Sky News caught up with former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani while he cruised a President Trump-owned course in Scotland in a golf cart. Giuliani’s new gig, of course, is serving as counsel to Trump, a role that involves frequent assessments of the political repercussions of developments in the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and Trump’s campaign.
In this case, Giuliani was asked about a subject Trump himself addressed in an interview that aired on Fox News on Thursday: impeachment. Was impeachment inevitable following the president’s former lawyer Michael Cohen’s revelation in court on Tuesday that Trump asked him to pay hush money to women who alleged affairs with Trump?
“Hardly,” Giuliani replied. Cohen, he said, is a “massive liar” and “everything [he] says has been disproved.” This is untrue; since Cohen made the allegations, they’ve been bolstered by news that David Pecker, chairman of the company that publishes the National Enquirer, was granted immunity for providing evidence that apparently reinforced Cohen’s assertion.
Giuliani asserted that Trump had been “completely cleared,” apparently because the charges raised by Cohen don’t address possible collusion between the campaign and Russia.
“I think impeachment would be totally horrible,” Giuliani said, later adding, “You could only impeach him for political reasons, and the American people would revolt against that.”
On this point, Giuliani is largely correct.
First, impeachment is indeed a purely political process. The House of Representatives is the grand jury. The Senate is judge and jury. If the House wanted to move to impeach Trump tomorrow, they could do so, as could have any number of Houses for other presidents on any of a broad range of issues. Any number of Senates could have chosen to subsequently boot presidents from office. It’s politics that prevent their doing so, understanding or at least believing that voters would not take kindly to randomly leveling the most serious punishment possible against the president.
But it’s also probably true that there would be a revolt of some significant form against an effort to impeach Trump, even given the nontrivial allegations that have been made against him already and, probably, even given future significant developments.
This isn’t about politics. This is about the assumptions made by his supporters and the media that reinforces those assumptions.
“Revolt” is a strong word, and “the American people” is overly broad. But a substantial number of Americans would certainly take strong issue with an impeachment effort against Trump for two reasons: They don’t think his actions warrant that punishment or they aren’t aware of the full scope of the allegations.
Consider a poll released on Thursday by HuffPost in conjunction with YouGov. That survey found that more than half of Americans believed that Cohen and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort had done something wrong — but only barely more than half.
Fewer than half of Trump voters said either man did something wrong but, if they did, they were much more likely to say that Cohen’s and Manafort’s actions were distinct from an overall pattern of wrongdoing by Trump’s campaign or administration.
Four in 10 respondents overall said they weren’t sure if either man had done anything wrong. Fifteen percent of Trump voters said flatly that Cohen did nothing wrong despite Cohen standing up in court and swearing under oath that he did.
Some of this reflects Trump’s insistence that the campaign-finance violations in which Cohen implicated him were somehow not crimes. They were crimes as undertaken by Cohen; that’s why he faced criminal charges for them. Whether Trump’s role in the effort to cover up the alleged affairs means that he committed a crime is a more nebulous question, though experts who’ve spoken with The Post think that it does.
A common refrain in the wake of Cohen’s admission is that Cohen faced the charges in which Trump is implicated solely because they involve Trump. In other words, extending the idea that prosecutors looking at Trump and his associates are feverishly obsessed with entrapping the president, they trumped up (sorry) charges that directly touch Trump himself. That the charges themselves are invalid, despite the actions detailed in the charges being established by Cohen and Pecker.
Think about how that gets extended outward. If Cohen and Manafort are seen as possibly innocent despite admitting guilt and being found guilty by a jury respectively (including one juror who found Manafort guilty despite her fervent support for Trump) and if the charges that involve Trump are seen as politically motivated without evidence, what charges could implicate Trump in a way that many supporters will accept?
If they’re even aware of the objective scope of what’s revealed.
Last year, during a flurry of negative news about the Trump administration, the Associated Press spoke with Trump supporters to get a sense of how they reacted to the moment. One woman on Staten Island summarized what’s likely a common response.
“I tuned it out,” she said. “I don’t want to feel that he’s not doing what he said, so I just choose to not listen.”
The Manafort verdicts and Cohen pleas came down on Tuesday. That night something weird happened: Fox News came in third in the cable news network ratings. Fox is by far the most popular news source among Republicans. On a bad news day for Trump, fewer were watching the news.
Not that what they’d see would necessarily include information that’s damaging for the president. On Wednesday morning, Fox’s “Fox & Friends” downplayed the legal news in its promotional video, giving far more time to a week-old comment by the Democratic governor of New York. Over the two days following the Tuesday afternoon revelations, Fox News spent far less time talking about Cohen than its competitors.
If Cohen is discussed, it may be by Sean Hannity who, on Wednesday, offered a defense of the Cohen incidents that reinforces the figures above.
“Four hundred and sixty-two days into [Robert S. Mueller III’s] witch hunt, still no evidence of collusion,” he said at the beginning of his show. “But tonight, we do have proof the destroy-Trump forces, they are working overtime not only to smear this president but every single person around him — Manafort, Cohen, [Michael] Flynn, [George] Papadopoulos all targeted specifically because of crimes that had nothing to do with Russia but because they are friends with the president.”
We talk a lot about Trump’s base of support, how broadly steady it is and how enthusiastic it is. Talk to Trump supporters and a common theme is that they feel the need to stand with him because he’s constantly embattled by the outside forces of Democrats and government investigators. Giuliani’s not talking about Trump’s neighbors in midtown Manhattan building fortifications on Fifth Avenue who would demand his reinstatement. He’s talking about Trump supporters who give key staffers a pass after those staffers pleaded guilty to crimes and about supporters who will see new developments through a lens like the one offered by Hannity.
In that sense, Giuliani is correct.
This article was updated with a criminal justice analogy for impeachment offered by a reader that worked better than what I wrote.