It took the President mere hours after holding his post-midterms press conference to drop the inevitable bombshell.
After months of lambasting Jeff Sessions, the attorney general was being fired, replaced with the more amenable Matthew Whitaker.
Why such ire towards Sessions, when he had been one of Donald Trump’s fiercest supporters on the campaign trail? Because when the FBI first opened its investigation into Russian influence on the presidential election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign, led by special counsel Robert Mueller, Sessions recused himself.
Trump reacted with fury, suggesting he had expected Sessions to shut down the probe and admitting outright that he would never have appointed him if he’d known.
Since then, the White House has waged a bitter battle with the Department of Justice and the FBI. Handing Whitaker the reins could be a step towards firing Mueller and shutting down the whole investigation – a move that even some Republicans view with horror.
Unfortunately for Trump, firing his attorney general came on the same day that the Democrats reclaimed one of the levers of power, gaining a majority in the House of Representatives. But having won this prize, there is already a risk that they will squander it.
The champagne corks were still popping when the calls started coming for the Democrats to immediately launch impeachment proceedings against the President.
The desperation is understandable. In the two years since the presidential election was swiped from under their noses, the Democrats’ worst nightmares have come true.
Trump has appointed judges guaranteed to cause maximum controversy, waged rhetorical war on opponents, appeared to sympathise with white supremacists, fuelled racial tensions, all while his family has continued to pursue business interests that could well conflict with presidential duties.
The evidence for some form of Russian interference in the election is also stacking up. Multiple Trump campaign aides held secret (potentially illegal) meetings with Russian officials in the run-up to the election. Several, including Trump’s former lawyer, have pled guilty to a range of federal offences. And Trump’s on-off warmth towards Vladimir Putin, particularly at the Helsinki meeting, has alienated even some within his own party.
It makes the furore surrounding Hillary Clinton’s emails look modest in comparison, while the bid to impeach President Bill Clinton over an infamous blue dress in the 90s seems positively quaint.
The Democrats would be wise, however, not to give in to their outrage. Impeachment is a gamble that is all but guaranteed to backfire on the wound-licking opposition.
No President has ever been successfully impeached. It’s a two-part process: first, an accusation that must pass in the House, followed by trial in the Senate, where conviction requires a two-thirds majority.
Despite optimistic talk of a “blue wave”, the Democrats failed to win the Senate this week. Hopes of convincing 20 Republicans to cross the aisle and knife their own President seem downright delusional.
And the risks are high. When Republicans tried to impeach Bill Clinton in 1998, their popularity plummeted, and the President’s hit its highest ever level. It turns out that the American people don’t much like their elected representatives wasting time on a grudge match.
Instead of seeking revenge for the perceived wrongs of 2016, Democrats need to look forward – to 2020. That campaign should start now.
They need a vision for modern-day America and its place in the world that goes beyond just opposing every Trump outburst. Fixing the healthcare system has been a rallying cry for Republicans for eight years – the Democrats could turn that to their advantage.
Offering solutions to mass shootings and immigration reform to inspire disengaged voters who didn’t turn out in 2016 will be more effective than trying to shame Trump’s base into changing their minds.
And if the Democrats want to use Russia to their advantage, they needn’t go for impeachment. Firing Sessions may be Trump’s attempt to shut down the FBI investigation, but Congress has its own role to play.
In 2017, four separate congressional committees launched probes into Russian collusion. With a majority in the House, the Democrats now have control of two of those, and can reopen the investigations that the Republicans tried to divert or close.
They can subpoena witnesses, including close members of Trump’s entourage and family, and broaden the scope to encompass other accusations of collusion or conflicts.
The Trump Organization’s business practices could come under scrutiny, and perhaps the Democrats might even force the release of the President’s long-awaited tax returns.
The Democrats don’t need Mueller or Sessions to keep Russia in the spotlight. The Republicans were able to spend two years and $7m fixating on Hillary Clinton’s role in the Benghazi incident, where the US embassy came under attack, keeping the heat high enough that, in 2016, even Americans who had no idea where Benghazi was felt that something dodgy had occurred.
It’s easy to see why the Democrats are fired up, with Sessions axed and Trump displaying flagrant disregard for an independent judicial system. But righteous indignation and the false conviction that the American people were with them were in part to blame for their 2016 defeat.
If the Democrats want a real shot in 2020, they need to think smart. And that means keeping their hands off the big red impeachment button.