What triggered the Mueller investigation

United States

Patrick Horst

Dr. Patrick Horst is a research associate at the Institute for Political Science and Sociology at the University of Bonn. His focus areas include the US political system, electoral, party and coalition research, and federalism.

Constitutional situation, procedure, previous history and accounting comparison

in the Impeachment-The US Congress has a judicial function, but is exposed to strong political influences. Despite convincing charges and evidence, the accused can sometimes stay in the government office.

US President Donald Trump presents an issue of the Washington Post with a lead story about his impeachment acquittal. (& copy picture-alliance, Photoshot)

Unlike a German Chancellor, who can be recalled by parliament at any time and also toppled by her own parliamentary group, a US president is directly elected by the people for a fixed term and cannot be replaced by Congress for political reasons. Because the US Constitution does not recognize a political vote of no confidence in the person at the head of the executive, it has provided the possibility of impeachment in the event of a violation of the constitution.

According to the constitutional interpretation of the founding fathers, it is not enough to be removed from office if the head of state or state employees are simply incompetent. Instead, an agreement was reached in Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution on the indefinite legal formula "high crimes and misdemeanors", which leaves room for interpretation. [1] Alexander Hamilton has an interpretation that is still influential today in number 65 of the Federalist Papers submitted: High crimes and misdemeanors are "offenses that result from the misconduct of men in public office or ... from the abuse or violation of public trust." In particular, they are political offenses, "as they relate mainly to violations that are directly directed against society." From this it is deduced by the majority of legal scholars that the formula includes not only violations of the law, but also more difficult to grasp constitutional violations such as corrupting the electoral process and undermining democracy.

in the Impeachment- In the procedure, Article I, Section 2, paragraph 5, makes the House of Representatives the sole prosecutor, and Section 3, paragraph 6 of the same article makes the Senate the sole jury. Everyone Impeachment- The proceedings are presided over by the Chief Justice. For conviction and removal from office, a two-thirds majority of the senators present, who are taken under oath specifically for this procedure, is required.

The Impeachment-Proceedings against Donald J. Trump

Republican (R) Donald J. Trump has the dubious honor of being the first US president whose impeachment was discussed before he reached office. [2] The discussion of his impeachment extends from the summer of 2016, when Russian interference in the election campaign became known, through the investigation of the Special Counsel Robert Mueller (May 2017 to March 2019) to the Ukraine affair, which finally turned formal in September 2019 Impeachment-Proceedings resulted. The President's impeachment in the House of Representatives came a week before Christmas 2019; the quick acquittal after a short trial in the Senate on February 5, 2020.

Trumps Impeachment has been in the air since June 2016 when the Democratic party headquarters announced during the current presidential election that their computer system had been infiltrated by Russian hackers. Since then, there has been speculation that Trump's campaign team colluded with Russia. After some of the stolen emails in July 2016 from Russian camouflage websites and WikiLeaks The FBI launched an investigation into whether there were links to Trump's campaign team and collusion. The investigation came to the conclusion, even before Trump was inaugurated, that Russia had intervened in the US presidential campaign to favor the election of Trump. The Mueller Report published in March 2019 [3] led to more than four hundred pages of evidence that Trump's campaign team was looking for "dirt" abroad with great energy in order to damage Clinton. Although Trump could not be found to be personally involved in a conspiracy with Russia, a surprising number of people from his environment had contact with the Russian side and told the FBI the untruth about it. [4]

In particular, the references to obstruction of justice in the second volume of the Mueller report were overwhelming. Mueller only refrained from prosecution because he followed the legal interpretation of the Justice Department that an incumbent president could not be charged. He understood his assignment as a pure investigation of the facts, which could possibly be used for later criminal proceedings against the president after the end of his term of office. [5]

The Ukraine affair

While the Mueller investigation was about the question of whether Trump won the presidency using illegitimate methods, the Ukraine affair was about whether he had used similar means again for his 2020 re-election campaign, now from the presidency. Both cases concerned the corruption of the electoral process and the undermining of US democracy through the indirect (Russia) or direct (Ukraine) invitation to a foreign government to interfere. The Ukraine affair became public in early September 2019 after a Whistleblower had reported to the Inspector General of the Intelligence Services of a telephone conversation between Trump and the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyi. In the phone call on July 25, US President Zelenskyi pressured him into investigating former Democratic Vice President Joe Biden. Trump also urged Zelenskyi to pursue an old, already refuted conspiracy theory that Ukraine - and not Russia - was behind meddling in the 2016 US presidential campaign. In order to back up his demands, Trump probably stopped the military aid granted by Congress to Ukraine and refused Zelenskyi a visit to the White House.

