Democats and the “I” Word

Impeach Trump? It may be the Dems would be damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

The pro-impeachment argument: The jerk deserves it. Hell, the Democrats’ have a duty to impeach Trump.

The constitutional scholar Philip Bobbitt of Columbia University is considered one of the leading academic experts on the question of impeachment, including what the authors of the Constitution thought on the subject. Bobbitt says that when considering impeachment the primary question isn’t whether the president committed a crime. “The initial inquiry is whether the acts of the president have struck at the processes underlying government itself,” Bobbitt says. Greg Sargent continues,

Bobbitt’s book engages deeply on what constitutes “high crimes and misdemeanors.” It concludes that “careful, patient inquiry” must denote a pattern of “wanton constitutional dereliction” and establish acts of misconduct that badly undermine the very “legitimacy” of the government and “seriously threaten the order of political society.”

Oh, let me count the ways … and here’s a big one —

Trump did not merely seek to derail an investigation into his campaign’s conspiracy with that Russian sabotage — that is, into his own conduct.

Rather, Trump also sought to derail a full accounting of the Russian attack on our political system, separate and apart from whether his own campaign conspired with it. He did this because acknowledging the sabotage would detract from the greatness of his victory, which also led him to fail to marshal a serious response to the next round of interference.

“The exposure of the country to very damaging political intelligence techniques, for the venal reason of not diminishing the status of your victory — would that be a high crime and misdemeanor?” Bobbitt asked. “It certainly would.”

Susan Hennessey and Quinta Jurecic at Lawfare agree.

Here is, as William Barr might call it, “the bottom line”: The Mueller report describes, in excruciating detail and with relatively few redactions, a candidate and a campaign aware of the existence of a plot by a hostile foreign government to criminally interfere in the U.S. election for the purpose of supporting that candidate’s side. It describes a candidate and a campaign who welcomed the efforts and delighted in the assistance. It describes a candidate and a campaign who brazenly and serially lied to the American people about the existence of the foreign conspiracy and their contacts with it. And yet, it does not find evidence to support a charge of criminal conspiracy, which requires not just a shared purpose but a meeting of the minds.

Here is the other bottom line: The Mueller report describes a president who, on numerous occasions, engaged in conduct calculated to hinder a federal investigation. It finds ample evidence that at least a portion of that conduct met all of the statutory elements of criminal obstruction of justice. In some of the instances in which all of the statutory elements of obstruction are met, the report finds no persuasive constitutional or factual defenses. And yet, it declines to render a judgment on whether the president has committed a crime.

Now, the House must decide what to do with these facts.

The House must act. Allowing Trump to slide on this offense is not acceptable.  And, certainly, a large part of the Democratic voter base is clamoring for impeachment. And there is the damned if they don’t part; failing to act on what Trump has done could seriously damage the party’s credibility, not to mention the nation.

But then there’s the damned if they do part. We all know that, at the present time, if the House votes to impeach the Senate will not vote to remove Trump from office. If it were even a remote possibility I’d say go ahead, but right now, it isn’t. Republicans in the Senate will protect Trump no matter what. They are in too deep to back away.

There are no more statements about how “troubled” they are by his behavior, no more attempts to distance themselves from his repugnant character, no more effort to prove that they retain something resembling integrity. They will defend anything, because that is what Trump demands.

And when the Senate leaves Trump in office, it might seem that Trump has been exonerated. I’m not sure everyone screaming for impeachment understands that. An impeachment also is likely to fire up his base and get them to the polls in 2020, no matter how much his incompetence has screwed up their lives.

For months Nancy Pelosi has been pushing back against use of the I word. She has more or less re-stated this position since the release of the Meuller report. But she wrote in a letter to House colleagues, “While our views range from proceeding to investigate the findings of the Mueller report or proceeding directly to impeachment, we all firmly agree that we should proceed down a path of finding the truth.”

Pelosi’s position might be re-stated, Hold the hearings; send the subpoenas. Just don’t use the ‘I” word. Not until something is discovered that will force Senate Republicans to throw Trump under the bus will we use the “I” word. 

