A few days ago, the leading Democrat in the House of Representatives finally said the word “impeachment”. That was a big step forward. She announced that several committees will decide whether the president has committed “high crimes and misdemeanors” that fall within their jurisdiction. Now, however, it appears that House Democrats want to focus their efforts on the Ukraine scandal, possibly voting whether to impeach the president in a matter of weeks.
Donald Trump entered the White House uniquely vulnerable to impeachment, the owner of an opaque web of private companies who obtained the office through criminal and corrupt means. Over the next two and a half years he piled increasingly brazen offenses on to that bill of particulars, emboldened at each juncture by Congresses—one Republican, one Democrat—that were determined for different reasons not to set an impeachment process in motion.
In the days after Special Counsel Robert Mueller produced a report showing Trump encouraged and expected to benefit from a foreign attack on the 2016 election, then abused his powers of office to obstruct the ensuing investigation, one of the few Democrats who recognized that taking impeachment off the table would create an unacceptable level of moral hazard was Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). She warned, “If Donald Trump can do all that he tried to do to impede an investigation into his own wrongdoing and an attack by a foreign government,” and Congress takes no action, “then it gives license to the next president, and the next president, and the next president to do the same thing.”
The only thing her analysis missed is that Congress’s inaction also gave Donald Trump license to commit the same crimes all over again, this time with the awesome powers of the presidency at his fingertips.
And that is exactly what happened.
Members of the Trump campaign escaped indictment for cooperating with Russia’s attack on the election by the skins of their teeth. Trump himself escaped indictment for obstruction of justice only because the Justice Department prohibits its prosecutors from indicting sitting presidents. In lieu of an indictment, Mueller effectively referred Trump to Congress for impeachment, and in the face of hard evidence that he’d committed grave impeachable offenses, Congress took a pass….
It is probably no coincidence that Trump involved himself directly in the Ukraine extortion scheme the day after Mueller’s valedictory testimony to Congress, when it was clear Democratic leaders remained intractably opposed to impeachment. Had they treated the report with the seriousness it deserved, and unified their caucus behind impeachment, they might have discouraged Trump from inviting another foreign power to interfere in our election….
And it’s not as though Trump’s recent conduct is so different from his past offenses that the case for impeachment has changed dramatically. To the contrary, the arguments now prevailing are the very same ones impeachment supporters have been screaming themselves hoarse about for months—since before Democrats won back the House: That impeachment is the only way for Congress to alert the public to the seriousness of the threat Trump poses, and deny his enablers veto power over accountability; that it’s the only way to force all Republicans to vote on whether they think Trump’s crimes are acceptable; that a president who faces no consequences for law breaking will eventually discover that an election is nothing but a patchwork of laws, and begin to break them.
What we know today that we didn’t before hasn’t changed much either…. [The] plot to coerce Ukraine to involve itself in the 2020 election came to light before the summer. The vicissitudes of politics—a whistleblower who decided to take matters into his or her own hands; the existence of a corroborated complaint becoming public; Trump’s effort to cover it up—have made it easier for Democrats to step up now…. But Trump is only incrementally more deserving of impeachment now than he was two weeks ago. What’s changed is that the untenable nature of doing nothing has become impossible to deny. Having pulled their heads out of the sand, Democrats [could] now breathe again.
[However], as the political world processed the gravity of President Trump’s efforts to force Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 election, and to cover it up, House Democrats debated among themselves whether to limit their impeachment inquiry, then less than 24 hours old, to the issue of Ukraine, and even whether they should aim to complete the impeachment process by the end of October….
What we’ve learned should quiet the Democrats’ anxious desire to rush articles of impeachment to the Senate, because the Ukraine scandal turns out to be much larger than it appeared…. Running it all to ground will take time, and may lead us back to the other areas of corruption these Democrats had apparently hoped to sideline….
The Ukraine scandal might thus be a single thread in a web of corruption and criminality that implicates a large number Trump officials and connects back to other impeachable offenses that seem unrelated until you zoom out far enough.
It’s difficult to imagine that Democrats will have plumbed the full depths of this misconduct by late October, and that should serve as a reminder to those Democrats who, for whatever reason, instinctually want to get this all over with as quickly as possible: artificially limiting the probe will place most of Trump’s misconduct beyond the reach of accountability and provide Republicans a road map for weathering the deluge….Shutting avenues of inquiry out of the impeachment process makes no sense….
Democrats must recognize that if they rush articles of impeachment over to the Senate before the fullest-possible accounting of Trump’s corruption is complete, Republicans will likely acquit Trump as quickly as possible, and not only will the impeachment process come to an end but all regular oversight investigations of Trump’s corruption will as well. There will not be a second impeachment process; Democrats had to be browbeaten into launching this one, would be even more reluctant to launch another, and if they did Senate Republicans would shut it down with the simple argument that the House shouldn’t be allowed to commandeer the Senate into putting the president on trial over and over again.
The same House Democrats who were determined to avoid an impeachment process altogether now want to dispose of the one that’s working wonderfully as quickly as possible, and their judgment hasn’t improved much …. since they relented.
It is possible that the Ukraine matter is such a raging fire of corruption that it starves other parts of the inquiry of media oxygen, but those investigations should continue, as forcefully as possible, until they run dry.
In the unlikely event that Republicans signal a willingness to remove Trump from office, it’d be irresponsible of Democrats not to … end this emergency as quickly as possible. But short of that, their lodestar has to be maximizing the political value of the process, which includes both public hearings and a trial. Now is the time for chairs of the relevant committees to accelerate their inquiries, not dial them back, to bombard Trump with subpoenas, and enforce them aggressively, not to let their subpoena power lay fallow. Now, moreover, is the time for officials up and down the government with undisclosed knowledge of impeachable offenses to approach Congress, and for Congress to welcome them, and bring any credible allegations they make too light.
Only when that part of the process is complete should the House force the Senate into a trial. If Republicans intend to protect Trump from the penalty of removal then the only source of accountability available to Democrats is the thorough airing of his abuses—with respect to Ukraine, yes, but also with respect to his obstruction of justice, acceptance of bribes, lies, and attempts to use federal power to punish his enemies….
It’s one big story. But members of the public deserves to know all of it, and we’ll only have one chance to tell it to them.
Don’t forget that the leading Democrat in the House of Representatives is very easy to email by clicking right here.