After more and more details of a "shadow foreign policy" pursued by Trump's adviser Rudy Guiliani (R) towards Ukraine came to light in the course of September and Trump forwarded the Whistleblower-Blocked the complaint to Congress, more and more moderate Democratic faction members came to the conclusion that they were a Impeachment the President could no longer evade. The Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi (D) then headed the Impeachment-Investigation officially. She was confident that Trump's phone call with Zelenskyi was evidence that Trump's abuse of power and constitutional violation was open to all. Trump was then forced to publish a transcript of the phone call and also agreed to publish the Whistleblower-Complaint by Congress too.

In October and November, the secret service committee, chaired by Adam Schiff (D), initially took on the non-public and then also the public questioning of the witnesses. All of the witnesses who followed the subpoena confirmed the account of the Whistleblowers. However, a number of advisers to the President, as well as Vice President Mike Pence (R), Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (R), Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry (R) and former National Security Advisor John Bolton declined to provide information on the orders of the President. This total refusal to cooperate with the Congress with reference to a supposedly absolute right to refuse to provide information and testify (executive privilege) was unprecedented in US history. There was also no precedent for the anger that the President directed in front of the general public on Twitter against those government employees who dared to evade the ban on cooperation with Congress and to testify: first and foremost former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, her successor Gordon Sondland and Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman.

On October 17, Mick Mulvaney (R), the Acting Chief of Staff at the White House, caused a surprise when he spoke at a press conference about the existence of a quid pro quo between releasing military aid and assuring an investigation into whether Ukraine was behind the interference in the 2016 election campaign, confirmed. Even if he denied his statement on the same day, his days as Chief of Staff in the White House were numbered. After that Impeachment-Proceedings was over, Trump released him. The same fate befell Ambassador Gordon Sondland, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman and the Inspector General of Intelligence Michael Atkinson.

The Intelligence Committee released its final report on December 3, 2019, noting that President Trump "sought interference from a foreign government, Ukraine, to benefit his re-election." With his actions he "put his own personal and political interests above the national interests of the United States, sought to undermine the integrity of the US presidential election process and endangered the national security of the United States." [6]

In early December, the House Justice Committee set two Impeachment-Article - Abuse of Power and Obstruction of Congress - and passed it with its Democratic majority. A week before Christmas, the plenary took the Impeachment-Article with almost all votes of the Democrats and the Independent (I) Justin Amash against the closed opposition of the Republicans. The Senate trial took no more than three weeks in total, and its outcome was clear before it began. On February 5, the Senate acquitted the president with his Republican majority on both counts. Mitt Romney was the only Republican to find Trump guilty of abuse of power.Even if all 47 Democrats voted for the removal of Trump from the presidency, 19 votes were missing for the necessary two-thirds majority. The Democrats failed to make Trump's impeachment a bipartisan concern of the American people, which is why the Republicans in Congress unified their presidents.


Brief chronology of the impeachment proceedings in the House and Senate

August 12, 2019
An anonymous CIA officer hands one to the General Inspector of Intelligence Whistleblower-Complaint a.

5th September
The Washington Post reported on the Whistleblower.

September 11
Military aid to Ukraine is released.

September 24th
Speaker Nancy Pelosi runs this Impeachment- Proceedings against the President in the House of Representatives.

25th of September
The White House is releasing the transcript of the July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelenskyi.

September 26th
The White House approves the intelligence committee's publication of the whistleblower report.

October 3 to November 16
The secret service committee summons witnesses and hears them in camera on oath.

October 17th
Mick Mulvaney, the Acting Chief of Staff at the White House, confirms the existence of one Quid pro quo.

November 13-21
The Intelligence Committee holds public hearings. All witnesses confirm that Whistleblower-Report.