There’s a real question whether anything the House might discover would move Republicans to do the right thing, of course.

But  here’s another wrinkle. Trump’s own lawyers have taken a step that might backfire big time. Today Trump filed suit in federal court against his own accounting firm, Mazars USA, and Rep. Elijah Cummings, chairman of the House Oversight Committee.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in the District of Columbia, seeks a court order to squash a subpoena issued last week by the committee to Mazars USA. Trump’s lawyers also are asking a federal judge to temporarily block the subpoena until the court has had a chance to review their request.

The move amounts to Trump — the leader of the executive branch of government — asking the judicial branch to stop the legislative branch from investigating his past.

Elie Mystal writes at Above the Law that it’s possible this suit will force Democrats’ hands.

 This lawsuit (you can read it here on Axios) is meant to block subpoenas from House Oversight of Mazars USA, Trump’s longtime accountant. Trump org’s argument is that the subpoenas exceed Congressional power because they’re being issued without concrete legislation in mind.

The theory that Congress can only issue subpoenas to investigate issues they are directly intending to legislate on is untested. The convention is that Congress has broad subpoena power and reading it narrowly would obviate much of the work of committees like the House Oversight Committee. Moreover, in the instant case, House Oversight has a good argument that it is indeed intending to offer legislation that would prohibit Trump’s particular attempts to hide his business dealings from the American public while serving as President.

But… if Trump org. wins the day and these subpoenas are viewed to exceed Congressional authority, then the easiest and most direct fix to the problem would be to open impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump. If the House is limited from investigating fraud committed by the President of the United States in the normal course of business, it cannot be limited from investigating fraud committed by the President as part of the impeachment process.

I don’t see Elijah Cummings backing down.

18 thoughts on “Democats and the “I” Word

  1. I’m pasting in something I saw at TPM (behind a very inexpensive pay wall) this morning, because it captures what I think:

    TPM Reader GM chimes in on impeachment

    I’m a former Republican who worked on several state and federal campaigns including as director of research against ***** in 2000 for *****. I fled the GOP before Trump but still retain enough GOP-ness to simply shake my head at the debate among Democrats about impeachment.

    I don’t think impeachment will lead to Trump’s removal for the very obvious reason of the Senate. But I can tell you that if the Republicans had even 10% of the facts of national betrayal and personal gain that Mueller has provided to the country and the Democrats, the GOP would be wall to wall impeachment/investigation for a simple reason, you don’t have to actually attain your stated goal to politically justify an investigation or impeachment. The prosecuting party simply has to satisfy itself that the process will sufficiently damage the target to justify the risk that you will turn off some voters. Kevin McCarthy’s slip of the tongue (another one!) about the Benghazi investigations is a perfect example. Did the House succeed in stopping her nomination? No. Did they provide grist to keep their voters interested and motivated? Yes, for some of them. Did they damage Hillary meaningfully? Yes. McCarthy sure thought so and so do I.

    Democrats are worried that if they simply reprise social issues like the Wisconsin judicial race, they will lose. I agree with that. But impeachment politics are not that. National betrayal, personal gain/enrichment, lying (and continuing to lie) resonate far more broadly than some of the more narrow social issues so important to Democratic voters.

    Sen. Warren is right. Move for impeachment. Energize, persuade and deflate. Those are all different groups but impeachment should be pursued to communicate with all of them. When the law is not on your side (although I think it should be) argue the facts. And, boy, do the Dems have good facts. They would be nuts not to deploy them.

    Getting a corrupt Senate to go along is besides the point, and you second their corruption, acting like weasely unprincipled wimps if you don’t even try.

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    • Thank you for this.  I've been thinking a lot about this lately and the complaints raised by Democrats about impeachment mirroring the Clinton impeachment (he was more popular afterwards than before) to suggest that trump would also.  But the huge difference between the two situations is that not only was Clinton absolved completely of the original reason for the investigation Starr went well beyond his original mandate to finally dig up a lie about an affair.  That was all the Republicans had to hang their impeachment hats on.  The public realized that very early on and increased their support of Clinton as a result.

