Quora Question: What if Trump Really is Tied to Russia?

A mural depicting Donald Trump blowing smoke into the mouth of Vladimir Putin on the wall of a restaurant in Vilnius, Lithuania on November 23. Sean Gallup/Getty

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Answer from Ian Jackson, Phd. in Political Science:

If it is proven, without a doubt, that Trump did have contact and used the Russians to help him get elected what will or could be done? What could be done indeed?

Firstly, let's get one thing out of the way. This is a hypothetical scenario and I'm treating it as such. So before I'm inundated with outrage from Trump supporters, it's worth noting that there is currently no direct evidence that links Trump with attempts by Russia to undermine the U.S. political process.

What we do know is this:

1. That Russia almost certainly did interfere with the election.

2. That several of Trump's campaign aides have links to Russia.

3. That Trump has stated that he doesn't know Putin and also stated that he does know him. No, don't whine or scream 'FAKE NEWS!' He's been caught on tape saying both of those things. I hate to go all 'Schrodinger's Trump' on you all but only one of the claims he made can possibly be true.

4. Donald Trump lies about pretty much everything. He lies about crowd size, he lies about the weather, he lies about things we know he has said and he makes up things other people have said. We cannot trust his word and that's a stone cold fact.

So, let's assume that he's in deep. Let's assume that Putin is blackmailing him or is in some way exerting undue pressure on him. Let's assume he knew and/or actively courted help from Russia during the campaign. Would that be illegal? Well, maybe. Trump swore an oath to uphold the Constitution it's true, but he did so only after the events are said to have taken place.

Still, treason is a very big word and it's also one open to interpretation. From a certain perspective, Lincoln was a traitor and probably would have been branded as one had the South won the Civil War. Trump is no Lincoln—one only has to look at his personal Gettysburg address to know that—but neither is he automatically guilty of treason based solely on the fact that we don't like him much. At any rate, I'm not sure it matters.

To begin with, there are really only two ways to get rid of a president.

In brief, the president can be removed if he is deemed to be incapable of performing the functions of the office. Pence takes over and Trump is put out to pasture. You can read more details of the process here.

The second, better-known method is impeachment. For those of you confused by the process, it's relatively simple. The House impeaches and the Senate conducts the trial. To date, two presidents have been impeached (the use of the past tense is here is quite correct), but both were later acquitted. Their names were Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. Both were acquitted by the Senate.

A third President, Richard Nixon, probably would not have been acquitted but we'll never know since he resigned before the formal impeachment began.

At any rate, one thing is clear, the term 'High Crimes and Misdemeanors' — the terms by which impeachment can proceed—is a fairly loose term. Johnson was impeached for firing Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton without asking for permission from the Senate in clear violation of the Tenure of Office Act. Bill Clinton was impeached for misleading a jury about the affair with Monica Lewinsky.

So a suggestion that Trump committed treason is as likely to see him impeached as the suggestion that he is enriching himself via elected office. Since we are making an assumption that Trump has done something wrong then there is zero question in my mind that he would be impeached over the former charge. Well, perhaps not zero.

Stuff happens and when the stuff happening is some of that really big national trauma war-time momentous stuff, then playing fields tend to be leveled. At the time of writing, Trump's approval rating is sitting as low as 38 points.

Now, there is no direct one-to-one correlation between these figures and midterm upsets but there is a correlation. If those figures stay this bad—or even get worse—then certain members of Congress are likely to have at least one lousy afternoon in 2018.

If evidence that Trump was working with the Russians to rig the election comes out, then I'm sorry Trump supporters, he's in trouble. All Democrats and more than enough Republicans will come together in an orgy of national indignation and remove him so quickly that he'll be led out of the White House in his slippers crying: "FAKE SHOES!"

If Pence was involved, he might have to go to something that would cause no end of constitutional heartache but, oh well, that's what happens when you betray your country I guess.

Regardless, no one is doing any time for any of this or at least, nobody of any significance. Full pardons all round would be my best guess.

Let's be clear, though there is no precedent for any of this and though it sounds dramatic, I stand by my assertion only as long as we all understand that this is all contained within the caveat that he has colluded with Russia. He's innocent until proven guilty.

Outside the remit of this question, but still relevant is the idea that Trump is skating on thin ice is the fact that he has already violated the emoluments' clause. Impeachment could start immediately. It's all a question of the desire to do so.

The thing to remember is that this process is all done in-house. Congress isn't going to impeach Trump—not yet—simply because a) they don't want to and b) they have the numbers to block anyone that does. The House Judiciary committee has already blocked calls for an independent inquiry and they will continue to do so. For as long as it suits them. They are more or less happy to pass bills that please their sponsors. They are delighted by the opportunity to use the chaos of Trump-era politics as a cover for the disservice they are doing to the American people. That could change and it could change without much warning.

Perhaps the "Failing New York Times" or "Overrated Washington Post" will uncover something really juicy and the GOP will turn on him with knives every bit as sharp as the ones Julius Caesar faced all those years ago. Still, there are two more predictable ways in which the tide might turn against him. Firstly, the aforementioned midterms. Leaked video of the president being urinated on would be enough to set things in motion. It's not illegal to have someone do wee-wees on you. It's not very nice, sure but consenting adults can do what they want; let's remember Clinton wasn't impeached because he fooled around with an intern, it was the lie that got him. The footage would be embarrassing but it might be hard to prove that the women were prostitutes and at any rate, it's not illegal to have sex with a prostitute, only to solicited them. So, whatever.

Damaging stuff like this, as with months and months of rank incompetence might build up to a cross-party move to impeach him. The reason why—lying under oath, contempt of court, emoluments clause, being Putin's patsy, etc. – won't matter. The looming midterms will. They'll find something. And if they don't, if liberals are smart, then a coalition of voters opposed to Trump will be set up across the country to hand him massive defeats in the midterms. Then the GOP will sit back and let the Democrats do the dirty work for them.

The second is that Trump has continued to make enemies and many people would simply feel more comfortable with Pence at the helm. The backlash of forcibly retiring him, and there would be a backlash, is something that needs to be minimized. At any rate, it may be a risk that people like Rubio, McCain and Romney are willing to take. And that's just naming three.

Trump's constant insults are often aimed at the people who scare him most. The NYT, The Washington Post, The CIA and so on. Bad enemies to make, all of them.

So, in summary, I don't think it makes much difference what they find other than to say that there are three scenarios I foresee.

  1. He committed treason and is therefore toast.
  2. He didn't but his approval ratings are so low the GOP turns on him and attacks him via the 'soft belly' of his many conflicts of interest.
  3. He somehow manages to turn public opinion around on a permanent footing. A war would give him a temporary boost, I guess. An economic upswing might give a long-term boost in fortunes though I doubt he has the smarts to engineer one. They do happen organically from time to time and he'll definitely take credit for them if they do. In such a case the GOP will hold on to him through to 2020 and beyond.

For general musings or indeed if you want to contact me/yell at me or ask for my phone number, you can contact me via Twitter and follow me daily at Liberal America.

If it is proven, without a doubt, that Trump did have contact and used the Russians to help him get elected what will or could be done? originally appeared on Quora—the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. More questions: