July. No one had any idea he had been arrested or admitted wrongdoing. The fact there were no leaks is baffling. The information has been guarded very closely.

That is why I believe there is a host of information the public is not aware of. And we will know only once Mueller tells us.

Do you hold a Trump impeachment likely in the near future?

No. Trump is not committing crimes; he is not a threat that needs to be removed, and impeachment is very difficult in the US political system. We have only resorted to impeachment process in two cases (Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton – ed.) and neither ended up removed from office as a result.

Impeachment is not something one undertakes lightly. Circumstances would have to be very dire. There are no such circumstances today. I don’t even see it in the cards.

English translation by Baltic News Service.