FBI investigations, resignations, and now a warrant, the Trump-Russia scandal keeps on going.
In March, FBI director James Comey confirmed the agency was investigating potential ties between President Trump’s election campaign and Russia.
This was the first time it was officially confirmed by the US intelligence committee that something was going on behind the scenes to determine if the campaign had anything to with Russia’s interference in the election.
A ranking member of the House intelligence committee, Democrat Adam Schiff, told MSNBC that: “There is more than circumstantial evidence now.”
Since then, it has been announced that the agency obtained a warrant last summer to monitor the communications of a former foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, Carter Page.
Page was named in the unverified dossier about Trump’s ties to Russia as a liaison between the campaign and Russian officials. The FBI is thought to be investigating his trips to Moscow and contact with at least one Russian official last year.
Since Trump gained office, his administration hasn’t been able to shake off its alleged links to Russia.
The big question: could links with Russia be enough to impeach the US president?
The term impeachment can be thrown around by Trump’s critics but it’s actually a lot harder than it looks.
Timeline for Donald Trump
The House Committee on the Judiciary will investigate relevant allegations — usually relating to high treason or corruption, and if they determine there are grounds for removing the president, then there is a further process.
The House of Representatives needs to vote whether to impeach the president when it will proceed to the Senate to hold a trial, overseen by the Supreme Court.
Two-thirds of the Senate needs to agree to the charge for impeachment to occur. Then the president is out and the vice-president is in.
“The claims around Russia may not fit into constitutional grounds [around impeachment] but what it could do is raise other questions about breaches of public office in the context of other forms of exploitation or corruption, if it could be proved,” Phil Henry, lecturer in sociology and criminology at the University of Derby, told Verdict.
The big question here is how much information Trump was aware of in terms of the hacking issues, thinks Henry. “That in actual fact, he [could have] received his presidential position as a consequence of corruption on the journey to being president.”
Though Trump’s actions so far may be unprecedented in terms of what presidents have done before, it isn’t as easy as deciding his actions are right or wrong, and that means he will be gone from power.
No president has been officially impeached before: president Johnson in 1868 and Clinton in 1998 were acquitted at trial by the Senate. Nixon resigned before he could be impeached over the Watergate scandal.
At this stage, it is about waiting to see what Congress’ investigations into the Russia links bring in before introducing something as serious as impeachment.
The story so far…
According to a report by The New York Times in February, intercepted phone calls allegedly show that Trump’s election campaign had multiple communications with senior Russian intelligence officials prior to the election.
Questions have been raised over Trump’s apparent admiration of Russia and its president Vladimir Putin in the past, not least his appeal made to Russia back in July to dig up information on Trump’s US election opponent Hillary Clinton.
It later turned out that Russian cyber attacks targeted Clinton and the Democratic National Committee, something that arguably damaged her election campaign.
What do these allegations mean for foreign policy? And is this unusual relationship with Russia enough to remove Trump from power?
This Russian connection non-sense is merely an attempt to cover-up the many mistakes made in Hillary Clinton's losing campaign.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 15, 2017
David Dunn, professor of international politics at the University of Birmingham told Verdict that this type of behaviour is unprecedented but Trump was always an unprecedented choice for president
“It wouldn’t be unusual for potential campaigns to have contact with other governments. It is highly unusual, indeed unprecedented, for them to have contacts with foreign intelligence services – the two are quite distinctive.
Verdict Email The issues you care about
“It’s even more unusual for a presidential candidate in the form of Trump to actually call upon a foreign intelligence service to actually find and release classified emails that [implicated] his opponent.
“And of course, it’s highly unusual and unprecedented for a foreign government to interfere in an election, in the form of hacking the DNC emails and send them to Wikileaks. All these things are a new departure,” said Dunn.
After the resignation of Flynn this week when details of his calls with Russian intelligence officials prior to gaining office were leaked, Republicans and Democrats on both sides of the spectrum have pledged to deepen their investigations of Russian involvement in the presidential election.
The Washington Post reported that two top members of the Senate intelligence committee, Republican senator Richard Burr and Democrat senator Mark Warner announced the committee’s probe will include an examination of any contacts between Trump campaign officials and the Russian government.
“This in itself open up questions – the conflict of interest between Trump and his business associations, and other members of the administration who also have conflicts of interests with their business links with foreign powers, such as Russia and its associates,” said Dunn.
“You’re tugging on a bit of string here that could potentially unravel the integrity of the whole administration.”
Trump’s close relationship with Putin opens up concerns for Europe too. If Trump makes a deal with Putin to keep him as an ally in the fight against radical Islamic terrorism, Dunn believes we could see Russia given a sphere of influence in Europe, “whether that’s just in Ukraine, or Crimea, or if that extends elsewhere”.
“There is a fear of a great power deal [between US and Russia] that crops out the interests of Europe and other allies,” he said.
Who else has been caught up in the scandal?
As well as Flynn, the attorney Ggeneral Jeff Sessions found himself caught up in the accusations, which eventually saw Flynn resign.
During Sessions’ January confirmation, he told the Senate he had had no contacts with the Russians during the presidential campaign. However, the US government has confirmed he met Russia’s ambassador twice during the campaign last year.
The Democrats called for his resignation, accusing Sessions of “lying under oath”, however he seems to have shaken off the accusations since.