Schrödinger’s Impeachment Inquiry

The House Judiciary Committee appears to have begun an impeachment inquiry yesterday.

The House Judiciary Committee on Friday asked a federal judge to unseal grand jury secrets related to Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation, using the court filing to declare that lawmakers have already in effect launched an impeachment investigation of President Trump.

In a legal maneuver that carries significant political overtones, the committee told a judge that it needs access to the grand jury evidence collected by Mr. Mueller as special counsel — such as witness testimony — because it is “investigating whether to recommend articles of impeachment” against the president.

Or, maybe not. What should have been a bombshell news story was muted by thick fog of ambiguity:

Members of the committee majority, led by Chairman Jerry Nadler, crowded together in front of a lectern to unveil their next steps following the testimony Wednesday of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller. What began as an announcement of high-profile lawsuits building on that testimony quickly devolved into a confused back-and-forth with reporters as Nadler and his colleagues repeatedly insisted they were not beginning impeachment proceedings before admitting that, yes, they were basically doing just that.

“Impeachment isn’t a binary thing,” argued Representative Mary Gay Scanlon, the committee’s vice chair. “What we’ve been saying, what we’ve been doing, is starting a process. We’re engaging in an investigation to see if we should recommend articles of impeachment … We started it some months ago, in some ways.”

“The committee is exercising its authority to investigate all of these scandals and to decide what to do about them, which could include articles of impeachment,” said Nadler—though he also emphasized that this wasn’t the same as an impeachment inquiry: “If an impeachment inquiry is if you’re considering only impeachment, that’s not what we’re doing.”

Then, to confound any faint whisp of certitude that might have taken hold after that exchange, four members of the House Judiciary Committee explained in The Atlantic Why We’re Moving Forward With Impeachment.

Despite assertions to the contrary by the president and his allies, the special counsel’s report and testimony are not the end of our investigations. We have now filed a petition in court to obtain the grand-jury documents referenced in the special counsel’s report. In that filing, we have made clear that we will utilize our Article I powers to obtain the additional underlying evidence, as well as enforce subpoenas for key witness testimony, and broaden our investigations to include conflicts of interest and financial misconduct….

…As members of the House Judiciary Committee, we understand the gravity of this moment that we find ourselves in. We wake up every morning with the understanding of the oath that binds us as members of Congress, and the trust that our constituents placed in us to uphold that oath. We will move forward with the impeachment process. Our investigation will seriously examine all the evidence as we consider whether to bring articles of impeachment or other remedies under our Article I powers.

So, call it an impeachment or other remedy inquiry. Charles Pierce believes that Nancy Pelosi is sorta kinda on board.

Nadler shrewdly roped in the Department of Justice under William Barr by telling the court that DOJ and White House stonewalling left him no other choice than to ask formally for the grand jury material. And it becomes even more intriguing with this wink-and-nod routine from Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Democrats are seeking to enforce subpoenas in court for certain documents in their investigation, as well as testimony from witnesses, all of which the administration has not complied with. This includes requests for six years of the president’s tax returns. “Everybody has the liberty and the luxury to espouse their own position and to criticize me for trying to go down the path in the most determined, positive way,” she said. “Again, their advocacy for impeachment only gives me leverage.”

In combination, Nadler’s motion and Pelosi’s remarks strike me as the result of serious re-negotiations within the Democratic House caucus. Pelosi seems to have freed up Nadler to move on the grand jury material. Baby steps, people, but ones that are starting to echo.

Still, this is all pretty mushy. Quinta Jurecic of Lawfare and The Atlantic writes,

The basic message is that the movers and shakers among the House Democrats believe the president to be a criminal who is disloyal to his country and abusive of his office, and yet somehow his conduct is not quite bad enough to justify the constitutional remedy designed to address the problem posed by such a leader. Pelosi and Schiff have both argued that impeachment proceedings are too dire a remedy to use in a situation in which the Senate would fail to convict an impeached president. But this is a separate argument, and to some extent one at cross-purposes, from their hints that Trump’s actions so far just don’t rise to a level that warrants impeachment. There may be a clear, forceful line of logic somewhere in here, but the House leadership has instead dabbled in a range of arguments while committing to none.

