The Dirty, Filthy, Disgusting I Word

To impeach, or not to impeach — that is the question.

I have been of the school of thought that we must investigate Trump with everything we’ve got, but that impeachment itself is futile as long as Republicans hold the majority in the Senate. But I’m changing my mind.

James Reston, Jr., recalls a Republican congressman, Rep. Lawrence Hogan of Maryland, who wrestled with the impeachment question back in 1974.

“This is an occasion when party loyalty demands too much,” the elder Hogan said. “To base this decision on politics would not only violate my conscience but it would be a breach of my oath to uphold the Constitution. Those who oppose impeachment say it would weaken the presidency. In my view, if we do not impeach this president after all he has done, we would be weakening the presidency even more.”

That’s where I’m coming out, although I’m more concerned with the Constitution than with the presidency. Yes, Republicans in Congress are even crazier and more partisan now than they were then. But Reston makes the point that Republicans in Congress,, who held a majority in the Senate then also, stood solidly behind Nixon in 1974 — until they didn’t.

What happened in Washington in the summer of 1974 is a template for what could and perhaps should happen in the summer of 2019. The behavior of Republicans back then holds important lessons for the current situation. Hogan and his like-minded colleagues did not step forward at the outset of the impeachment process, but only at the very end, when historic votes loomed, votes that would force upon them the most profound personal consideration about what they valued and what they stood for.

Yet today’s House leader, Nancy Pelosi, and her group are demanding that Republicans step forward now, at a preliminary stage in judging President Trump, as a condition of proceeding with impeachment. No formal process should even be initiated, she says, without significant Republican buy-in. This position is untenable. It forecloses the possibility, strange as it may seem to some, that there are decent and thoughtful Republicans who are deeply troubled by the revelations of the Mueller report, but who would come forward only when they were forced to do so because of a vote to decide the president’s fate.

Whether there are decent and thoughtful Republicans who would, in the end, put principle before party is not something I would bet the house on. However, I sincerely believe that if even what we know to be true about Trump really came to the attention of the public and is not buried behind William Barr’s double-speak, there would be a lot of Republicans who would look hard at their own political futures and rethink their position.

And what do we not know? We don’t know what’s in Trump’s tax returns. We don’t know what’s in his Deutsche Bank records. We don’t know how Mr. Multiple Bankruptcies came to be flush with cash in 2006 and was still getting funded by somebody after the 2008 financial crisis. We don’t know what went on with the inauguration money. We don’t know a lot of things. But these things are know-able. Well, if court orders and subpoenas can be enforced.

This happened yesterday:

Federal prosecutors rebuffed a judge’s order to release by Friday highly classified transcripts of discussions that Michael T. Flynn, the president’s former national security adviser, had with the Russian ambassador during the presidential transition.

So what’s that about?

Impeachment is a process, and it’s a process with many steps. Voting on articles of impeachment comes at the end of the process. Pelosi speaks of it as if it’s the only part of the process. It’s true that congressional investigations don’t have to be called impeachment investigations, but there’s a widely held belief that doing so would give subpoenas and court orders more weight. Ignoring subpoenas related to an impeachment inquiry would be, seems to me, obstruction on its face and an impeachable offense in itself.

Of course, there’s  Alan Dershowitz, still on his sad journey from respected legal mind to punchline, embarrassing himself with an op ed claiming the Supreme Court could overrule an “unconstitutional” impeachment. He notes that all the other lawyers hoot at this idea, but cites a serious legal source — himself, in a book he wrote.

“This is all complete nonsense,” writes Paul Campos at Lawyers, Guns & Money. “It would warrant a failing grade if put forward in a first-year law student’s Con Law final.”

Voices claiming the impeachment process would backfire and turn into a debacle that will hurt the Democrats tend to be … conservative. For example, there’s David Frum (citing the Clinton impeachment as an example) and George Will (citing a bunch of irrelevant legal opinion that makes it sound as if he doesn’t believe Trump did anything that wrong). But now even Bill Kirstol says that it’s time for impeachment inquiries, which makes me wonder if the solar system is about to implode.

I believe we’ve reached a point that the entire Trump Administration is such a threat to the Constitution that there is no choice but to begin the impeachment process. Indeed, if the process can’t be used on this president, we might as well erase the procedure from the Constitution.