The need to impeach

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The White House at twilight

“I never forget that I live in a house owned by all the American people and that I have been given their trust.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1938
“That White House is a real dump.” – Donald J. Trump, 2017

I used to think that impeaching Donald Trump was a bad idea.

Back in March — which seems so long ago — Nancy Pelosi said that going down the path of impeachment would divide the country and that Donald Trump wasn’t worth it. It would divide and he’s not worth it.  Last spring I said that it would not succeed. It probably still won’t succeed. Impeachment, nonetheless, must go forward.

I repeat, impeachment, its risks and prospects notwithstanding, must proceed. It is no longer an option, but an imperative. A necessity.

And Trump has no one but himself to blame. He impeaches himself.

Nancy Pelosi was right in saying that impeachment would divide the country. The founders knew this and said so. In Federalist 65 Alexander Hamilton observed that the subjects of an impeachment court’s jurisdiction “proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated political…”

Hamilton continues, “The prosecution of them, for this reason, will seldom fail to agitate the passions of the whole community, and to divide it into parties more or less friendly or inimical to the accused. In many cases it will connect itself with the pre-existing factions, and will enlist all their animosities, partialities, influence, and interest on one side or on the other; and in such cases there will always be the greatest danger that the decision will be regulated more by the comparative strength of parties, than by the real demonstrations of innocence or guilt.”

Impeachment is inevitably political and divisive, and its outcome might be determined by a partisan majority, regardless of the evidence.

Yet it must go forward.

Impeachment of Donald Trump became inevitable on September 25 when the White House released a declassified rough transcript of Trump’s July 25, 2019 phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky and thereby admitted to an impeachable offense. In that call, Trump dangled the prospect of a White House meeting, which was clearly and explicitly desired by the Ukrainian president, in return for the “favor” of investigations. It was immediately after Zelensky said his country was almost ready to buy more Javelin anti-tank missiles from the U.S. that Trump said, “I would like you to do us a favor though…” Trump proposed an investigation into a pet theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 U.S. elections and somehow possessed a DNC server. Trump proposed having his attorney general call Zelensky or his people. He praised Rudy Giuliani and said he’d have him call, too. Trump mentioned “Biden’s son” and asserted that Joe Biden stopped some unspecified investigation and then “went around bragging.” Trump once again brought up the U.S. attorney general and urged Zelensky to work with the A.G. to “look into it.”

What was not explicitly mentioned in the July 25th phone call was the fact that hundreds of millions of dollars of congressionally-approved aid to Ukraine had been held up.

A whistleblower report would help bring this entire episode to light. Attorney General William Barr’s Justice Department declined to investigate the report after determining that no violation of campaign laws had taken place. This, of course, is a highly debatable conclusion, considering that federal law prohibits soliciting, accepting or receiving anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election, which Trump clearly had done. Ellen Weintraub, the Chair of the Federal Election Commission, issued such a statement on June 13th after President Trump said he’d want to hear dirt on a political opponent from a foreign source and wouldn’t necessarily report it. Ms Weintraub made it abundantly clear, without mentioning Donald Trump, that illegal contributions from foreign governments are not cool. Weintraub would repeat her warning in early October.

One day after the release of the rough transcript, Donald Trump would claim repeatedly that the phone call with Zelensky was “perfect” and that he’d done nothing wrong.

Of course. we already know that Donald Trump believes the U.S. Constitution (which he and all presidents swore an oath to preserve, protect and defend) allows him to do anything he wants. We know this because he has repeatedly and publicly said as much. We also know that Bill Barr shares Trump’s absolutist view of presidential power and immunity from prosecution — or even investigation — while in office.

In spite of the alleged perfection and innocence of the Trump-Zelensky phone call, the administration sought to “lock down” records of the call on a server ordinarily used for highly classified data AND they released the previously frozen aid to Ukraine.

No harm, no foul. Nothing to see here. Right?

Wrong.

A crime doesn’t cease to be a crime merely because it is exposed before the getaway. A coverup doesn’t cease to be a coverup just because it is uncovered. Admitting to an abuse of power doesn’t make it proper.  Claiming unlimited powers does not make it so.

And that’s where we are. The administration has stonewalled investigations into its conduct since before it took office. And while it has often escaped consequences at the very highest level — the president himself — there has been a tremendous amount of fallout. White House turnover is staggering and there are a number of close Trump associates in jail. Trump still has a lot of people carrying water for him. His party is scared to death to cross him.

It takes a two-thirds vote of the U.S. Senate to convict in an impeachment and remove from office. At this point that seems as unlikely as it did last March, but now it doesn’t matter so much.

Federalist 65 argued that the practice of impeachment properly ought to be regarded “as a bridle in the hands of the legislative body upon the executive servants of the government.”

A bridle isn’t just a means of controlling a horse, but more generally a restraint, curb, check or control. This president is currently unrestrained, uncurbed, unchecked and out of control.

Whether this Congress has the will and character to bridle this president and the presidency remains to be seen, but it should be seen in full view of the country and the world. The founders intended the president and judges to be subject to congressional checks, including impeachment.

Trump’s party, which recently bears little resemblance to the party of Lincoln, has the power to bring this runaway administration back under control or allow it run amok. In either event, there’s a national election in a little over eleven months, at which point we’ll find out how many people were watching and what they thought about it.

 

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