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Mueller Concludes Russia Probe, Submits Report

The wait is over. But the political parlor game has just begun. 

 

Robert Mueller, the special counsel for the Russian investigation, on Friday afternoon delivered his final report to Attorney General William Barr, concluding a wide-ranging probe that has sharply divided Americans and cast a long shadow over President Donald Trump’s first two years in office.

Barr informed congressional leaders by letter that he had received Mueller’s confidential report and that “I may be in a position to advise you of the Special Counsel’s principal conclusions as soon as this weekend.”

The central question that Mueller, a former FBI director, set out to answer: Did Trump or his aides collude with the Russians to undermine Democrat Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2016 with embarrassing emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton’s campaign chairman? Or was Trump merely the fortunate beneficiary of Russia’s malicious tactics? And did the president attempt to torpedo the subsequent investigation to protect himself and his political advisers and aides? 

The probe has led to the indictments of 37 individuals and entities, mostly Russian operatives who remain at large. Seven people, including five former Trump associates, have pleaded guilty and five have been sentenced to prison. 

 

Among high-profile cases, former national security adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty of lying to the FBI about conversations with the Russian ambassador, and Paul Manafort, the president’s former campaign chairman, was recently sentenced for a host of crimes. 

 

Ahead of the report’s delivery, speculation was rife that the special counsel would bring additional indictments, but there was no additional legal action before the report was released to the Justice Department. 

 

With the report’s delivery, the Mueller investigation is effectively over, but not the president’s legal troubles. In recent months, Mueller has farmed out parts of his investigation to U.S. attorney’s offices, including the Southern District of New York, where prosecutors have opened separate investigations into the Trump Organization and other Trump entities.  

 

Where the case stands 

 

Whether Mueller’s report will lead to vindication for the president, his impeachment, or some sort of messy, in-between alternative is unknowable for now. 

 

By law, Barr decides what parts — if any — of the document to disclose to Congress and the public. 

 

Trump has repeatedly called the special counsel investigation a “witch hunt” and insists there is no evidence of his collusion with the Russians. While the president has said  “I don’t mind” if the report is made public, there is likely to be considerable legal wrangling between the White House, the Justice Department, Trump’s personal lawyer and Congress before portions or all of the report are released.  

 

Justice Department regulations require Mueller to submit a “confidential report” of his findings to the attorney general, and the attorney general  to “notify” Congress about it. There are no requirements for Mueller to make his findings public. 

 

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement Friday, “The next steps are up to Attorney General Barr, and we look forward to the process taking its course. The White House has not received or been briefed on the special counsel’s report.” 

 

Wherever the report takes the United States as a country, understanding where it began and the route it followed will be every bit as important as recognizing the final destination.  

​The beginning 

 

The special counsel investigation began on May 17, 2017, with Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein’s announcement that he had appointed Mueller to take over an ongoing FBI investigation into connections between the Trump campaign and Russian election interference. 

 

At the time, Rosenstein stressed that the appointment should not be seen as confirmation that there had actually been any illegal coordination between the Trump campaign and Russian officials, and said that transferring day-to-day control of the investigation to Mueller was meant to assure the public that the inquiry was free of political bias. 

 

Mueller was not starting from scratch. The investigation he inherited had begun nearly a year before, on July 31, 2016, after the FBI learned of possible collusion between a Trump campaign adviser and Russia. 

 

‘Dirt’ on Clinton 

 

The tip that initially led investigators to open the case came from Australia’s top diplomat in the United Kingdom, who had encountered Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos at a bar in London months earlier.  

 

The diplomat revealed Papadopoulos, while drinking, said he had reason to believe Russian officials were in possession of “dirt” that could damage the candidacy of Clinton, the former secretary of state and front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination. 

 

On July 22, 2016, when the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks published about 20,000 emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee, the Australian government reached out to the FBI and took the highly unusual step of allowing the official who encountered Papadopoulos — High Commissioner to the United Kingdom Alexander Downer — to be interviewed by investigators. 

