The Case for Impeachment

As the Constitutional Convention adjourned, a woman [Mrs. Eliza Powell] asks Dr. Franklin, “Well, Doctor, what [have] we got, a republic or a monarchy? A republic,” replied the doctor, “if you can keep it.” Diary of James McHenry, September 18, 1787

Two-hundred-thirty-two years later, the president of the Republic is a lawless man who has committed impeachable offenses. Failure to begin the process of removing him from office is tantamount to telling Dr. Franklin that we, his successors, have failed to keep the Republic the Framers of the Constitution bequeathed us. It is to tell Dr. Franklin that we now have — for all intents and purposes — a monarchy.

The Mueller report details a long list of impeachable offenses, including cooperating with Russian officials to subvert American democracy and national security interests, ignoring continuing foreign attacks on our electoral process, and obstructing legal and warranted investigations into potential wrongdoing. Mueller did not find evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia because “collusion” is not a crime. As for conspiracy, which is a crime, Mueller’s team concluded that there was plenty of cooperation, but that conspiracy is difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, the standard that must be met in a court of law. As for obstruction, Mueller was precluded from indicting President Donald Trump because of a Justice Department rule that a sitting president cannot be prosecuted. 

But, impeachment can be utilized because it is the constitutional remedy for acting against a lawless president and the standards of proof in a trial before the Senate are different from those in a court of law. If Congress fails to act now, it will embolden the bad behavior that marked the Trump campaign and his administration, thus far, of the office of president of the United States. Trump will believe he “got away with it,” and this president, who has few filters on his actions, will think he can do as he pleases in the future — a recipe for accelerating the already dangerous drift toward autocracy. Failing to act also emboldens Russia to continue to interfere — perhaps even more overtly — in American processes. China, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, and other bad actors also will conclude that there are no penalties for meddling in our elections.

Jared Kushner

Trump and his lackeys give evidence of their intention to carry on as in the past, trampling on constitutional norms and the rule of law. Trump rails continually against the Mueller investigation, and now comes a report that former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was warned by acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney not to brief Trump on possible Russian interference in the 2020 presidential election because any such discussion calls into question the legitimacy of Trump’s 2016 election. American democracy and security must be sacrificed to the president’s ego! Also, presidential lawyer Rudy Giuliani says, “There’s nothing wrong with taking information from the Russians.” And, Trump son-in-law and beneficiary of nepotism Jared Kushner dismisses Russian election interference as “a couple of Facebook ads.” Anyone who expects this crowd of clowns and crooks to learn any lessons from the Mueller probe is exceedingly naive.

The Senate trial of President Andrew Johnson

Yes, there are many good arguments against impeachment. For starters, the House may impeach, but the Republican-controlled Senate is not likely to convict. If Republicans in the Senate fail to convict in the face of the compelling evidence laid out by impeachment in the House, then they stand indicted before the bar of history for what they already seem to be: Corrupt politicians willing to trade American democracy for job security. Besides, there is no guarantee that Trump would not be convicted. Early in the Watergate revelations, public opinion was with President Richard Nixon, who won reelection after the break-in at Democratic headquarters. Nationally broadcast congressional hearings eventually moved public opinion and convinced enough Republican senators to persuade Nixon to resign rather than face a trial and conviction in the Senate. 

Andrew Jackson, the only president to be censured by Congress

The argument has been made that the likelihood of the Senate not convicting — or even holding a trial — means impeachment in the House would be a waste of time. Instead, goes this argument, House Democrats can censure the president. Censure was applied once, by the Senate in 1834, for President Andrew Jackson’s veto of the recharter of the Second Bank of the United States. Censure did nothing: The Bank was destroyed, and Democrats — having regained a majority in the Senate in 1837 — expunged the censure from the record.

Many say impeachment is a distraction from the business at hand. No, impeachment is necessary, and most Democrats can multi-task. It should be possible for the House Judiciary Committee to begin proceedings while the full House does the nation’s business. A related argument urges Democrats to conduct oversight investigations instead of impeaching. There are three problems with this reasoning: Trump has indicated in the past week that he will not cooperate with investigations, so the investigators will be hamstrung. An inability to investigate coupled with the available evidence means Democrats in the House eventually will have to launch impeachment proceedings, so why wait? Besides, waiting only means impeachment comes closer to the next presidential election.

Others say, let the political process play out and defeat Trump at the polls in 2020. That is all well and good, and I think he will not be reelected, but relying on the voters means that history and our adversaries will never know for sure why the desired outcome occurred. If Trump loses, it could be because Americans disliked his healthcare policies or his separating families at the border or his tax legislation or his corruption and lawlessness. But, if he is impeached, everyone will know it is the latter.

Attorney General William Barr, mischaracterizing the Mueller report

Some take solace from the revelation in the Mueller report that Trump — despite intentions to obstruct justice — failed to do so because of the intercession of key aides. A case in point is the unwillingness of former White House Counsel Don McGahn to implement Trump’s order to fire special counsel Robert Mueller. The problem here is that the public well-being depends on the honor of Trump appointees, an exceedingly thin reed. McGahn was honorable, but will the next person ordered to commit an illegal act be? Nixon needed to order a third official to carry out the “Saturday Night Massacre” before he found his lackey. Trump seems to have purged his administration of adults, replacing them with sycophantic officials eager to do his bidding. No one need look further than the abject performance of Attorney General William Barr for proof that such corrupt officials can be found. And, Trump will find them.

Finally, the argument has been made that for all his sputtering and evil intentions, Trump is too lazy or too stupid to endanger American democracy permanently. If that proposition is not true (and we will not know the truth of it until Trump’s last day in office), then the Republic is in serious danger. If it is true, then we are saved — but only temporarily. The lessons will be clear — and the next Trump may turn out to be good at autocracy.

Which is why Trump must go. Because, Dr. Franklin, we want to keep the Republic (however imperfect it still may be) you and the other Framers — in your wisdom — gave us.

Posted April 26, 2019

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