The I Word

By

Leonard Zwelling

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/23/us/politics/trump-mueller-obstruction.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/23/us/politics/obstruction-impeachable-offense.html?searchResultPosition=1

These are two of many articles being written about the mechanics, legal justification, and likely outcomes of impeachment proceedings in the House of Representatives against President Trump in the wake of the Mueller Report.

There are several questions that should be asked about the I word.

First, what is the purpose of starting an impeachment movement in the current environment. The current environment means a Democratic House, an impeachment-averse Republican Senate, and a president in his first term which means the voters will have a chance to determine whether or not Mr. Trump gets another four years in the White House.

Second, the articles to which I have included links discuss all of this and what you take away from them and the countless others is that while there may be a case that Mr. Trump committed high crimes and misdemeanors in the form of obstruction of justice, there is very little likelihood that he would get convicted in the Senate. There is also little appetite on the part of the American public for any more debate about what Mr. Trump has or has not done with regard to the Russians or to obstruction of justice. He still has his steady 37% of support and over 50% of the public in opposition to his presidency and that’s not enough to push the Senate to convict him.

Third, Congress should by rights investigate all of the leads promulgated by the Mueller Report on obstruction, but can do so without first invoking the need to impeach. Congress has a legitimate oversight role here and ought to fulfill that role regardless of whether or not it leads to impeachment. If congressional hearings sway the American public (see the Watergate hearings), then perhaps impeachment will be a viable option. It isn’t yet and likely won’t be before November of 2020. Americans want to weigh in on the state of the nation under its current leadership at the ballot box. Americans ought to do just that and need to be more fully informed before voting. That can be accomplished through thoughtful hearings based on the road map provided by Mr. Mueller without the need to vote for articles of impeachment.

Of course a meaningful Democratic primary wouldn’t hurt either but with twenty horses in the race, some thoroughbreds and some nags, I have little hope that the Dems will get this right. I can’t even figure out what a Democrat is any more given the number of “democratic socialists” running and the more traditional Dems running away from the new Dems.

Nancy Pelosi is one Democrat who is a lot of things, none of them socialistic. One of them is shrewd. If she thinks impeachment is unwise as it appears she does, then it probably is. The country simply is not there yet.

What the Democrats need to do is to document irrefutable evidence of Mr. Trump committing obstruction of justice and then, and only then, invoke impeachment. If the country is not convinced after the House hearings, then perhaps there was no obstruction after all.

As of now we are in limbo and it is the job of the Congress to gain clarity for the American people as to whether or not the president is a crook. We’ve been here before and we will, no doubt, be here again. Great power tends to corrupt and that includes presidential power.

There is an order for things. Impeaching Mr. Trump now is useless. There are simply too many questions about what he did or didn’t do that constitutes criminal activity. If the Democrats in the House can get this right, fine, go ahead and impeach him. But if they cannot convince the majority of the people that the President of the United States is a criminal, then the House will never convince the Senate.

There is only one purpose to impeachment proceedings. They are to put the Chief Executive on trial because there is proof, beyond a reasonable doubt, that he committed high crimes and misdemeanors. That is simply a bar that has not been reached yet. If it is reached through public hearings by witnesses whose names are well known thanks to Mr. Mueller, then there’s a case to be made. Until then, the I word is investigation, not impeachment.

Leonard Zwelling