‘Legalities Have Secondary Importance’: Trump Impeachment Success Hinges on Winning Public Opinion

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United States Capitol - Sputnik International
US President Donald Trump has taken on former South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy as his outside counsel during his impeachment inquiry. While there could potentially be a trial in the Senate, the real battle will be won and lost in the court of public opinion, a former FBI special agent told Sputnik.

Gowdy, who once chaired the House Oversight and Reform Committee that is now leading the charge toward impeaching Trump, takes on the job as subpoenas have been issued by House Democrats to a slew of Trump associates, as well as the White House itself. Pat A. Cipollone, Trump’s White House counsel, told House Democratic leaders in a Tuesday letter that the White House did not intend to cooperate with the subpoena.

Coleen Rowley, a former FBI special agent who in 2002 was named Time Magazine Person of the Year along with two other whistleblowers, told Radio Sputnik’s Loud and Clear Wednesday that in an impeachment case, what matters is how well the two sides sell their narrative to the public, and not the technical legalities of the official’s guilt or innocence.


“Who knows if it’s unconstitutional or not, until it goes up to a court? The legalities have secondary importance in this case, because as a precedent, when [former US President Richard] Nixon … didn’t cooperate and defied congressional requests for information and tapes and that kind of thing, even though perhaps he would’ve had a legal argument … what happens as a pragmatic matter is politically, it doesn’t play well to the public. And you can kind of see where the public opinion polls are already not going in Trump’s favor. It may change if Trey Gowdy can launch a more effective public relations campaign than [US House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi has already done, but she is relying on the fact that Trump’s not cooperating and seems to have some success right now in doing so.”

However, Rowley cautioned that Trump “does have a point” in objecting to the probe on the basis that it wasn’t approved by a vote in the House of Representatives, but rather opened by a small group of Democratic House leaders, including Pelosi and the leaders of key House committees, including Foreign Affairs, Intelligence and Oversight. 

“Trey Gowdy is pretty experienced. He was pretty effective in debunking the Russiagate,” Rowley said. “He was one of the few that was vocal about it, and so we’ll have to see if Trey Gowdy can” sell Trump’s point to the American public.

“The reality is that if Trump had asked for assistance of a foreign country in investigating corruption, and investigating how the Russiagate origins got started - if he had done that in a way that he didn’t ask ‘for a favor,’ this might all be different,” she said.

“In a real criminal case, you really can’t imply a quid pro quo. I have seen many, many actual … FBI criminal investigations that failed for lack of a quid pro quo. So, you really need one - it’s not really obvious in the conversation itself. But this first whistleblower tried to piece together publicly available news articles. He tried to say that that makes for the quid pro quo - all of this additional connecting of the dots with newspaper articles.”

“And with impeachment, of course, the legalities are not going to be as important. Impeaching is really a matter of public opinion, and when, again - if Republicans start to jump overboard on this and say, politically, not principally or whatever, politically we do not want to support Trump any longer, that will be the end. And that’s what happened to Nixon. So I think that’s what you’re really looking at. You’re not looking at a court of law.”

“In a court of law, you actually have to have a very strong quid pro quo. It’s actually the problem with proving public corruption,” she said, noting that even if it couldn’t be proven that former US Vice President Joe Biden had put pressure on Kiev to fire its prosecutor general to save his son from a corruption probe, attempts by Ukrainian energy company Burisma Holdings to curry favor with both Biden and Kiev “is what really matters. That doesn’t play well for Biden’s chances in the future. I think regardless of what they can actually prove on details,” the fact that Hunter Biden was using his father’s position “is quite apparent to almost everybody.”

However, Rowley cautioned that decreasing trust in US intelligence agencies among the US public could seriously hurt the Democrats’ position.

“When you erode trust the way the FBI, and certainly the CIA [has] … I think that this is a problem for the future,” she said. “The leadership, especially [former CIA Director John] Brennan and [former Director of National Intelligence James] Clapper and [former FBI Director James] Comey and lots of them, have actually sided now with this Russiagate. Russiagate started this all, and the intelligence community is what people like Rachel Maddow rely on.”

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