Four days after he became only the third president in United States history to be impeached, Donald Trump has settled on an unexpected strategy for combating the political damage that could result from his impeachment, according to a report Saturday by CBS News. Trump will simply deny that he has actually been impeached.
Denying the existence of something that is widely known and reported may appear to be a bizarre and futile strategy. But it appears consistent with what the mental health group Duty To Warn called a signature feature of the Trump administration — “gaslighting.”
Gaslighting differs from straightforward lying, in that the objective is not simply to deceive the victim, but to force that victim to “question their reality.” The technique, according to experts, is commonly used by “abusers, dictators, narcissists, and cult leaders.”
The U.S. House of Representatives voted on Wednesday to impeach Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, stemming from his effort to leverage military aid to force Ukraine to investigate Democrat Joe Biden. But the Trump White House is “considering making the case that Mr. Trump has not been impeached,” according to the CBS News report.
Trump is “baffled” by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to hold onto the impeachment articles, rather than transmit them to the Senate immediately and allow a trial to get underway, according to the report. But with Congress in recess for the holidays, Trump feels “confident” he can win a “messaging war” over his impeachment “via Twitter,” CBS News reported.
Shortly after the House approved the two articles of impeachment, Pelosi announced that she would not transmit the articles of impeachment to the Senate until Democrats were assured that a Senate trial would be a fair one. Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said publicly that he will not be “impartial” and that he intends to run a brief trial with no witnesses.
But according to the legal site Law & Crime, Trump is likely to simply deny that he has been impeached — citing an article published online Friday by Harvard Law Professor Noah Feldman. In the article, Feldman argued that impeachment does not become real until the articles are sent to the Senate.
“Their own lawyer said there’s no impeachment,” Trump said at a speech to conservative high school students Saturday, as quoted by Law & Crime. “What are we doing here?”
Feldman was called by Democrats to testify before the House Judiciary Committee last week, where he argued that Trump deserved impeachment. But other constitutional scholars were quick to disagree with Feldman, noting that the Constitution gives the “sole power of impeachment” to the House, as the House.gov history site explains.
Feldman’s Harvard Law colleague, Laurence Tribe, called Feldman’s reasoning “clever but wholly mistaken,” in a Twitter post Friday.
“He was impeached on Dec 18, 2019. He will forever remain impeached,” Tribe said of Trump. “Period.”