 

U.S. intelligence officials were already convinced that Russia was behind the DNC hacking and other efforts to influence the presidential election. But the Downer interview added a new and possibly explosive angle. 

 

The diplomat presented the FBI with credible evidence that a Trump campaign official had specific information about Russian interference in the U.S. elections months before that interference was made public. That forced the agency to open an urgent counterintelligence investigation examining whether the Trump campaign was colluding with Russia. 

 

An investigation in the public eye 

 

By September 2016, intelligence officials had briefed members of Congress on Russian election interference, but it wasn’t until after Nov. 8, when Trump unexpectedly captured the Oval Office, that some of the most important details about Russian intentions became public. 

 

By that time, further leaks of emails stolen from the account of Clinton campaign manager John Podesta and posted online by WikiLeaks reinforced suspicions that the hacking efforts weren’t just meant to sow chaos by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government  but were aimed at aiding the Trump campaign. The intelligence community confirmed as much in a closed-door meeting with select lawmakers in November, and would make that conclusion public in early January 2017. 

 

Meanwhile, FBI investigators working on the probe were monitoring a large number of interactions between members of the Trump transition team and Russian officials.  

Within a few weeks of Trump’s inauguration, those interactions would cost a prominent member of the Trump administration his job. National security adviser Flynn, a retired three-star Army general, was forced to resign after it was revealed he had lied to the FBI about his communications with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. 

 

Flynn’s fate led, albeit indirectly, to the Russia investigation being handed over to Mueller in spring 2017. 

 

Trump’s choice for attorney general, former Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, recused himself from supervising the Russian investigation because he had served as a senior adviser to the Trump campaign, which posed a conflict of interest. That decision angered Trump, and left the Justice Department’s second-in-command, Rosenstein, in charge of the investigation. FBI Director James Comey disclosed the existence of the investigation during a testimony before Congress in March. 

 

In private meetings with Comey, Trump demanded “loyalty” from the career law enforcement officer, and pressed him to drop the investigation into Flynn, Comey later testified. Comey refused the president’s request. 

 

By May, Trump fired Comey, saying later in a TV interview that he did so largely because of the Russia investigation, to which he strongly objected.  

  

To insulate the investigation from political interference, Rosenstein on May 17 appointed Mueller as special counsel for the Russia investigation. 

 

In his letter appointing Mueller, Rosenstein authorized the special counsel to investigate “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump; and any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.”  

 

Mueller’s mandate was later expanded to include whether Trump had obstructed justice. 

 

Following Comey’s firing, Andrew McCabe, then the bureau’s acting director, quietly ordered two separate investigations to examine whether Trump had obstructed justice and whether he was acting as an agent of Russia.  

​Stream of indictments, guilty pleas 

 

In the months after Mueller took over, the public began to see the fruits of an investigation that had, at that point, been ongoing for nearly a year. 

 

In July, Papadopoulos was arrested and charged with lying to the FBI. He later pleaded guilty and received a two-week prison sentence. 

 

In October, former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates, were both indicted on conspiracy and money laundering charges dating back to work they had done for Russian-supported politicians in Ukraine years earlier.  

 

The indictments had nothing to do with the Trump campaign specifically, but were widely seen as providing prosecutors with leverage over Manafort and Gates, who would likely have been privy to any collusion that might have occurred during the election. 

 

The next month, Flynn entered a guilty plea to a charge of lying to the FBI, and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in multiple investigations. 

 

In February 2018, Mueller’s office unsealed an indictment of 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies, charging them with conspiracy to interfere with U.S. elections. Months later, 12 other Russians were indicted and charged with hacking the email system of the Democratic National Committee and others.  

 

The following months marked a series of major events in the investigation. 

 

In late February, Gates pleaded guilty and promised to assist in further investigations. In April, FBI agents raided the home and office of Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen. 

 

In June, Mueller expanded the charges against Manafort to include witness tampering and obstruction of justice, and also named suspected Russian intelligence officer and Manafort business partner Konstantin Kilimnik in an indictment. 

