Impeachment Narrative Still Has a Faint Pulse
Author: Greg Valliere
April 4, 2019
IT WAS JUST A MATTER OF TIME before the leaks emerged from Robert Mueller’s team. The New York Times broke a story yesterday evening, followed by The Washington Post during the night — alleging that investigators have far more dirt on Donald Trump than his Attorney General, William Barr, indicated when he released a summary of Mueller’s findings. Many on the Mueller team believe there’s a plausible case for obstruction of justice, the articles asserted.
NEVER MIND THAT BOTH ARTICLES were poorly sourced and vague on specifics — the take-away is that there are serious concerns among the Mueller team that eventually will be aired. This is a very big deal, a fresh political crisis for Trump.
THESE ARTICLES FOLLOWED SEVERAL DAYS OF WHISPERING in Washington that a case for obstruction of justice is still alive, with plenty of bombshells lurking in the report. In recent days, the President and his aides began to back away from pledges to release the entire report, obviously because they know what’s in it.
MOST DEMOCRATS — BUT NOT ALL — HAVE BACKED OFF any assertion that there was collusion with Russia. But in private they still dream of an obstruction of justice case, and other charges — including the old standby, perjury — that could be leveled at Trump insiders. The party’s hard-line base still thinks there could be enough evidence to warrant impeachment proceedings in the House.
SO THE HEARINGS AND SUBPOENAS will persist throughout the spring and beyond, and here are our odds: chances of House impeachment, 20%; chances of Senate conviction, 10%; chances of political embarrassment to Trump, 80%. Upcoming revelations will put him on the defensive, and they will dominate the news for months, perhaps obscuring a trade deal with China and continuing solid economic news.
THE RISK TO TRUMP is that he will over-react, blasting what he views as a partisan team of investigators who worked for Mueller, reviving Trump’s battle cry of a “witch hunt.” If Trump hints of pardons to come, that will simply embolden Democrats, who are hoping he will over-react.
FOR THE DEMOCRATS, the risk will be that an endless investigation will begin to annoy the public. The party’s activist base will demand a continuing probe, but there could be an impeachment backlash — as Newt Gingrich discovered after his futile impeachment crusade against Bill Clinton.
IN ANY EVENT, OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE is now back on the front burner, and many lawmakers will reserve judgment until they read the entire report and hear from Mueller himself, who undoubtedly will be compelled to testify. And Attorney General Barr will never shake a perception that he did not accurately summarize the Mueller report, perhaps at the behest of Trump.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR THE MARKETS? Very little in the short run, in our opinion; the China trade deal and the Fed’s remarkably accommodative policies are more important. But if Mueller or his team reveal damaging new evidence against Trump and his aides, it won’t help the President’s re-election prospects, and could make him even more erratic than usual in the coming months.
BOTTOM LINE: Trump isn’t quite out of the woods on this; he most definitely has not received a complete exoneration. The key wild card: Robert Mueller — a man of unquestioned integrity — still has a story to tell.
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