The Washington Post reported this week that President Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, offered to provide briefings on the presidential election race to a billionaire Russian aluminum magnate with close ties to the Kremlin.
“If he needs private briefings we can accommodate,” Manafort wrote in a July 2016 email that was leaked to The Washington Post along with other correspondences from Manafort around the same time.
This report adds more fuel to the collusion fire, but there’s more to this story.
The same correspondences that were leaked to The Washington Post were among tens of thousands of documents that have been given to congressional investigators and special counsel Robert S. Mueller’s team as they investigate whether Trump’s team coordinated with Russia in the country’s efforts to interfere with the 2016 election.
In the coverage about this story, and in all the coverage of the Trump administration’s difficult interactions with Mr. Mueller and his team of investigators, it has been easy to miss the more consequential action unfolding between Mr. Mueller’s team and Congress.
According to The Atlantic:
Congress’s approach to the investigation—both in its relationship with Mueller and the fervor with which it gathers evidence and executes its oversight role—is of decisive importance for Trump’s future. When it comes to righting presidential wrongs, special prosecutors generally play only a supporting role. True power over the investigation and removal of sitting presidents has always run through Congress.
In other words, Trump’s fate will be decided by Congress, not the special counsel appointed to investigate him.
Special prosecutors have been appointed to investigate three presidents—Nixon for Watergate, Reagan for Iran-Contra, and Clinton for the Whitewater scandal and the Lewinsky affair—and in all three of those cases, the investigations took years and only became disruptive to the normal operations in Congress when credible impeachable offenses materialized.
What’s also key about these historical examples is that investigations headed by a special counsel never eroded intra-party support significantly for the president on their own. However, Trump is already not backed by united support from his fellow Republicans in Congress, and doesn’t have the public support to discourage congresspeople from jumping ship.
Not only that, but midterm elections are just over a year out, and may be the real key to Trump’s fate. If the Democrats win back the House and again have the power to issue subpoenas and hold public hearings, which have the power to spur opposition, Trump will likely be in some real trouble.