Friday’s House Judiciary Committee press conference flipped that dynamic on its head. The committee is moving toward impeachment proceedings—or, perhaps, has already begun them—with the same confusion that characterizes Pelosi’s opposition to it.

There is solid reason to believe that by invoking impeachment, the House Judiciary Committee will be on stronger legal ground to prevail in court to get the documents it wants. “In this sense, a press conference establishing that the committee is considering whether to bring articles of impeachment is a necessary step in beginning this litigation,” Jurecic writes. And Pelosi appears to have signed off on the language used in the press conference. “By fudging whether an inquiry actually exists or not, the committee might make it more difficult for that inquiry to be turned against the Democrats. Thus have Pelosi and Nadler split the baby,” said Jurecic.

However, all this fudging does mute the moral weight of the committee’s act. “The trouble with bringing urgent moral questions down to the level of political horse-trading is that the urgency dissolves, and with it the sense of moral crisis that House Democrats worked so hard over the course of Mueller’s testimony to build up,” Jurecic said.

Paul Thorton wrote in the Los Angeles Times,

At almost any other time in American history, a decorated Marine with a highly distinguished legal and law enforcement career vouching for his 400-page report detailing a president’s impeachment-worthy conduct would be greeted with (at least) deference or (at best) bipartisan gratitude.

But Robert S. Mueller III had the misfortune of explaining his life’s most important investigation to a bunch of Republicans eager to engage in character assassination on behalf of the the most amoral president in U.S. history, and in front of a media that valued “optics” just as much as the details of Mueller’s report.

Re “optics”: Do see the Columbia Journalism Review.


12 thoughts on “Schrödinger’s Impeachment Inquiry

  1. I think both Pelosi and Schiff realize that they are dealing with nihilists like Goemert and Gaetz in the House, and in the Senate, well, I  don't think McConnell will even hold the trial, and if he does, John Roberts will preside, with Fox News weighing in and Chuck Todd providing theater criticism. This is a tough needle to thread in order to be effective. 

    • "This is a tough needle to thread in order to be effective."


      THANK YOU.  Sadly, it seems that some armchair impeachment "experts" do not understand this at all. 

      • Sadly, it seems that some armchair impeachment "experts" do not understand this at all. 

        Actually, most of us advocating for impeachment hearings understand the reality of Mitch McConnell's Republican Senate very well. The point is less about the trial and more about the hearings. "Impeachment hearings" will hold a lot more weight and media attention than "investigations." Those of us old enough to remember the Nixon impeachment hearings appreciate what those did to change public opinion. Making investigations about impeachment would also neutralize the administration's chief argument against subpoenas, that they are after things that are not part of congressional legislative functions. 

        It's is entirely possible that, even if the House eventually passes articles of impeachment, Mitch McConnell would block a trial. If the impeachment hearings have done their work and destroyed the Trump Administration to all but his die-hard base, let Mitch do his worse, and let the backlash fall on him and his party.  

  2. However, all this fudging does mute the moral weight of the committee’s act. 

    Not to my mind. The determination to press on in the face of the lies, obstructions, stonewalling,and political out maneuvering only increases my admiration for the committee's actions on the behalf of a seemingly morally disengaged and unaware of the price to be paid public.

    We are not the end of the journey. How do we restore a foundation of truth after it's been eroded by countless lies and deceptions from a leader who is supposed to fill the position of a moral authority?

  3. From the CJR piece: "Politics isn’t entertainment, it is not a performance to be critiqued. Reporting on national politics is a public trust of solemn importance that affects hundreds of millions of people."

    If only that fine sounding and childishly sappy sentiment were true. We have a long history of yellow journalism. Presidents have seldom been elected primarily on policy. Worse, since Reagan's people had him give speeches in front of national monuments and walls of American flags, TV PR has grown into an even more dense layer of distortion. The arguably logical result is a game show host "president" who understands only celebrity, media, and the viewing public. The Democrats can't be blamed for being unsure of themselves in the present environment, and at least they appear to be aware of it and the importance of creating a competing show to keep Trump from completely controlling the media narrative.

  4. This is the democrats doing their usual, let's have exists on both sides of an issue that we can step through if ever we need to abandon principle to appease either side.  If the winds blow such that the coveted "center-right" voters, republicans and independents, sour on impeachment, they can say, that was never our intention.  If approval for impeachment rises from the public as a whole, they can say, see, we were always for it.  

