Six months ago, I agreed with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi‘s disinclination to impeach President Trump. As she put it, “unless there’s something that’s so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path, because it divides the country.” Besides, she added, “He’s just not worth it.” It was, I agreed, “shrewdly strategic to chill the left’s lust for impeachment at this time.” But that was then, and this is now.
The drip, drip, drip demonstrating the Grifter-in-Chief’s repeated “high crimes and misdemeanors,” his wanton abuse of power, was already dangerous. His admitted effort to weaponize Ukraine in the 2020 election -featuring the Orwellian twist of the Trump-Giuliani gambit – put me over the edge.
Yes, we could leave it to the better angels in the 2020 electorate to turn Trump out of office. But the need to impeach is as much about future generations as it is about today. We fault the Republicans for not criticizing the President’s misdeeds. We should also fault the Democrats for not fulfilling their Constitutional obligation to investigate the allegations of “high crimes and misdemeanors” against Donald Trump. In the second paragraph of Federalist Paper 65, Alexander Hamilton wrote that impeachable offenses included “the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust.” For Congress not to investigate and, presumably, file a bill to impeach Donald Trump is a dereliction of duty. The House Judiciary Committee is off to a limp start.
The Speaker remains cool to the idea of impeachment because she doesn’t have the votes. But remember, two bills to impeach Richard Nixon were filed in 1972 and were not acted upon. By July 31, 1973 when our own Congressman Bob Drinan filed a bill to impeach Richard Nixon (based on the illegal bombing of Cambodia not the Watergate break-in) , the vote, had it been held, would still have been 400 members of the House against. It took until July, 1974 for the House, after lengthy investigation to say yes to three articles of impeachment. Two weeks later, with the handwriting on the wall, Nixon resigned. So this is a process, but it has to start somewhere with House members courageous enough to put the “i” word in writing.
House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler just held the first session of what he is calling an “impeachment inquiry,” but Speaker Pelosi and her inside circle are still not calling it that. She’s apparently concerned about the political fallout for House members in purple to reddish districts. And there are other pitfalls.
The despicable conduct of former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski at the Judiciary Committee’s first hearing into the President’s obstruction of justice in the Mueller investigation of 2016 Russian campaign meddling descended into pure chaos. Lewandowski’s admission that he sees no problem in lying to the media and the public and his stonewalling and claims of executive privilege all raised the specter of Richard Nixon’s 1973-4 strategy on steroids. The Democrats have to maintain their dignity (often a tall order), stay focused on the facts, and use every legal strategy available to get access to people and documents. They must also be able to walk and chew gum, at the same time pursuing programmatic goals and pushing bills – on health care, climate, gun safety, for example – over to the Senate. Doing that could help queasy red state Democrats get reelected.
For Democrats to do any less is to shrug off the manifold wrong-doing of this administration, thereby validating that we have lowered to swamp-level the threshold on acceptable norms of Presidential behavior. Not to do so will give the green light to future Presidents to abuse power, usurp Congressional actions, violate the emoluments clause to enrich his (or her) private interests at public expense, cover up misdeeds by refusing to cooperate with legally required Congressional requests for information, put his personal and political interests above national security and more. (Note: this is above and beyond whatever policy disagreements I might have with him.)
Ladies and gentlemen, this is very scary stuff. We need an infusion of backbone on both sides of the aisle, but at the very least from the Democrats. If, following a thorough investigation, a bill of impeachment passes the House but it is clear that the Senate won’t convict, then the House should not refer impeachment to the Senate. To do so would only feed the President ‘s unjustifiable claims of exoneration. Instead, the House should, at a minimum, vote to censure the President. It happened to President Andrew Jackson in 1834 for withholding documents. Sound familiar? The House must do something meaningful about this incompetent, unfit miscreant who is a threat to our Constitution and the future of our democracy.
If the Senate, already a hollow shell of what our founders envisioned, cravenly decides to take a roll call or, worse still, a voice vote on its own resolution of “exoneration,” it will do so not in response to a lawful impeachment referral. It can’t hold a proper Senate trial without a referral. It can’t acquit. He cannot be found “not guilty.”
Forty-five years ago, columnist Carl Rowan reflected on “The Real Watergate Lesson.” He said in the end it wasn’t about the illegal diversion of money. “We need to remember that if $3000 of taxpayer money is stolen, we may regain that somehow. But when the men [and women] we elect to power steal our liberties, our constitutional rights, we may never be able to regain them.” Amen.
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