The perceived odds of President Donald Trump being impeached or otherwise removed from office before the end of his first full term soared on Friday, Dec. 1, after Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his conversations with the Russian ambassador.
Once the news about Flynn’s guilty plea broke, online betting markets lowered the odds they offer on Trump’s chances of making it to the end of his four-year presidential term.
The belief that Flynn’s troubles will spill over onto Trump is based not simply on Flynn’s own guilty plea, however. ABC News reported that an unnamed “source” said Flynn promised the FBI “full cooperation” in its investigation, and is prepared to testify that Trump himself ordered Flynn to make contact with the Russians, initially to propose a joint effort to fight ISIS in Syria.
The White House responded to Flynn’s guilty plea by saying Flynn misled Trump and his top aides. White House Ty Cobb said in a statement that “Today, Michael Flynn, a former National Security Advisor at the White House for 25 days during the Trump Administration, and a former Obama administration official, entered a guilty plea to a single count of making a false statement to the FBI. The false statements involved mirror the false statements to White House officials which resulted in his resignation in February of this year. Nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than Mr. Flynn. The conclusion of this phase of the Special Counsel’s work demonstrates again that the Special Counsel is moving with all deliberate speed and clears the way for a prompt and reasonable conclusion.”
Of course, if Flynn does indeed testify that his Russian dealings were on Trump’s orders, this testimony would indeed implicate people “other than Mr. Flynn,” including Trump himself, which is why his perceived odds of impeachment soared after Flynn’s plea.
PredictIt.com is an online betting market which specifically asks the question “Will Donald Trump be impeached in his first term?” On Friday morning, before Flynn’s guilty plea, PredictIt gave the odds of Trump’s impeachment at 33 percent. After Flynn’s guilty plea, that went up to 41 percent (as of noon, Eastern Standard Time).
More precisely, on Friday morning it cost 33 cents to place a bet that Trump would eventually be impeached, later raised to 41 cents. (If PredictIt charges 41 cents to place a given bet, that means there’s a 41 percent chance of it happening.)
Granted, the headline “Trump’s odds of impeachment rise” has appeared countless times since he took office last January. On July 12, for example, Fortune magazine ran a piece titled “Trump Impeachment Odds Spike After Donald Trump Jr.’s Russia Emails,” noting that an Irish betting site called PaddyPower was putting odds at 60 percent that Trump would leave the White House before his term officially ends in 2021.
Earlier this month, after Special Counsel Robert Mueller released the first indictments related to his probe into Russian election meddling, PredictIt raised its then-current odds of impeachment to 38 percent.
Of course, if Trump does involuntarily leave office before the official end of his term, “impeachment” is not the only possible exit vehicle. In October 2017, Vanity Fair reported that Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon told Trump the main threat to his presidency was not impeachment but the 25th amendment, which allows for the removal of a president who is “unable to discharge the duties and powers of his office.” (Supposedly, when Bannon warned Trump about the 25th amendment, Trump responded by asking “What’s that?” Vanity Fair also reported that Bannon himself told people he thought Trump’s odds of making it to the end of his term were only 30 percent.)
Flynn’s legal troubles are not the only possible road to impeachment. On Nov. 30, the day before Flynn’s guilty plea, Congressman Al Green gave a speech saying he would try forcing an impeachment vote in the House of Representatives the following week. “I refuse to stand idly by as a billionaire bigot does irreparable harm to my country,” Green said. “A billionaire bigot who tolerates the KKK, but won’t tolerate Islam. A billionaire bigot who tolerates anti-Semitism, racism, sexism, ethnocentrism, xenophobia and homophobia.”
That said: observers predict there’s almost no chance Green’s impeachment bill will pass, given that the majority of seats in the House are held by Republicans. Green has called for Trump’s impeachment before; in May, he said Trump’s firing of then-current FBI director Robert Comey constituted obstruction of justice.
In addition, even if Trump is impeached, “impeachment” does not necessarily guarantee “early removal from office.” Two presidents have already been impeached in U.S. history, and neither one had to leave office as a result. America’s first presidential impeachment was Andrew Johnson, Abraham Lincoln’s vice-president who became president after Lincoln’s assassination.
The House of Representatives voted to impeach Johnson on the grounds that Johnson’s removal and replacement of the then-current Secretary of War violated the Tenure of Office Act. After the House voted to impeach, the matter went to the Senate, where Johnson’s impeachment failed by one vote.
The second and currently last president to be impeached was Bill Clinton, whom the House impeached in 1998 on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. However, as happened with Johnson 130 years earlier, the impeachment vote did not pass the Senate.
Contrary to popular belief, Richard Nixon was never impeached over his involvement in the Watergate break-in or cover-up; he resigned from office before that could happen.