3rd of December
The final report of the Intelligence Committee is published.

December 4th
The Judiciary Committee conducts public expert hearings.

December 10th to 13th
The Judiciary Committee passes two Impeachment-Article: I. Abuse of Power, II. Obstruction of Congress.

December 18th
The House of Representatives said goodbye to both of them Impeachment-Article against the unified opposition of the Republicans.

January 16, 2020
The Senate is chaired by Chief Justice John Roberts up his tribunal.

January 22nd to 24th
House managers present their indictments to the senators' jury.

January 25-28
The President's lawyers present their defense.

January 29th to 30th
The senators put their questions to the prosecution and the president

31 January
The Senate votes against summoning witnesses.

February 3rd to 5th
The prosecution and defense make their final statement before the senators explain their vote.

February 5th
The Senate acquitted President Trump on both counts.

Sources: House of Representatives, Senate



The historical benchmark: the Watergate affair

Before Trump, there have been three impeachment cases in US history that deserve their name: against Andrew Johnson (D) in 1868, against Richard Nixon (R) in 1974 and against Bill Clinton (D) in 1998 /99.[7] Like Trump, Johnson and Clinton were acquitted, but with more compelling reasons. Nixon is the only president so far who has one Impeachment-The investigation fell victim - but without being charged by the House of Representatives and convicted by the Senate. Nixon anticipated his certain impeachment by resigning after his party friends had made it clear to him that they would no longer support him.

The Republicans had the weakest arguments for impeachment in the Clinton case. Clinton was charged not because he had committed serious constitutional violations, but because, from the point of view of conservative Republicans, he led an immoral lifestyle. The Republicans couldn't get over the fact that after twelve years they lost the presidency to a supposed Hallodri like Clinton in 1992. After they had won a simultaneous majority in both houses of Congress in the so-called mid-term elections in 1994 in the "Republican Revolution" for the first time in four decades, they sat under the leadership of Speaker Newt Gingrich (R) went out of his way to prove Clinton had committed a wrongdoing. Independent counsel However, Kenneth W. Starr was unable to uncover any criminal misconduct by Clinton in his more than three years investigation of a fraudulent real estate transaction ("Whitewater").

So Starr took the straw in January 1998 when it was revealed that Clinton was about to commit perjury in a parallel civil lawsuit for sexual harassment in order to cover up his affair with Monica Lewinsky, a young intern at the White House. Lewinsky rigidly assured immunity. After her testimony, Clinton had to admit that he had not told the full truth about the sexual nature of the relationship and apologized in a televised address to the nation on August 17, 1998. Regardless, on October 8, 1998, 227 Republican MPs and 31 Democrats voted to initiate one Impeachment-Examination. On December 11 and 12, the House Justice Committee passed four Impeachment-Article, a week later plenary adopted two of them - perjury and obstruction of justice. Clinton's approval rating among the population rose to 71 percent afterwards. The Senate began its trial on January 7, 1999 and ended it on February 12 with an acquittal. [8]

The 1868 case of Johnson, a Southern Democrat from Tennessee, was heavier, although the Republicans' indictments in Congress were weak. In order to be able to remove the president from office, they set a trap for him. in the Tenure of Office Act they tied the dismissal of a minister to the approval of the Senate. Johnson promptly groped inside when he dismissed his Secretary of War. By invoking a highly constitutionally questionable law, Republicans failed to present their larger constitutional argument for impeachment among the US public. This consisted of Johnson's opposition to their Reconstruction Policy after the Civil War. In the end, it was a vote the Republicans, who had a three-quarters majority in the Senate at the time of the vote, lacked to impeach Johnson.

