Trump revealing classified intel to the Russians wasn't illegal. But it is impeachable.
For reasons I've never been able to understand, Hillary Clinton's private email server utterly dominated coverage of her 2016 presidential campaign. Ironically, that obsession led us to elect a president who is far worse even on the narrow issue of information security. In the latest scoop from The Washington Post, Greg Miller and Greg Jaffe report that Donald Trump revealed "highly classified" information to officials of the Russian government at a meeting last week. This is the latest illustration that Trump is unfit for office — but no doubt, congressional Republicans will continue to look the other way.
As Miller and Jaffe observe, uniquely among public officials, the president can declassify information, and therefore Trump probably didn't violate the law. But this is hardly a defense — as Matthew Yglesias at Vox quipped, "It would be legal for him to issue pardons to pro-Trump militias who execute his enemies." Given the very broad legal authority the president possesses, mere legality does not mean that an abuse of power shouldn't warrant removal from office. And there is a very good case that revealing this highly sensitive information violated his oath of office and is hence a potentially impeachable offense.
And this wouldn't be the only article of impeachment that could be filed against Trump, either. Trump's decision last week to fire FBI Director James Comey in order to obstruct the investigation into Russia's attempts to influence the election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign was as bad or worse than the cover-up that would have led to Richard Nixon's removal from office had he not pre-emptively resigned. Trump is also using his office to enrich himself in violation of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution.
Trump is manifestly unfit to serve as president of the United States. He has committed multiple impeachable offenses, and he has not even been in office for six months. And we now know that he is putting the security of the country at serious risk. So will he be removed from office?
The problem is that, as Marquette University political scientist Julia Azari explains, the process of impeachment (which requires a simple majority of the House) and conviction (which requires a two-thirds supermajority of the Senate) is fundamentally a political, not a legal, process. A "high crime and misdemeanor" is whatever the necessary congressional supermajority says it is. In the wake of the Comey firing, congressional Republicans made it pretty clear that in their view the country should — as Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley put it — "suck it up and move on." And while some Republican legislators might vaguely express "concern" over Trump sharing top secret information with the Russian foreign minister, there's no reason to believe that they'll do anything but look the other way.
What makes Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and their respective conferences particularly contemptible is what they're shamelessly selling out their country for: some proposed legislation that is abominable on the merits that the public doesn't want. The legislative centerpiece of the House's work so far is the political suicide-literal murder pact known as the American Health Care Act. The AHCA would take health insurance from tens of millions of people and make the insurance of many of the people who retain it worse, all to pay for a massive upper-class tax cut. Trump and other prominent leaders repeatedly lied about their health-care plans, and given how massively unpopular the AHCA is, they had good reason to. And in addition to this astonishingly bad bill, Republicans are also looking to pass yet more upper-class tax cuts and yet more savage cuts in programs for the poor.
It would be bad enough if congressional Republicans were completely refusing to exercise their oversight responsibilities to pass legislation designed to help ordinary people. But they've made an implicit deal to allow Trump to threaten national security, obstruct justice, and loot the national treasury so that they can inflict needless death and suffering on ordinary people to give a yuuuuge and tremendous tax cut to themselves and their donors. It's a disgraceful situation on every level.
Make no mistake: Ryan, McConnell, and the rest of the Republican Party own Trump lock, stock, and spray tan and are fully responsible for his many abuses of power and his dangerous ineptitude. They could have, like the establishment French right, disowned Trump before the election — and didn't. They could remove him from office now that he's proven to be as unfit for office as his worst critics warned — but they won't.
Voters in November 2018 will have to remember how Republicans decided to put themselves and their party above the country, and would be wise to exercise their own removal powers.