      But it this case not only did Mueller find solid evidence of his original mandate, Russian interference, but he also found a web of lies, criminal intent on the part of trump (just because underlings wouldn't follow illegal orders doesn't absolve him of issuing them).  Letting that play out over a long impeachment process would certainly create a much different reaction from voters, rather than support I believe critical elements of the electorate would abandon trump in sufficient numbers to make a difference.

      Also, your point about the Senate vote it spot on, all it does after a lengthy House impeachment investigation full of evidence of real high crimes and misdemeanors is make a GOP Senate refusing to acknowledge that look foolish and inept.

  2. One does not do the right thing because the outcome is not sure.  One does the right thing because it is the right thing to do.  As someone said once:  "Now is the moment of power."  The moment is all we have.  I am for impeachment now.  It is the duty of the Congress to act.

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  3. The CW is that the Clinton impeachment hurt the GOP.

    Yeah, it must have hurt them to the quick that in 2000 they "won" the presidency, and had both houses of Congress until Senator Jeffords left the GOP in 2001, and became an Independent.

    In the words of Congresswoman Tlaib, "Impeach the MFer!!!"

    Show some cubes, Dems!

    • Hmmm they didn't win the Presidency, remember Bush v Gore, they stole the Presidency?

  4. Having lived through Watergate, I'm with Gary Hart on this. Impeachment is a useful threat, but there is something to be said for letting Trump and his defenders stew in their own juices. Let the hearings continue, and there will be a slow drip of damning information and Republicans having to go on record arguing that X is no big deal, Y is no big deal and helping write opposition ads for the next election. Meanwhile, Trump will be increasingly financially isolated. He did business with the Russians because no one else would deal with him. Now, he's of decreasing value as a Russian asset, and less likely to find a new rescuer after the next downturn and his related bankruptcies. Remember, the money he'll need is not the kind that the Koch brothers can just cut a check for.

    Impeachment is an end game. It's useful to have it looming there, and I can imagine circumstances where it would make sense. Still, the threat, in some ways, is more  valuable than the invocation. Impeachment requires a yes or no vote. It forces people to make decisions. It's much more fun to watch them wiggle and squirm. It's likely to be more effective too.

  5. Hold hearings, issue subpoenas, keep the pot boiling and the pressure on, up until November 2020.

    If there's no impeachment by 2020, then that election will be a referendum on Trump – in the Senate. Same if there is impeachment which the Senate blocks. The Senate R's are being backed into a corner, sacrificing credibility and electability to defend a narcissist who never returns favors. Defending Trump can turn the Senate blue in 2020.

    Here's a possible path: hearings, subpoenas, scandals revealed, scandals newly committed, no impeachment, but Trump loses in 2020.

    Or, no impeachment, in 2020 Trump wins by skulduggery, but the Senate turns blue. _Then_ impeachment, conviction along with Pence.

    Or impeachment, blocked in Senate, Trump wins by skulduggery, but Senate turns blue, then re-impeachment.

    So fear not, we can get him and Pence out.

     

    • Defending Trump can turn the Senate blue in 2020.

      I wouldn’t bet the ranch on the Senate turning blue. Recall that Trump’s base is totally with him, something like 90% approval. Krugman reports that the big money boyz in the GOP are fully behind Trump 2020. Despite (or even because of) the crazy persona, he delivers for them.

  6. Hearings and subpoenas until 2020 would _not_ be drawing it out, because there's a _lot_ of criminality to expose. Mueller left a road map, and it's a long drive.

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  7. Note that Trump did attempt obstruction, but his staff protected him and themselves by ignoring his illegal orders. So in those cases, the President did not obstruct justice… because he was not President.

     

  8. " If the House is limited from investigating fraud committed by the President of the United States in the normal course of business, it cannot be limited from investigating fraud committed by the President as part of the impeachment process."