 

By August, Manafort was convicted in the first of two trials for his illicit business practices, and Cohen pleaded guilty of campaign finance violations — implicating Trump in at least one crime — in a case handed off by Mueller to the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. Notably, though, neither of the convictions touched on Russian election interference. 

 

Manafort later pleaded guilty of additional crimes and  agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in exchange for leniency. He would lose that consideration after Mueller and a federal judge determined that he had continued lying to investigators after striking his plea deal.  

Cohen pleaded guilty to a further charge of lying to Congress and was sentenced to three years in prison.  

 

An agreement and another arrest 

 

After more than a year of sparring over whether Trump would consent to be interviewed by the special counsel’s office, an agreement was reached in late November 2018 in which the president instead submitted written answers to a series of questions from investigators. 

 

In January 2019, Trump associate Roger Stone was arrested and charged with obstruction of justice, five counts of making false statements to Congress, and one count of witness tampering. Investigators had been interested in his potential communication with Russian hackers and their associates during the 2016 election. 

 

‘Racist, cheat, con man’  

 

During three days of testimony on Capitol Hill in late February, Cohen lashed out at Trump, his former boss.  

 

During his opening statement to lawmakers, Cohen called Trump, among other things, a “racist,” “cheat” and “con man.” He also produced documentary evidence that allegedly proved the president’s participation in a criminal conspiracy to conceal illicit campaign contributions in the form of payment of hush money to prevent adult-film star Stormy Daniels from going public with her allegation that she and Trump had a sexual liaison years earlier. 

 

Cohen also said, “Questions have been raised about whether I know of direct evidence that Mr. Trump or his campaign colluded with Russia. I do not. I want to be clear.”  

 

He did say, though, that he had “suspicions” about connections between the Trump family and Russians who worked to influence the election.  

​Changing cast members 

 

Today, as the investigation concludes, it is operating under the direction of a different set of presidential appointees. 

 

Trump’s frustration with Sessions finally boiled over in late 2018, resulting in Sessions’ forced resignation. He was replaced on a temporary basis by his chief of staff, Matthew Whitaker. After a delay, Trump appointed William Barr to fill the role. 

 

Barr, in his confirmation hearing, told senators he would commit to allowing the Mueller probe to run its course. He was less forthcoming when asked to guarantee that the results would be made public. 

 

“My goal will be to provide as much transparency as I can consistent with the law,” he said. 

Masood Farivar contributed to this report.

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US Government Posts $234 Billion Deficit in February

The U.S. federal government posted a $234 billion budget deficit in February, according to data released Friday by the Treasury Department.

Analysts polled by Reuters had expected a $227 billion deficit for the month.

The Treasury said federal spending in February was $401 billion, up 8 percent from the same month in 2018, while receipts were $167 billion, up 7 percent compared to February 2018.

The deficit for the fiscal year to date was $544 billion, compared with $391 billion in the comparable period the year earlier.

When adjusted for calendar effects, the deficit was $547 billion for the fiscal year to date versus $439 billion in the comparable prior period.

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Mueller Concludes Russia Probe, Delivers Report to AG Barr

Special counsel Robert Mueller on Friday turned over his long-awaited final report on the contentious Russia investigation that has cast a dark shadow over Donald Trump’s presidency, entangled Trump’s family and resulted in criminal charges against some of the president’s closest associates.  

  

The comprehensive report, still confidential, marks the end of Mueller’s probe but sets the stage for big public fights to come. The next steps are up to Trump’s attorney general, to Congress and, in all likelihood, to federal courts.  

  

The Justice Department said Mueller delivered his final report to Attorney General William Barr and officially concluded his probe of Russian election interference and possible coordination with Trump associates. The report will now be reviewed by Barr, who has said he will write his own account communicating Mueller’s findings to Congress and the American public. 

​Quick advisory

Barr said he could send his account to Congress quickly. 

 

“I am reviewing the report and anticipate that I may be in a position to advise you of the special counsel’s principal conclusions as soon as this weekend,” Barr said in his letter the top Republicans and Democrats on the House and Senate Judiciary committees. 