Richard Nixon was clearly violating the Constitution. The ball got rolling on June 17, 1972 when Nixon's "plumbers" broke into the Democratic headquarters in Watergate. The "plumbers" were a secret task force that Nixon had formed in 1971 as part of the Vietnam War protests to plug leaks in the administration and intimidate political opponents. In 1971 they were transferred to CREEP, the "Committee to RE-Elect the President" under the direction of Attorney General John Mitchell. CREEP used all legal and illegal methods to fill the President's election campaign coffers; it carried out smear campaigns against the most promising presidential candidates of the Democrats in order to promote the nomination of the Vietnam war opponent George McGovern (D-SD); and among other things it financed the "plumbers" spying on Larry O'Brien, chairman of the Democratic Party headquarters in the Watergate complex. [9]

But it was only thanks to the persistence of ambitious presidential inspectors that the whole truth about Nixon's criminal activities came to light: two investigative reporters from the Washington Post, two incorruptible Special prosecutors, a federal judge of his own, and two tough committee chairs in Congress. Two dutiful advisers to the President also did their part to clarify the situation. Nixon's blocking strategy collapsed when he did Supreme Court on July 24, 1974 in U.S. v. Nixon decided that the President had no absolute right to information and to refuse to testify (executive privilege) and ordered the release of all tapes recorded by Nixon himself in the Oval Office. Nixon obeyed and also issued the "smoking gun tape" dated June 23, on which he and Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman can be heard agreeing to use the CIA to obstruct the FBI investigation. [10]

The rest was just a matter of form. Between July 27 and July 30, the House Justice Committee drafted five impeachment articles, three of which were passed: Obstruction of justice (Obstruction of Justice), Abuse of power (Abuse of power) and Contempt of Congress. After the White House released the tapes on August 5, a delegation headed by Senator Barry Goldwater (R) visited the President the following day and made it clear to him that the Republicans would no longer keep him in office. On August 9, 1974, Nixon resigned and there was no further indictment in the plenary session. [11]

Conclusion and outlook

To this day, the Watergate affair represents the paradigmatic case for a legitimate one Impeachment The parallels to Trump's Ukraine affair are obvious: in both cases the president abused his office and used state authorities to harm his political opponents and to enforce his re-election. Both Nixon and Trump accepted foreign government interference in the election campaign - Nixon by accepting illegal campaign donations from abroad, Trump by inviting Ukraine to damage its political adversary. Both also used their own judicial and police apparatus to spy on and intimidate political opponents. In their Justice Minister they saw an assistant who had to secure their re-election and protect them from legal harm.

Once they were tracked down by the controlling media, the courts, and Congress, Nixon and Trump did everything they could to deceive the public and hinder the investigation by the law enforcement agencies, courts, and congressional committees. Critical media denigrated them as "enemies of the people", whistleblowers in their own ranks as "traitors". Both felt besieged by a conspiracy of the professional officials or the "deep state", according to which the ministerial administration, in particular of the foreign and defense ministries, is pursuing its own agenda directed against the president.executive privilege) [12] and an equally untenable presidential immunity.In doing so, they undermined trust in the US constitutional order checks and balanceswhich requires a certain degree of cooperation between the branches and requires the president to conscientiously implement the law (Article II, paragraph 3 of the US Constitution).

Why did that fail Impeachment-Proceedings against Trump, although he was guilty of very similar misconduct as Nixon? There are a number of reasons for this: First, the majority in Congress were more favorable to Trump than to Nixon. In 1974 the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress, and in 2020 the Republicans had a majority in the Senate. The votes of ten Republicans would have been enough to condemn Nixon, 20 would have been necessary for Trump. Second, the political polarization of the two parties was not as advanced in the 1970s as it is today; there was significant cooperation between the parties, and members of Congress displayed greater independence from their party leaders than is the case today.

Third, the president's popularity wasn't as set in stone as it has been since Barack Obama's (D) presidency. Nixon's popularity curve still reacted to the events: it fell from 66 percent in January 1973 to 24 percent at the time of his resignation in August 1974. Trump, on the other hand, remained constant over his entire term of office at 45 (+/- 5) percent overall approval and 85 (+ / -5) percent approval among Republicans.

Fourth, the charges were limited to the Ukraine scandal, where Trump's abuse of power was apparently exposed, but which only described a small part of his alleged constitutional violations. The prosecution has not resolved all of the questions that the Mueller Report and the various unfinished Congress investigations have left open.

That's how Trump failed in the end Impeachment-Method more used than harmed. His popularity has improved only slightly, but with approval rates above 45 percent, an incumbent is a slight favorite in the race for re-election. With Trump, however, you can hardly believe it.