‘Slow Burn’ Host Leon Neyfakh Explains the Trouble With Impeaching Trump (Podcast)

Neyfakh’s “Slow Burn” goes deep on the Nixon and Clinton impeachments

Slow Burn Leon Neyfakh Clinton Nixon Lewinsky Watergate Martha Mitchell
Slate's Slow Burn

Leon Neyfakh’s “Slow Burn” podcast has dug deeply into the impeachments of Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton — and has a warning for people who want to impeach President Trump.

Neyfakh spoke to us on the “Shoot This Now” podcast, and you can listen on Apple or right here:

Removing President Trump from office is the dream of many on the left — and perhaps even a few within the Trump administration. On Friday, the New York Times reported that Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein floated the possibility of invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office, by contending that he is unfit.

Season 1 of “Slow Burn” focused on the Watergate scandal that brought down President Richard Nixon. Season 2 focuses on the Clinton-Lewinsky affair, which wasn’t enough to drive President Clinton from office — despite the best efforts of Congressional Republicans and independent counsel Kenneth Starr.

While Nixon’s popularity plummeted during the drip-drip-drip of damaging Watergate disclosures, Clinton’s popularity actually spiked after the initial shock of the Lewinsky revelations. “Slow Burn” addresses that surprising turn of events in its latest episode, entitled “God Mode.” You can listen to it — and every episode of Slate’s “Slow Burn” — right here.

During our “Shoot This Now” interview, we asked Neyfakh if he had any advice for Democrats thinking of trying to force Trump from the White House. (We spoke to Neyfakh on Wednesday, two days before the Rosenstein story broke.)

Neyfakh said that while he wouldn’t use the word “advice,” he did think it was important to remember the importance of both major parties supporting impeachment for it to be effective. When Republicans abandoned Nixon, his fate was sealed, and he resigned. But Democrats stood by Clinton.

Trump seems well aware of the importance of keeping Republicans on his side. He has raised the possibility that Democrats might impeach him to try to fire up his base and make his enemies look extreme. On Sept. 11, he called Rep. Maxine Waters “crazy” while saying she wanted to impeach him and Vice President Mike Pence.

Apparently addressing Fox News, Trump added: “Where are the Democrats coming from? The best Economy in the history of our country would totally collapse if they ever took control!”


Impeachment isn’t easy — which is one reason no president has ever been forced out by that means.

The process requires that the House of Representatives pass articles of impeachment by a simple majority, and that the Senate must then try the accused. A conviction requires a two-thirds majority.

Given that Republicans hold majorities in both the House and Senate, Trump’s impeachment is currently a non-starter. That may change if Democrats win a majority in the House in the mid-term elections in November. But even if Democrats also won a majority in the Senate, it would be difficult to rally two-thirds of senators to vote to remove Trump from office.

That’s one of the factors that has led to talk of finding Trump unfit for office under the 25th Amendment, which lays out the unusual conditions that would allow for the removal of a president. It reads, in part:

Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.

The 25th Amendment has been used in the past when the president temporarily handed off his powers to the Vice President because the president was in the midst of a medical procedure that left him temporarily incapacitated. But it has never been used in a case in which the president’s underlings determined he was too mentally unstable to hold office, though that is the idea that Rosenstein entertained, according to the Times.

Rosenstein, however, disputed the newspaper’s account.

“The New York Times’s story is inaccurate and factually incorrect,” he said in a statement Friday. “I will not further comment on a story based on anonymous sources who are obviously biased against the department and are advancing their own personal agenda. But let me be clear about this: Based on my personal dealings with the president, there is no basis to invoke the 25th Amendment.”