 

With no details released at this point, it’s not known whether Mueller’s report answers the core questions of his investigation: Did Trump’s campaign collude with the Kremlin to sway the 2016 presidential election in favor of the celebrity businessman? Also, did Trump take steps later, including by firing his FBI director, to obstruct the probe?  

  

But the delivery of the report does mean the investigation has concluded without any public charges of a criminal conspiracy between the campaign and Russia, or of obstruction by the president.  

  

It’s unclear what steps Mueller will take if he uncovered what he believes to be criminal wrongdoing by Trump, in light of Justice Department legal opinions that have held that sitting presidents may not be indicted.  

  

The mere delivery of a confidential report will set off immediate demands, including in the Democratic-led House, for full release of Mueller’s findings. Barr has said he wants to make as much public as possible, and any efforts to withhold details will prompt a tussle between the Justice Department and lawmakers who may subpoena Mueller and his investigators to testify before Congress. Such a move by Democrats would likely be vigorously contested by the Trump administration.   

The conclusion of Mueller’s investigation does not remove legal peril for the president. Trump faces a separate Justice Department investigation in New York into hush money payments during the campaign to two women who say they had sex with him years before the election. He’s also been implicated in a potential campaign finance violation by his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, who says Trump asked him to arrange the transactions. Federal prosecutors, also in New York, have been investigating foreign contributions made to the president’s inaugural committee.  

Russian assault

  

No matter the findings in Mueller’s report, the investigation has already illuminated Russia’s assault on the American political system, painted the Trump campaign as eager to exploit the release of hacked Democratic emails and exposed lies by Trump aides aimed at covering up their Russia-related contacts. Over the 21-month investigation, Mueller has brought charges against 34 people, including six aides and advisers to the president, and three companies.  

The special counsel brought a sweeping indictment accusing Russian military intelligence officers of hacking Democrat Hillary Clinton’s campaign and other Democratic groups during the 2016 election. He charged another group of Russians with carrying out a large-scale social media disinformation campaign against the American political process that also sought to help Trump and hurt Clinton.  

  

Closer to the president, Mueller secured convictions against a campaign chairman who cheated banks and dodged his taxes, a national security adviser who lied about his Russian contacts and a campaign aide who misled the FBI about his knowledge of stolen emails.    

Cohen, the president’s former lawyer, pleaded guilty in New York to campaign finance violations arising from the hush money payments, and in the Mueller probe to lying to Congress about a Moscow real estate deal. Another Trump confidant, Roger Stone, is awaiting trial on charges that he lied about his pursuit of Russian-hacked emails ultimately released by WikiLeaks. It’s unclear whether any of the aides who have been convicted, all of whom have pleaded guilty and cooperated with the investigators, might angle for a pardon. Trump has left open the idea of pardons.  

Trump defenses

  

Along the way, Trump lawyers and advisers repeatedly evolved their public defenses to deal with the onslaught of allegations from the investigation. Where once Trump and his aides had maintained that there were no connections between the campaign and Russia, by the end of the probe Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani was routinely making the argument that even if the two sides did collude, it wasn’t necessarily a crime. The goalpost shifting reflected the administration’s challenge in adopting a singular narrative to fend off allegations.  

  

Equally central to Mueller’s work is his inquiry into whether the president tried to obstruct the investigation. Since the special counsel’s appointment in May 2017, Trump has increasingly tried to undermine the probe by calling it a “witch hunt” and repeatedly proclaiming there was “NO COLLUSION” with Russia. But Trump also took certain acts as president that caught Mueller’s attention and have been scrutinized for possible obstruction.  

  

One week before Mueller’s appointment, Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, later saying he was thinking of “this Russia thing” at the time.  

  

He mercilessly harangued Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing from the Russia investigation two months before Mueller was named special counsel, a move that left the president without a perceived loyalist atop the probe. And he helped draft a misleading statement on Air Force One as a Trump Tower meeting between his eldest son and a Kremlin-connected lawyer was about to become public.  

  

The meeting itself became part of Mueller’s investigation, entangling Donald Trump Jr. in the probe. Mueller’s team also interviewed the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, multiple times.  

