In Montana, miles from Trump’s Russia crisis, there’s no clamor to impeach

Republican Bill Dirkes, owner of the Sunshine Station in Philipsburg, Mont., says Democrats in Washington are being sore losers.
(Mark Z. Barabak / Los Angeles Times)

Ed Lord and Jim Jenner are friends of long standing who’ve managed to stay close over the years despite their political differences.

Lord is a Republican who helps run the local party in this breathtaking stretch of rural western Montana. He backed Donald Trump for president.

Jenner is a Democrat and former state lawmaker. He voted for Hillary Clinton, who lost Montana in a 21-point shellacking.

The two agree on one thing, however: Trump is in serious political trouble and neither one is surprised. “I am disappointed,” Lord said.

Republican Ed Lord says he’s disappointed that President Trump is in such political trouble.
(Mark Z. Barabak / Los Angeles Times)

Both favor an outside investigation to get to the bottom of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, once and for all. “If, in fact, he’s attempting to suppress an investigation, that’s wrong,” said Lord, an 80-year-old retired rancher.


But it’s too soon, they concurred, to start throwing around the notion of impeachment, as a way to force Trump out.

“There’s not enough traction,” said Jenner, a 67-year-old documentary filmmaker. “Most people around here feel so supportive of Trump, it’s going to take a long time to second-guess themselves.”

“Republicans aren’t there,” Lord agreed.

In Washington, some people — Democrats mainly — are practically counting down the days left in Trump’s presidency, as one stunning revelation quickly overruns another.

But outside the Beltway, where people aren’t glued to cable TV for the latest on FBI Director James B. Comey’s firing, or consumed with their Twitter feed for the latest on Trump divulging sensitive intelligence to Russia, there is hardly the same sense of urgency, much less crisis.

“Fake news,” shrugged Bob Winninghoff, 84, a Republican who used to sell Fords for a living.

And although there have been some cracks in the wall of support for Trump, among Republicans in Washington as well as party faithful like Lord, people were still quick to hasten to their partisan corners — Democrats saying we-told-you-so and Republicans crying witch hunt.

Most people around here feel so supportive of Trump, it’s going to take a long time to second-guess themselves.

— Jim Jenner, former Montana Democratic lawmaker

Montana votes next week in a special election to pick a congressman to replace Ryan Zinke, a Republican chosen by Trump to head the Interior Department.

But for all the national focus on the contest and talk of a referendum on Trump, the race has largely revolved around more parochial matters, such as the personal finances of Democrat Rob Quist, a cowboy troubadour, and the creationist beliefs of Republican Greg Gianforte, a wealthy tech entrepreneur.

Similarly, while the political world hung Wednesday on the perils of the Trump presidency, most folks in this 19th century mining town midway between Missoula and Butte seemed more interested in the surprise snowstorm that blanketed the region and chased wayfarers off state Highway 1.

Inside the Sunshine Station, a restaurant-tavern-grocery mart that serves as a kind of community center, owner Bill Dirkes suggested all the Washington to-do was mainly a result of sore-loser Democrats trying to undermine the president.

Seeing no need for a special prosecutor, the 61-year-old Republican said the four investigations already underway — one by the FBI, three by Congress — “need to focus on gathering the facts and not all the innuendo out there.”

Why, for instance, Dirkes wanted to know, do people believe Comey when he suggests Trump tried to thwart the investigation of his former national security advisor, Michael Flynn, when the president said he didn’t?

“It’s just frustration,” he said, “that Clinton didn’t win.”

But Democrat Ron Paige takes Comey at his word when he wrote in a memo that Trump asked him to shut down the FBI probe into Flynn’s ties to Russia. The only way to know for certain, however, is to have a full-fledged investigation “by someone who’s not a politician,” Paige said.

Impeachment? “It’s a little early for that,” said the 81-year-old retired investment banker.

With snow swirling outside and cheery holiday lights gleaming from wood beams overhead, it was almost Christmas-like inside the cozy bar. The regulars — “my bread and butter,” said Dirkes — kept it neighborly, even as they disagreed.

Shannon Heimark, a political independent who tends bar at the Sunshine Station, thinks impeachment is a reasonable option about now.
(Mark Z. Barabak / Los Angeles Times)

Shannon Heimark, for one, thinks impeachment is a perfectly reasonable option right about now.

“It’s pretty suspect that you fire someone who’s investigating you,” said the 39-year-old political independent, who tends bar at the Station and cheerfully argues politics with Dirkes, the boss. “And sharing secrets with the Russians? That’s pretty scary.”

She didn’t vote for Trump — or Clinton, for that matter, skipping the line on her ballot — and sees one of two things bound to happen.

“Either Trump’s going to get impeached, or he’s going to lead us into World War III,” Heimark said. “Hopefully, it’s the first.”


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