    Why? I could see this supreme court ruling that Trump's past fraud (before he disgraced the white house) cannot be grounds for impeachment, thereby upholding any quashing of evidence. I'm not for impeachment, I think the DC Chattering class misses the fact that most of the country has tuned the whole thing out, if the economy were worse maybe, but right now I just think people are willing to  move on? Unfortunately Trump and Barr handled the white-was and non-release of the report masterfully, they got ahead of the narrative for most folks. We are in the beginning of a Presidential election any impeachment will be spun by the GOP and their propaganda machine as election year politics. I'd like to see democrats continue the congressional investigations, appear on every tee-vee show they can get booked on asking the question: "what is the president hiding, why can't we see his taxes, financial records, what is the president hiding? Keep asking the question publicly over and over and over maybe public sediment will change, then take the bastard out at the polls in 2020.

  9. It is not a no brainer.  The biggest unifier and motivator for the democrats is Trump.  They are working harder, more tolerant, more generous, and more dedicated than they have been in a long time.  He has shown how bad things can get with misdirected and incompetent leadership.  Do they just want impeachment so they can say job is done and take a couple of decades off?  If so, I think impeachment is a really bad idea.  

    Doing something has consequences as does inaction.  As Trump has taken his party to the moral low ground measures must be taken.  Always recall, though, that constant attack is considered by the current administration as the best defense.  Any missed step will be treated as a provocation.  So far, Speaker Pelosi and other leaders have tread these troubled waters with distinction.  I think we must all try to trust their judgement on this one.  As with many decisions, timing is so important.  The iron may just not be hot enough to be worth striking at this time.  Bur stoking the furnace a bit more is a viable and necessary option at this time. 
     

    •  I think we must all try to trust their judgement on this one.

      If that's the case then they have to make clear that their judgement isn't based on the fear that they can't secure an impeachment with the Senate. The principle that no one is above the law has to be defended at all costs because it's an essential (sacred) element to what it means to be an American.

       It's better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.

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      • I totally agree Swami, the House just indicts and they should do so without regard to the Senate's likelihood to convict.  They need to have other solid reasons not to take this action.  It may work on the same principle as why you don't lasso a skunk even though it seems like the right thing to do.  Who knows?

  10. Trump has done so much wrong people can't keep up. We don't have a fox news. So best is hearings testimony  drip drip for next two years. Put up new ethics laws for presidents and candidates.  If rs vote it down , hang that around their necks in next campaign. Show they don't care about national security, ethics, pollution,  climate change, yes education and healthcare.  But hit them where they are vulnerable. Show video endlessly where they used to care about deficits national security morality etc etc. Call them out for remaining quiet while trump sells 200,000$  memberships to the spy on our government club in Mar a Lago. 

    Most of all Follow the Money.  Support Cummings andSdny and nyag  in going after trump.org.

    Like capone hit him where he's vulnerable. 

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  11. The Dems should do whatever will get Trump out of office. I agree with paradoctor that would be "Hold hearings, issue subpoenas, keep the pot boiling and the pressure on, up until November 2020." Most voters aren't politically engaged enough to know what the Mueller report suggests, and the Trumpateers are unremitting slaves to their Dear Leader.

     

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  12. Intent to conspire.

    Trump showed intent not just with Lester Holt but with theRussian only party he threw in oval office a day later. 

    Whose idea was that?

    The mueller report does not say.

    Why did Peter smith kill himself approximately Friday after Comey firing. It is the timing. 

    Who did Butina name for Sec of state? Did Russia get their pick?

    In Helsinki, Putin was asked if he wanted trump to win and if he directed his government to actively promote trump.he said yes I did,yes I did to both questions.  Why

  13. This one goes out to Trump in the form of an omen.

     

     A while back I posted a comment that made an analogy to the repugs turning on Trump once his usefulness to their agenda had been served. The analogy was of hyenas attacking a lion where they would overwhelm the lion ( Trump) by attacking from every direction and with every attack they would take a little chunk out of his fat ass. Individually not enough to take him down, but collectively and consistently eventually he'd succumb to the repeated attacks.

     Well, I'd like to amend that comment. I want to change it from the repugs attacking Trump to the democratic defenders of our constitution doing the attacking.. I don't know what the future is going to bring, but I'm content in my knowledge that beneath Trump's facade of assuredness and emotional tranquility he's quaking in his golf shoes and knows his sins have found him out.

     The big bag of shit is going to have to answer.

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