  

Even as Trump blasted Mueller’s team, his White House and campaign produced thousands of documents for the special counsel, and dozens of his aides were interviewed. The president submitted written answers to Mueller regarding the Russia investigation, but he refused to be interviewed.

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Interference in Elections? The View From Moscow

As U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller prepares to file a report of his findings in the investigation into Russia’s alleged role in the 2016 presidential election, pressure over how to handle his conclusions is building in the U.S. The Kremlin strongly denies meddling and says it is a victim of the U.S. political infighting. But what do Russian citizens know of Mueller’s work and the accusations? VOA’s Igor Tsikhanenka discussed the topic with experts in Moscow.

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Trump Signs Campus Free Speech Executive Order

President Trump is signing an executive order requiring U.S. colleges to reaffirm protection of free speech or risk losing federal research funding. The order is a sign of support to conservatives who say their voices have been stifled on liberal campuses. But civil liberty activists are concerned the move is politically motivated and see it as contradictory to Trump’s own attacks on freedom of speech. White House Correspondent Patsy Widakuswara has this report.

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First Somali-American Congresswoman Ignites Controversy in Diverse Minneapolis

Somali-American Representative Ilhan Omar, a Democrat from Minnesota and one of the first Muslim women in the U.S. Congress, has ignited a controversy. Many in her party were infuriated by her comments suggesting U.S. lawmakers’ support for Israel was swayed by money and that some members of Congress had an allegiance to the U.S. and Israel. VOA’s Congressional correspondent Katherine Gypson reports from Omar’s diverse district, where she has opened a difficult conversation for Jews and Muslims.

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AP Fact Check: Trump Falsely Says Mueller Appointment Biased

Seeking to discredit a highly anticipated report on the Russia investigation, President Donald Trump is attacking the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller by falsely claiming it was biased and conflicted.

He suggested in remarks to reporters Wednesday that Mueller’s appointment was inappropriately made by the Justice Department and that Mueller arbitrarily decided “out of the blue” to put together the report as part of his two-year probe into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and possible coordination with the Trump campaign. That’s not the case.

Trump also falsely asserted the U.S. economy is the greatest ever and overstated the nature of his win in the 2016 race.

 

A look at the claims and the reality:

 

RUSSIA INVESTIGATION

 

TRUMP: “Again I say, a deputy, because of the fact that the attorney general didn’t have the courage to do it himself, a deputy that’s appointed appoints another man to write a report.”

 

THE FACTS: The attorney general at the time, Jeff Sessions didn’t lack courage in the matter; he lacked standing.

He recused himself from anything to do with the Trump campaign’s interactions with Russia because his work for the campaign placed him in a potential conflict of interest. It then fell to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to decide whether to appoint a special counsel, and he did.

 

___

 

TRUMP: “I know that he’s conflicted and I know that his best friend is Comey, who’s a bad cop.”

 

THE FACTS: Though James Comey succeeded Mueller as FBI director, and though they served together in the Bush administration, the men are not known to be social friends.

There is certainly no evidence, as Trump has repeatedly suggested, that they are “best friends.”

 

___

 

TRUMP, on the Mueller report: “It’s sort of interesting that a man out of the blue just writes a report.”

 

THE FACTS: Mueller didn’t wake up one day “out of the blue” and decide he wanted to write a report. It’s mandated under the regulation that spells out the grounds for his appointment and duties as special counsel.

 

___

 

2016 ELECTION

 

TRUMP: “I got 306 electoral votes against 223. That’s a tremendous victory. I got 63 million more — I got 63 million votes. And now somebody just writes a report?”

 

THE FACTS: He did not have as lopsided a victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton as he suggests.

 

Trump did indeed win nearly 63 million votes in the 2016 election, but it was fewer than the 65 million for Clinton, who won the popular vote after racking up lopsided victories in big states such as New York and California, according to election data compiled by The Associated Press. Clinton, however, lost the presidency due to Trump’s winning margin in the Electoral College, which came after he narrowly won less populous Midwestern states, including Michigan and Wisconsin.

