Jan. 26 (UPI) -- Regardless of whether special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of Team Trump's involvement with Russia is winding down, only three outcomes are possible.
First, despite the indictment of former campaign manager Paul Manafort and the guilty plea of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, Mueller could find no evidence of wrongdoing or culpability on the part of President Donald Trump and his family. This would clearly exonerate the president and give him a political leg up on his critics, which he would exploit to the hilt.
Second, the special counsel could find that while the appearance of wrongdoing was present -- and this could include indictments of family members -- without sufficient evidence to move forward, the investigation was concluded. Such an outcome would simply exacerbate the partisan divide over the president and spark even more vituperative and vitriolic politics, especially with the 2018 and 2020 elections looming.
Third, the special counsel could find culpability and thus grounds for charging obstruction of justice, money laundering or other potential violations of the law. The most likely recourse would be referring action to the House of Representatives and consideration of articles of impeachment for "high crimes and misdemeanors." Such referral would touch off a political crisis of the first order probably making a broken government even more broken.
The president, of course, would mount a stiff and aggressive defense, "fighting back" in his words. All means fair and foul would be deployed to impugn the investigation. Similarly, Democrats would be responding in kind. The results of this political fight to the death would not be good for the nation.
Only two presidents have been impeached. None was convicted. Andrew Johnson was impeached by the House for violating the Tenure of Office Act in 1868, later to be found unconstitutional, for firing Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. Clinton was impeached for perjury, lying over an affair with a White House intern. Richard Nixon resigned in the face of certain impeachment and conviction by the Senate over the Watergate cover-up.
What would a Republican House of Representatives do? As Evangelicals have forgiven Trump over allegations of an affair with a movie porn star -- and, of course, would never forgive Clinton for his dalliances -- it is very likely Republicans would reject the findings of the special counsel and conjure up reasons and excuses for protecting the president. Inexperience, absence of mal-intent and other explanations would be offered to prevent impeachment.
But Democrats, the media and a good portion of the public would be enraged. Even if the House did move to impeach, the chances of a Senate conviction are probably very low even if evidence of wrongdoing were overwhelming. A panoply of smoking guns would be needed. However, the saga would grow worse.
Suppose the House went to the Democrats in 2018. Then, the chances of impeachment would be virtually certain, even without overwhelming evidence of guilt. Should Democrats win control of the Senate, obtaining the necessary two-thirds majority to convict would be slim. After all, who is the Howard Baker of today who would ask, "What did the president know, and when did he know it?"
That impasse could be destructive in the extreme. The president's credibility would be demolished. Calls for his resignation would be deafening. Government would simply stop.
The reasons for a governmental collapse rest in a profound difference between today and Nixon's 1974 resignation and Clinton's impeachment nearly 20 years ago. In 1974, America had just been evicted from Vietnam, losing its first major war. The mood was sour. Yet partisanship was far less. Government continued. The same was true with Clinton.
Today, Washington is shrouded in the most bitter partisanship arguably since the Civl War. The furor over temporary funding of government and immigration is a precursor. It is highly unlikely any lasting solutions will be found. Come next November, the government could still be struggling under a continuing resolution.
Tragically, in today's supercharged age of destructive politics, a tiny nick can be septic. Ironically, however, a far greater wound that might trigger impeachment could prove far less fatal. The president could benefit from this inversion.
No matter how the Mueller investigation ends, almost certainly a political crisis of some sort will follow. The crucial questions are how serious will a crisis be and does the nation have the capacity to tolerate what could be the worst case? One thing is certain. We will soon find out answers to both. And these answers may not be happy ones.
Harlan Ullman has served on the Senior Advisory Group for Supreme Allied Commander Europe (2004-16) and is senior adviser at Washington D.C.'s Atlantic Council, chairman of two private companies and principal author of the doctrine of shock and awe. A former naval person, he commanded a destroyer in the Persian Gulf and led over 150 missions and operations in Vietnam as a Swift Boat skipper. His newest book, "Anatomy of Failure: Why America Has Lost Every War It Starts," is just out. Follow him on Twitter@harlankullman.