As the investigation into Trump’s potential ties with Russia proceeds, many commentators are itching to know when the first signs of his downfall will appear.
Will it be from the testimony of Mike Flynn, the former National Security Advisor who left after failing to disclose his contact with Russian officials? Or will Robert Mueller eventually probe deeper to find the smoking gun?
Despite the scrutiny that Trump is undergoing, it is highly unlikely that direct evidence of collusion with Russian intelligence agencies will be uncovered. It would take a stunning amount of incompetence to leave behind tangible evidence of collusion with a hostile nation.
Any obviously incriminating communications that took place between his team and Russia is likely to have been conducted in a way that obfuscates the crime. Trump might be brash and inexperienced, but it unlikely that he is incompetent enough to not take obvious precautions when committing a crime as serious as this.
Any case brought up against Trump is going to require extensive investigation and will likely be extremely complex.
Multiple witnesses will have to step forward to construct a credible narrative that there was willing and deliberate attempt to obtain damaging information about Hillary Clinton. Some of these witnesses might only testify if they are granted immunity from prosecution, and this determines a careful deliberation of whether the information they are providing is valuable to a case or not.
The hard evidence that is left behind — phone calls, emails, and other forms of correspondence, are more likely to be snippets that can support a prosecution narrative rather than an incriminating document saying, “I did it.” Instead, it is likely that multiple layers of contacts were used, along with coded language to mask the real intent of the message.
It is very likely that there is enough evidence out there to press for charges against Trump, but the issue is that the amount of time to gather and analyze that evidence is going to be a lengthy process for the reasons above.
A proper case that is viable enough to recommend impeachment will take several more months, if not years to bring forward. For reference, the Watergate scandal took place in mid-1972, and Nixon formally resigned in 1974. Similarly, the Clinton impeachment process only began in late 1998, almost two years after his affair with Monica Lewinsky ended.
If the current scandal is anything like those of the past, a Trump impeachment is not anywhere near the horizon — there’s still a lot of work to be done on the case, and it could be another year and a half before the actual extent of his ties with Russia is fully exposed.
That doesn’t mean that Trump is safe from legal issues in the short term.
Evidence related to the current investigation could lead to additional charges that were not originally considered. A full investigation of these links to Russia requires a thorough look into his tax filings, business holdings, real estate and other assets, which could leave him vulnerable to a variety of legal threats unrelated to the election scandal.
It is well known that he has business ties with various foreign nations, some of which are unfriendly to American interests and allies. With his extensive international business holdings, it is highly likely that he has financial ties to Saudi, Chinese and Russian businessmen.
The conflict of interest around these ties is simply unresolvable, as there are far too many opportunities for his business interests to take precedent over his responsibilities as president.
In particular, the Emoluments Clause poses a question of whether it is legal for a president to accept payments from foreign powers, and the constant suspicion that his decisions have political motivations will serve as a roadblock for his agenda proposals in Congress.