 

As is typical, Trump also misstates the Electoral College vote. The official count was 304 to 227, according to an AP tally of the electoral votes in every state.

 

___

 

ECONOMY

 

TRUMP: “I want to see the report. And you know who will want to see it? The tens of millions of people that love the fact that we have the greatest economy we’ve ever had.”

 

THE FACTS: The president is vastly exaggerating what has been a mild improvement in growth and hiring. The economy is healthy but not nearly one of the greatest in U.S. history.

The economy expanded at an annual rate of 2.9 percent last year, a solid pace. But it was just the fastest in four years. In the late 1990s, growth topped 4 percent for four straight years, a level it has not yet reached under Trump. And growth even reached 7.2 percent in 1984.

 

Independent economists widely expect slower growth this year as the effects of the Trump administration’s tax cuts fade, trade tensions and slower global growth hold back exports, and higher interest rates make it more expensive to borrow to buy cars and homes.

 

 

 

 

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Mindful of History, Democrats Hold Off on Attempt to Impeach Trump

Democratic congressional leaders have, for the time being, ruled out pursuing impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump. That could all change depending on what is in the eagerly awaited report on the Russia investigation being prepared by special counsel Robert Mueller.

On his way to Ohio Wednesday, Trump told reporters outside the White House that the public should have access to the Mueller report. 

“Let it come out. Let the people see,” Trump said. “Let’s see whether or not it is legit.”

The decision by Democratic congressional leaders to pass on impeachment seems to be mindful of recent history, especially the Republican-led impeachment effort against President Bill Clinton in 1998.

In announcing her opposition to impeachment, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said simply that Trump “wasn’t worth it.”

Pelosi is sticking to her position despite pressure from liberal activists.

“Impeachment is a divisive issue in our country, and let us see what the facts are, what the law is, and what the behavior is of the president,” Pelosi recently told reporters at the Capitol.​

WATCH: Mindful of History, Democrats Hold off on Impeaching Trump

​Trump: ‘Great job’

For President Trump, the idea of impeachment is, not surprisingly, a non-starter.

“Well, you can’t impeach somebody that is doing a great job. That is the way I view it,” Trump said when asked about the issue in January.

Late last year, Trump told Reuters that he was not concerned about impeachment.

“I think that the people would revolt if that happened,” he said.

Trump’s Republican allies in Congress are also poised to leap to his defense.

“I don’t think it is good for the country,” House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters last week. “The Democrats made a decision (to want to impeach) on the day President Trump one.”

Some Democrats want to keep pushing, including former Hillary Clinton senior adviser Philippe Reines. Reines wrote recently in the New York Times that Democrats would be doing a “civic duty” to pursue impeachment.

“There is a mounting political cost to not impeaching Mr. Trump,” Reines wrote last week. “He will hail it as exoneration and he will go into the 2020 campaign under the banner, ‘I Told You So.’”​

Polls say no

Recent polls show most voters do not favor impeachment at this time. A Quinnipiac University poll earlier this month found that 59 percent of those surveyed do not think House Democrats should initiate impeachment proceedings against the president, while 35 percent support the idea.

Given that the 2020 election cycle is underway, Democrats may prefer to have the voters try to oust Trump during next year’s election, according to George Washington University analyst Matt Dallek.

“By the time impeachment proceedings were even to ramp up, you are talking about the end of 2019 or early 2020,” Dallek told VOA this week. “That creates its own complication because there is another remedy for removing a president and it is called the election.”

​Political risk

Democrats clearly recall what happened to Bill Clinton in 1998. Clinton lied about and tried to cover up his affair with intern Monica Lewinsky, which led to his impeachment by the House. Clinton remained in office after he was acquitted in a trial in the Senate.

Historically, impeachment has been a rare event. Clinton was only the second president impeached by the House. Andrew Johnson was the first back in 1868. Johnson avoided removal by a single vote in the Senate.

Presidential impeachments have been rare and that is by design, according to University of Virginia expert Larry Sabato.

