Political pundits and Washington insiders repeatedly tell us impeaching Donald J. Trump would be political suicide for the Democratic party, but with a litany of evidence pointing to Trump’s criminality, isn’t it the constitutional responsibility of Congress to act?
Liberal activists have frequently become animated over the prospect of impeachment in the years since Trump took office, but those sentiments have rarely been reflected by elected officials until recently, after the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report.
Since then, more than 70 Democrats in the House of Representatives have come out in support of beginning impeachment proceedings. Impeachment is, however, unlikely to move forward without the support of House Democratic leadership, who have remained steadfast in their calculated approach of continued investigations and litigation without resorting to the ominous “I” word.
Regardless, even if the impeachment process moves to the Senate, the Republican majority is almost certain to bring the process to an anticlimactic end. Furthermore, peddlers of conventional wisdom take it for granted that impeachment would be a fruitless political disaster for congressional Democrats.
“The White House is just crying out for impeachment,” Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said during a press conference last month. “I do think that impeachment is a very divisive place to go in our country.”
Indeed, there’s plenty of good reason to believe impeachment would have a less than ideal outcome for the Democratic Party. Public support for impeachment in polling is erratic and inconsistent. It can be argued that when Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998, not only did he come out politically unscathed, but his favorability with voters improved.
Some of these arguments hold up better than others. For example, President Trump is substantially less popular now than Clinton was and has struggled to attract support outside of his core base of around 40 percent compared to over 60 percent for Clinton at the time of his impeachment.
Accountability over Political Inconvenience
It’s conceivable that beginning impeachment proceedings would draw public attention to the process that would not come with standard congressional investigation and oversight hearings. After all, the grounds to impeach Clinton were far flimsier than any case Democrats could make for impeaching Trump and perhaps they could deal some real political damage to the president.
Really though, all of this deliberation about the political consequences of impeachment is pure speculation, and it misses the point entirely. A point which Senator Elizabeth Warren illustrated beautifully during her CNN town hall in April: “There is no political inconvenience exception to the United States Constitution.”
Warren is absolutely correct. Impeachment was never meant to be a consideration of political expediency, but a measure of accountability to ensure that nobody, not even the president, is above the law. Ultimately, the decision to impeach President Trump should come down to whether he is guilty of crimes.
If Congress ignores the criminality of President Trump, they set a dangerous precedent that can be exploited by future administrations. As long as the president’s party controls at least one chamber of Congress, what’s to stop them from committing yet more egregious violations of the law with impunity?
We cannot claim to be a nation of “liberty and justice for all” if our president can get away with crimes that would land anyone else in prison.
So, what crimes could Trump be impeached for? The main issue Democrats are currently concerned about is obstruction of justice. By far the most striking revelation of obstruction in the Mueller report is Trump’s repeated orders to have Mueller fired, which were foiled only because White House Counsel Don McGahn threatened to resign rather than fire the Special Counsel. Worse yet, Trump later told McGahn to deny he was ever asked to fire Mueller. If that’s not obstruction of justice, what is?
One doesn’t even need to start with the Mueller report to make a credible case for impeachment. Representative Rashida Tlaib of “Impeach the motherfucker” fame laid out a compelling argument in a January op-ed for the Detroit Free Press.
Congresswoman @RashidaTlaib tells cheering crowd that Trump impeachment coming
“We’re going to go in and impeach the motherfucker” pic.twitter.com/oQJYqR78IA
— Jon Levine (@LevineJonathan) January 4, 2019
Not only does Tlaib point to obstruction of justice as an impeachable offense, but also abuse of pardon power, and campaign finance violations, as well as violations of the emoluments clause of the Constitution, which states elected officials cannot collect proceeds from foreign powers.
“We do not need to wait on the outcome of that criminal investigation before moving forward now with an inquiry in the U.S. House of Representatives on whether the president has committed impeachable ‘high crimes and misdemeanors’ against the state: abuse of power and abuse of the public trust,” Tlaib wrote.
The criminality of President Trump and his administration extends well beyond the Mueller report, which is why it’s so frustrating to see Democrats needlessly put their eggs into the Mueller basket. Point to the hush money paid to porn stars. Highlight the clear emoluments violations posed by Trump’s financial ties to Saudi Arabia. By restricting themselves to the confines of the Special Counsel’s report, Democrats are kneecapping their own case against the president.
Tlaib, meanwhile, lays out the litany of offenses in such a concise and effective manner that one wonders why Democratic leadership has failed so thoroughly to broaden the scope of impeachable offenses.
Support for Impeachment
Shortly after Mueller delivered a public statement on the report, several 2020 presidential candidates including Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, and Bernie Sanders expressed support for impeachment to one extent or another.
“Mueller did his job, now it’s time to do ours,” Seth Moulton tweeted. “Impeachment hearings should begin tomorrow.”
Moulton, like many of his opponents, perceived Mueller’s statement to be far from “total exoneration” as President Trump has repeatedly characterized the Special Counsel’s report. Instead, many Democrats see it as a tacit call for Congress to take matters into their own hands.
Mueller is playing a game of Taboo with Congress.
His word is “impeach.” https://t.co/mS4K8faLCw
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) May 29, 2019
“I took an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States and so did everybody else in the Senate and the House,” Warren told the audience at her CNN town hall. “They should have to take that vote and live with it for the rest of their lives.”
Impeachment would likely fail to ultimately move past the Senate and Donald Trump is all but certain to be the Republican nominee in 2020, but that’s no excuse for Congress to abdicate their responsibility as a check and balance on the executive branch.
Robert Mueller isn’t going to save our bacon, but Trump’s criminality is blatantly clear. The time to impeach is now.Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.