As the congressional investigation of Russia’s involvement in the 2016 presidential election has begun to escalate, international political economy professor Clint Peinhardt spoke to The Mercury about the possible ramifications the probing could have for both Donald Trump’s presidency and the future of American politics.
On Oct. 30, Robert Mueller, ex-FBI Director and chosen head of the special investigation, announced that the counsel was bringing forth its first criminal charges. Paul Manafort, Richard Gates, and George Papadopoulos, all of whom served as policy advisors to Trump during the campaign, were indicted on numerous counts of conspiracy against the United States, being an unregistered agent of a foreign principal and making false statements to the FBI.
Peinhardt said one must keep in mind the original objective of the investigation, which is less a criminal prosecution and more of a search for information, answers and closure.
“We want to understand exactly what the impact was, who was involved and whether there might have more direct ties (to Russia) than we understood previously,” Peinhardt said. “I think that’s important because only once we have a sense that somebody has fully investigated all these different … lines of reasoning will we understand that it’s unlikely to happen in the future and what we can do to prevent it.”
Peinhardt said that as long there is a majority Republican Congress currently in place, chances of possible charges being brought against the President are slim
“This is much more speculative, but the only thing that I think could be tied directly to the president is obstruction of justice which I understand is very difficult to prove under the law,” Peinhardt said. “As long as Republicans control the House and the Senate, it’s not going to happen. But I think it’s already impacted his ability to get things done, and I think it’s impacted his public opinion … in the United States and maybe also around the world.”
President Trump has been openly opposed to the probing into possible Russian collusion, calling the investigation a political “witch hunt.” Peinhardt said that, despite such rhetoric and Congress’s infamously divided nature, the legislature has already responded to the allegations with the bipartisan passing of a bill that not only implemented new sanctions against Russia, but also provides Congress with powers to block any attempts by the White House to ease those sanctions. Peinhardt said he looks to acts such as this to prove that, when necessary, Congress can still behave as a united front.
“The shockingly bipartisan sanctions that passed Congress earlier this year were the most single-minded thing Congress has done in a long time,” Peinhardt said. “I go back to that vote on the sanctions and I feel like that’s really a positive signal that, for the stuff that really matters, maybe we can still think in country-level terms, and that there could be bipartisan agreement on some things that would make this less likely (to happen) in the future.”