“They (the founders) did not want presidents impeached and convicted and thrown out of office for minor offenses. They expected Congress to do it only in extreme circumstances.”

Republicans paid a price for the Clinton impeachment, losing five House seats in the 1998 midterm elections. And Sabato said that lesson could have resonance for Democrats today as they mull impeaching Trump.

“Given the fact that the Republicans took a wounded Bill Clinton and made him almost invulnerable for the rest of his term, it should serve as a warning to Democrats,” he said.

Experts also note that the damage to Republicans from the Clinton impeachment was not long-lasting. George W. Bush narrowly beat Al Gore in the 2000 presidential election, and the political fallout from Clinton’s scandal may have cost Gore the presidency.

​Senate obstacle

The biggest obstacle facing any impeachment effort of Trump is the Republican-controlled Senate. Democrats would have to bring over at least 20 Republican senators in any impeachment trial in order to get a conviction and remove the president from office.

A vote to impeach a president only requires a majority vote in the House, now controlled by Democrats. But in a Senate trial, it would take 67 of 100 senators to vote for conviction in order to remove the president from office, and Democrats concede that is not a possibility at the moment.

“It has less than zero chance of passing the Senate,” Sabato said. “Why would you go through all this in the House of Representatives, torpedo your entire agenda to impeach Trump in order to send it to the Senate to have him exonerated and not convicted?”

​Nixon case

President Richard Nixon was not impeached over the Watergate scandal in 1974, but the process was well underway. The House began impeachment proceedings through the House Judiciary Committee and was preparing to move Articles of Impeachment to the House floor when Nixon decided to resign.

Several Republican senators including Barry Goldwater went to the White House and made it clear to Nixon that he had lost Republican support and would not survive an impeachment trial in the Senate.

Some analysts predict that President Trump could face renewed calls for his ouster depending on the findings of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

“I think if the Mueller report indicates some serious wrongdoing by the president and his campaign, it really empowers Democrats to begin deliberating how to move forward with impeachment proceedings,” said Brookings Institution scholar John Hudak.

But other experts caution that it would have to be something quite serious for Republicans to even consider abandoning the president.

Given the lack of bipartisan support for impeachment at the moment, it does seem more likely that Trump will face the voters again in 2020 before he has to contend with a Democratic-led impeachment inquiry in the House.

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Mindful of History, Democrats Hold off on Impeaching Trump

Democrats were mindful of history when leaders decided for now not to begin impeachment proceedings on President Trump, particularly the case of Bill Clinton in 1998.

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Acting Pentagon Chief Subject of Ethics Probe

The Pentagon’s Office of Inspector General has launched an investigation into allegations that Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan violated ethics rules by promoting his former employer, Boeing, while serving in the Trump administration.

The watch group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed an ethics complaint last week claiming that Shanahan had appeared to promote Boeing and disparage former competitors such as Lockheed Martin in his statements.

One example listed in the complaint was the allegation that Shanahan pushed the Pentagon to buy more Boeing-made F-15X fighter jets over other fighter jets made by Boeing’s competitors.

The Secretary’s office issued a statement Wednesday asserting that “Shanahan welcomes the Inspector General’s review.”

“Acting Secretary Shanahan has at all times remained committed to upholding his ethics agreement filed with the DoD.This agreement ensures any matters pertaining to Boeing are handled by appropriate officials within the Pentagon to eliminate any perceived or actual conflict of interest issue(s) with Boeing,” the statement read.

Shanahan served as deputy secretary of defense at the Pentagon after spending more than three decades at Boeing.

Replaces Jim Mattis

He stepped into the role of acting secretary of defense after former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned on Dec. 20, saying in his resignation letter that President Donald Trump had the “right to have a secretary of defense whose views are better aligned” with his.

The president decided to replace Mattis before his expected resignation date, tapping Shanahan to take the post as of Jan. 1, 2019.

Shanahan has had to repel questions about potential conflicts of interest since taking office.

Last week, he told Congress he welcomed any such investigation into his actions at the Pentagon. In January, he called claims of favoritism “just noise.”

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