In a presidential contest where the most popular chant at rallies for one candidate is “Lock her up!”, it is impossible to ignore the question of what Republicans will do if Hillary Clinton is elected president while they maintain control of one or both chambers of Congress. The re-emergence of the subject of Clinton emails in the final stages of the campaign has led Republicans — even those who strongly dislike their own presidential candidate — to talk more and more confidently about the Democratic nominee’s alleged criminality. And that is starting to morph into talk of a second Clinton impeachment.
For a while the I-word was thrown around with respect to HRC mostly by the same kind of conservative gabbers who thought Obama should be impeached as well. Here was Rush Limbaugh on October 5:
Hillary Clinton is the most prepared to be impeached in advance of any presidential candidate this country has ever had! Hillary Clinton will be elected to be impeached … By the way, I’m not being glib. If elected, Hillary Clinton could be impeached based on what we already know, and there’s plenty more yet to be discovered. Emails and other documents that could be used in impeachment proceedings are waiting to be found like Easter eggs laid out for 3-year-olds.
That was well before Hillary-haters leaped to the conclusion that Anthony Weiner’s laptop contained conclusive proof of lawbreaking and lies about lawbreaking. Republicans in Congress are already promising a new wave of investigations of Clinton if they are in a position to launch them after November 8 — in practice, that will simply mean maintaining control of the House, an outcome that looks nearly certain. And now open discussion of impeachment is oozing onto the campaign trail:
Embattled Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) told a local Wisconsin paper on Monday that, if Hillary Clinton is elected, she should be impeached.
“I would say yes, high crime or misdemeanor, I believe she is in violation of both laws,” Johnson told the Beloit Daily News in an interview published Tuesday.
Johnson was referring to two laws related to gathering, transmission, or destruction of defense information or official government record. “She purposefully circumvented it,” Johnson said. “This was willful concealment and destruction.”
Like most Republicans, Johnson is not inclined to defer to the FBI’s judgment about the non-criminality of Clinton’s behavior in the email case.
“That was a corrupt conclusion,” Johnson said of the FBI decision to recommend not bringing forth charges.
If a senator fighting for his political life in a Democratic-leaning state is willing to speak blithely of a future impeachment based not on any future conduct but of deeds already committed, is there any chance House Republicans in safe seats will not eventually go there?
Republicans may well tear each other apart in a “struggle for the soul” of their party if Trump loses. But they will remain united on one if only one topic: Hillary Clinton. It is significant that the politician already preparing to be Grand Inquisitor if Clinton is elected, House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), is a Republican who has said he cannot “endorse or defend” Trump but will vote for him anyway because the alternative is so unthinkable.
As we learned during the first Clinton impeachment, the “high crimes and misdemeanors” standard for seeking to remove a president from office is vague enough to accommodate all sorts of real and perceived misdeeds, most definitely including lies about and coverups of behavior not necessarily criminal in itself. I’d say it is clear most if not all Republicans think or pretend to think Hillary Clinton crossed that threshold long ago.
Right now, the only thing other than a Clinton defeat or a Democratic-controlled Congress that could probably prevent a move towards impeachment next year would be a party-wide acknowledgment by Republicans that 2018 and 2020 will be big victory years for the GOP if only they do not overplay their hands. But even if it seems rational to hold back on the impeachment talk and instead just keep Hillary Clinton from accomplishing anything, it is unclear if congressional Republicans will be able to restrain themselves if an angry and vengeful conservative base — perhaps led by former-nominee Trump — is calling out for removal of the “crooked” beneficiary of a “rigged” election. After all, the GOP was rebuked in 1998 for plotting Bill Clinton’s impeachment by voters who gave Democrats the extremely rare gift of second-term midterm gains in that election. House Republicans went right ahead and impeached him anyway.
Perhaps they will exercise more self-control this time around, but it would be foolish to bet the farm on it.
Meanwhile, it should be noted that Clinton is not the candidate facing an actual court trial shortly after Election Day. That would be Donald Trump, whose trial for allegedly defrauding students at Trump University is scheduled to begin on November 28, with Judge Gonazalo Curiel — you know, the judge Trump denounced as biased because he’s a “Mexican” — presiding. Maybe Trump should take a crash course in impeachment procedures and precedents; Hillary Clinton surely does not need one.