In July, then-Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump publicly implored Russia to release emails believed to be missing from his opponent, Hillary Clinton's, controversial private server. Months later, the president-elect is vehemently refuting the conclusion of both the CIA and the FBI that Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, was personally involved in such hacks against Clinton and the Democrats throughout the campaign, and that the end goal was to tilt the race in Trump's favor. If his comments caused an outcry over the summer, the public outrage has now reached a crescendo, and rumblings about whether Trump's shady relationship with Russia and its government could put him out of office have emerged. There's even reason to believe that the two entities have been colluding, leading to speculation that Trump could be impeached if he helped Russia hack the Democrats. The Trump campaign did not respond to an inquiry about his relationship with Putin or his knowledge of the hacks.
On Monday, members of the Electoral College met across the country to confirm Trump's November win, and there's an unusual push for them to subvert the will of the voters in their states and vote for someone, anyone, else. That's because many believe the real estate mogul to be supremely unfit to be commander-in-chief for too many reasons to list. But the specific disqualifier du jour centers around Trump's refusal to accept that Russia interfered with the election, his deliberate undermining of the intelligence agencies whose investigations brought us that information, and the shadowy nature of his connection (or non-connection) to the man who runs one of the United States' most formidable adversaries.
The resident-elect has addressed questions on the record about his relationship with Putin many times before — and his answers have been anything but consistent. Despite his fawning compliments of Putin and his endorsement of policy proposals (such as decreasing the United States' commitment to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) that would benefit Russia, Trump insisted during the final presidential debate in October that he's "never met" Putin. But video proof from May 2014 clearly contradicts that bold assertion: "I was in Moscow recently and I spoke, indirectly and directly, with President Putin, who could not have been nicer, and we had a tremendous success," Trump said at The National Press Luncheon at the time. And in a recent interview with Extra, he actually maintains that he both does and does not have a relationship with the Russian president.
Knowing, having met, or even being friends with a fellow world leader, even one who has been as antagonistic toward the United States as Putin has, is not necessarily an inherently impeachable offense. But Trump's brazen flip-flopping when confronted with the task of defining whether and how he knows Putin is cause for major alarm, especially because all 17 agencies in the intelligence community agree that the Russian government was behind the hacking and dissemination of incriminating Democratic National Committee emails over the summer as well as the public release via WikiLeaks of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta's emails not too long before Election Day.
But what could the reason for Trump's flip-flopping on Russia possibly be? Russian officials insisted on Monday that they are not in contact with Trump or his team, but a memo from a "former Western intelligence officer" on which Mother Jones reported just a week before the election tells a very different story. Based on this person's conversations with Russian sources, the missive contained the bombshell revelation that Russian intelligence has "compromised" Trump during his trip to Moscow and that it could, indeed, "blackmail him." One excerpt is particularly chilling:
Russian regime has been cultivating, supporting and assisting TRUMP for at least 5 years. Aim, endorsed by PUTIN, has been to encourage splits and divisions in western alliance.
If it turns out that Trump was chatting with the Russians, that certainly would fit the "Treason, Bribery, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors" criteria that the Constitution lays out for impeachment. In fact, avoiding the election of a person who is under the influence of foreign powers is one of the reasons that the "safeguard" of the Electoral College was put into place by our Founding Fathers way back at the inception of this country. (But, so far, Trump has insisted that he is not friends with or "under the influence of" Putin.) Additionally, to prove that someone is under the influence of foreign powers is an arbitrary line that's difficult to prove. On Monday, Trump is more than likely to triumph among the 538 electors nonetheless.
Which leaves those terrified at the prospect of a Trump presidency with one last hope: impeachment. But as Vanity Fair's T.A. Frank pointed out in a piece on the subject, the task of ousting a president from office for some serious wrongdoing is a political process, and, therefore, political will to do so must exist. And Trump's own political party controls both the House and the Senate, decreasing the chances that Congress would move to begin such proceedings against him if any proof that he was involved with the Russian hacking against the Democrats ever surfaced. It would, to put it mildly, crumble the party as many believed Trump's candidacy would. "The party would fracture, and much of the base would rebel," Frank wrote.
And for progressives, the result of a successful Trump impeachment, a President Mike Pence, sounds almost equally egregious. Trump's mysterious involvement with Vladimir Putin would, in that hypothetical, land this country with an ultraconservative establishment darling who would be eager to strip as many rights from LGBT people and women, with respect to their reproductive health, as he possibly could.