The Slatest

Return of the Impeach-O-Meter: Wow, so This Really Might Happen After All

Trump stands in front of a table covered in fast food with a portrait of Abraham Lincoln behind him.
Trump at the White House dinner for the national college football champion Clemson Tigers on Monday. Chris Kleponis/Pool/Getty Images

The Impeach-O-Meter is a wildly subjective and speculative estimate of the likelihood that Donald Trump leaves office before his term ends, whether by being impeached (and convicted) or by resigning under threat of same.

We haven’t run an Impeach-O-Meter on Slate in quite some time, mainly because it seemed like Trump had settled at a level of strength that precluded his removal from office. He wasn’t popular overall, but despite increasingly incriminatory developments in the Robert Mueller special counsel investigation, the president had stopped ever falling below 40 percent in approval ratings. He has also always maintained very high numbers with Republican voters, and since somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 Republican senators would have to vote to convict him in an impeachment trial to oust him from office, it thus seemed pointless to speculate about the possibility.

Well, it seems less pointless now that BuzzFeed News is reporting that Mueller’s investigators have hard evidence that Trump directed his former lawyer Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about a Moscow real-estate project. The outlet says “two federal law enforcement officials” are its sources for the scoop:

The special counsel’s office learned about Trump’s directive for Cohen to lie to Congress through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents. Cohen then acknowledged those instructions during his interviews with that office.

Cohen told House and Senate committees that the Trump Organization had stopped pursuing a potential Trump Tower development in Moscow in January 2016, before presidential primaries began; he later admitted in a guilty plea that the project was pursued until that June. (June 2016 is also when the first public reports emerged about Russia’s hack of the Democratic National Committee.)

Coincidentally, the person who Trump has nominated to take over from Jeff Sessions as attorney general, William Barr, just confirmed to the Senate Judiciary Committee that he believes the president could commit obstruction of justice by suborning perjury. Barr was asked about the subject in the context of a 2018 memo he’d given to the Justice Department which otherwise argued the president should be given wide latitude to make decisions without being accused of obstruction. Suborning perjury, though, Barr wrote, is an obviously criminal act that cannot be excused as an act of executive branch prerogative:

Obviously, the President and any other official can commit obstruction in this classic sense of sabotaging a proceeding’s truth-finding function. Thus, for example, if a President knowingly destroys or alters evidence, suborns perjury, or induces a witness to change testimony, or commits any act deliberately impairing the integrity or availability of evidence, then he, like anyone else, commits the crime of obstruction.

This is all happening, meanwhile, as Trump’s aggregate approval rating has dipped under 40 percent during a government shutdown that a significant majority of the public blames him for. You’ve got to believe that some Republican senators are at least thinking about what might happen if they gave the keys to Mike Pence so he could try to build some momentum for the party going into 2020.

On the other hand, Trump has been known to wriggle out of a jam or two before, and while BuzzFeed News is a credible outlet, it seems at least possible that its two sources may have gotten something wrong about Mueller’s findings. If true, though, this is the first suggestion we’ve gotten that the special counsel has evidence that Trump himself participated in a Russia-related crime. The president’s advisers being sleazeballs is one thing; the president himself getting nailed for something his attorney general just described as a 100-percent no-doubt-about-it crime is another. Will this be The Thing, the Big One that finally, finally, finally starts to crack Trump’s deep-red Republican fortress? Folks, I’ll tell you what: I don’t know, and no one else does either! But it seems like it’s time to start talking about it again.

A meter that reads "50 percent chance of impeachment."