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James Comey's testimony: Donald Trump's image affected, but impeachment seems unlikely

On Thursday, former FBI chief James Comey appeared before a Senate panel to give his sworn testimony regarding US president Donald Trump. The key issue before the Senate was whether Trump had tried to obstruct the FBI investigation into his campaign's links with Russia. Under scrutiny were the nine conversations that Trump had with Comey in 2017, which eventually led to Trump firing the FBI chief on 9 May.

At the moment, the Senate is not looking at Trump's impeachment as its focus is still inquiring into the matter. But Comey's testimony has the potential to be a significant part of the case against Trump. And as calls for his impeachment have grown louder, it is natural to wonder if the testimony could tip the scales against Trump.

Former FBI director James Comey. AP

Former FBI director James Comey. AP

A US president can be impeached for many reasons. Article II of the US Constitution allows a president to be impeached and removed in cases of “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanours." The important ground which has come to the forefront in light of Comey's testimony is obstruction of justice which falls under the last category of "other high crimes and misdemeanours".

Obstruction of justice is not a single crime but a set of overlapping federal crimes which are present in statutes, according to Brandon Garrett, professor of law at the University of Virginia. He says that it is not necessary that a person ends a pending federal proceeding but it is enough that they influenced it.

The importance of Comey's testimony is thus evident. Let's take a look at what the major US publications have to say about the effect it might have on Trump's possible impeachment.

Vox feels that an impeachment is far from imminent. While obstruction of justice is definitely a ground for impeachment, the fact that the Republicans control both the House and the Senate could be enough to keep Trump in the White House for now.

In another piece, Vox asked nine legal experts to weigh in on the Comey testimony. The majority felt that the case for obstruction of justice was quite clear against Trump but it was conditional on the fact whether one chooses to believe Comey or not. For most, Comey is a credible witness to the whole affair which tilts the entire case against Trump.

CNBC too had a similar view of the situation as it said that while it will deal another blow to Trump's public image, it will most likely not be enough for an impeachment. Impeachment is dependent on the legislators so Trump must do something damaging enough to create a wave which can sweep the Republicans into voting against him.

The New York Times does not see Trump's motive as an innocent one. His actions seem like a corrupt attempt to interfere with the administration of justice. The publication feels that given the Republican control of Congress, an impeachment move is unlikely till Special Counsel Robert Mueller completes his inquiry. If however, Mueller recommends an indictment, then impeachment could become a reality really quickly.

The Washington Post recommends great caution when asking for an impeachment. It believes that there is but one shot at impeaching Trump and if a concerted attempt to impeach him fails, then it will be extraordinarily difficult to assemble the resources and political capital a second time.

While it believes that Trump is guilty of many things (which are further brought to light by the testimony), it also recognises that impeachment must be broached with great reluctance. If the result is uncertain, it might be better to save the impeachment option for the future.

The New Yorker ventures that Comey’s testimony may mark the moment when Trump’s biggest legal risk shifted from the Russia probe to his own actions in influencing the probe. The path to impeachment is not a legal and judicial process, but a political one. It is the members of US Congress who decide when a US president has lost the confidence of the public, "because of his judgment or his ability to tell the truth or his capacity to operate the levers of government". While it too is not sure if Comey's testimony would be enough to push Trump over the edge, it does think that Trump has taken a big step in the direction of losing the confidence of the public.

Politico put the question to legal experts and came away with a mixed bag. While some insisted that the case against Trump had gotten stronger, others thought the testimony was just vapid. One aspect remained constant, however, that the testimony did not finish off Trump. His conduct was not proper but that is not enough for an impeachment.

The Atlantic saw a need for further investigation into the matter as the Comey testimony is still not enough. It did, however, feel that everyone needed to be worried about the conduct of the US president and think about the mechanisms which can be used to deal with the situation.

In summary, the publications have looked at the matter from many different perspectives but one conclusion has remained inevitable: Comey's testimony will not be enough. Trump has survived bigger scandals and that reflects badly on the American political system. However, those scandals also make him immune to the little stuff. Comey's testimony, unfortunately, falls in that category. It is quite clear that it will take something really big to push Trump to impeachment. This testimony while adding to the case against Trump, still does not tip the scales completely.

With inputs from AFP

Updated Date: Jun 10, 2017 14:57 PM

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