    Trying to be on both sides of an issue as an act of political cleverness certainly reduces the committees moral weight because in so doing its clear their interest is more political than it is moral, e.g. not doing the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, but doing the politically beneficial thing.  That's what the calculation about what the Senate will or won't do is, and using that as your main decision point is purely about political benefit, obviously.  This tactic also requires the democrats to mute or tamp down any passion for the act, leaving the public to wonder what it is they are really doing.  

    Half-a**ed measures can only, at best, deliver half-a**ed results. 

    • "Half-a**ed measures can only, at best, deliver half-a**ed results."


      What?  What in the name of God and Sonny Jesus are you wanking on about?


      This is NOT "half-assed".  It is the only fucking option the Democrats have because they live in the real world, not the fantasy Sorkin world you obviously inhabit.  In the real world, the GOP have gummed up the works and the Trump Administration is stalling, stalling, and being outright hostile and running to the Courts while the mainstream media "both sides" the hell out of everything while also sticking the knife in the Democrats' backs.

      The investigation and hearings that are going on were not possible during the time when the GOP ran the House and Paul Ryan was SOH, but let's chuck all that aside just for another jab at Pelosi.

      Any effort at impeachment was going to take time.  And the Democrats have been doing everything possible to make sure that all the i's are dotted and all the t's are crossed.

      "Half-assed" my ass.

  5. "Moscow" Mitch almost certainly will not allow the Senate to hold a trial, so SotH Pelosi knows that any impeachment efforts will not bear fruit.

    However, imo, it's important to "brand" tRUMP with the "scarlet letter" that is impeachment.  (Hmm, maybe a different color letter, since scarlet might not stand out enough on his wafer-thin faux-tanned orange skin.  The "black letter" "I" would be perfect, since he hates everyone who's not white!  And also, make it clear he's an "Idiot" and "Imbecile!").

    Impeachment – even without a Senate vote – will stick to tRUMP's odious name forever.  It will reinforce how corrupt the Republican party is, and has been for a while.

    We need to show some spine!  We have to draw a line, not just for tRUMP, but for all future Presidents.

    Is it risky?  HELL YES!  If mishandled, it will give tRUMP the 2020 election – and then, who knows what form any future elections will take?

    A lot of the punTWIT"s on TV say that time is running out for impeachment, since the next election will be held in a little over 15 months.  I don't know.  How concerning should that be?  It could be beneficial!  Too many Americans have the memory of Mayflies, so holding impeachment hearing in late '19 or early '20 may actually help them remember the "high crimes and misdemeanors" committed by tRUMP when they go to the polls.

    I'm glad it's not my job to figure this shit out.  But I know that Nancy Pelosi is much smarter than I am, and a far better politician, so I think the question of impeachment is in good hands.

    Good luck, Nancy!!!

    We'll need it…

  6. Google today's Baltimore Sun editorial page immediately!

    They have an epic editorial that just dismantles and destroys tRUMP!

  7. Help, somebody, please!…I can't keep up with Trump's outrages. I know I'm supposed to be strong and be able to weather the constant barrage of lies and insults that pour forth from Trump's tweets, but I'm beginning to buckle emotionally under the strain. I feel like I'm all alone, yeah occasionally I'll find some relief when some commenter fires off a hard hitting rebuke to one of Trump's racist and divisive tweets, but considering the volume and the rate at which he offends it is difficult not to feel a cumulative effect of his outrages and lies wearing on me.

    I find myself asking how can this be. How can his lies,his inversions of truth, his lack of decency, his petty and childish antics, his outright cruelty, and his overall ignorance continue without sufficient push back? His conduct as a president and a decent human being is contrary to every value I hold dear. No doubt he's an abomination. And I just can't understand how he has managed to survive this long in the position that he has. This situation has in my eyes devolved beyond politics and has entered the realm of spiritual warfare.

    Ephesians 6:12 

     "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places."

    I don't don't want to come off as some asshole holy roller, but there are times when it is beneficial to draw on the wisdom of past generations so as to have a clear understanding of what you're dealing with in the now. Trump's racist tweets are ripping at the scars of the most grievous wound this nation has ever endured. We have to confront it.


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