Consider Your Legacy: The Case For Impeachment After The Mueller Statement
For the past few months, I have been arguing against impeaching President Trump for obstruction of justice. So has Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. The Speaker sees no point in impeaching Mr. Trump when it is obvious that at least for now, the Senate will never vote to convict by a two-thirds majority. That was then. This is now.
On May 29, Special Counsel Robert Mueller stood before the press and the American people and made a few points that for some reason neither the people nor the press fully grasped from his 400+ page report. Also, everyone digests 9 minutes of TV easier than 400 pages of text.
One, the Russians aimed to hijack our national election in 2016 or at least influence the result in favor of their preferred candidate, Mr. Trump.
Two, there was not sufficient evidence to conclude that the Trump Campaign conspired with the Russians to influence the election. That does not mean there was “no collusion.” It means that Mr. Mueller’s team could not find sufficient evidence to bring such a charge against anyone in the Trump Campaign. This was despite the fact that Mr. Mueller indicted many Russians.
Three, Mr. Mueller was operating under the belief that the Office of Legal Counsel of the Department of Justice had ruled out the possibility of indicting a sitting president. This appeared to be a first principle for Mr. Mueller. Thus, in two above, even if Mueller had found evidence of conspiracy by Trump, he wouldn’t have indicted him as he did so many others. (Sure he could have indicted Jared and Don, Jr., but he did not).
Four, there was not sufficient evidence to indict Mr. Trump on charges of obstruction of justice either, BUT he couldn’t be indicted anyway (see above) and there was not enough evidence to exonerate the president of these charges either.
In other words, there was belligerent actions by the Russians against our election in favor of one candidate although that candidate’s campaign may or may not have conspired with the Russians. And, there was insufficient exculpatory evidence to rid Mr. Trump of the shadow of obstruction of justice. That determination is up in the air. Trump is not “not guilty.”
Finally, Mr. Mueller made it quite clear where these issues need to be resolved. That would be in the Congress through the Constitutionally designated procedures in Article One. Mr. Mueller sees no need for himself to testify to Congress although if called all he will tell Congress is what is in the report he wrote. Is there some heuristic value to having him do so in front of the TV cameras for all America to see? Probably. It worked with John Dean in Watergate. It just worked again.
The bottom line message from Mr. Mueller to Congress is simple. I have given you everything that you need to make the case against the president, but I am not going to do what is your job to do.
So the question for Mrs. Pelosi, the six investigating committees, and the rest of the Democratic caucus is how long do we dare avoid doing our Constitutional duty in light of the Mueller Report? While it may be politically expedient to hold off on impeachment proceedings, what will our legacy be five years from now in the race for the White House, a third of the Senate and the entire House in 2024?
How about an example?
In 2002 it seemed expedient for members of the Senate to vote to authorize the war in Iraq. Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden did just that. Turn the page to 2008 or 2016 or 2020. Why shouldn’t the opposition in the person of Barack Obama in 2008 or Bernie Sanders in 2016 or all the rest of the 20 2020 Democratic candidates beside Biden use these misplaced votes of expedience against the older warriors? What will the legacy of the current House be when a reckoning is taken five years from now about impeachment? The members of the House need to consider both the short-term consequences (the public has no stomach for impeachment yet and we will seem calmer if we don’t do it) vs. the long-term consequences of what did you do when the call came to stand up for what is right?
It’s a tough time to be a House member, Democrat or Republican. It’s always hard when authority is misbehaving and you have a choice to call them on it or sit silently by. Think about that and think about your academic colleagues who may be under the gun simply because of their ethnicity. It’s the same issue. Stand up and be counted or stay seated cowering? Everyone has a choice and everyone has an interest as Mr. Mueller made clear in his statement Wednesday.
I have changed my mind in the face of Mr. Mueller’s statement. He says everything needed to impeach is in the report. I believe that he is correct. In that case, the Democrats will do themselves a long-term service by facing up to their Constitutional responsibility. Impeach the president whether or not he will eventually be convicted. He needs to be held accountable for what he has done in an effort to obstruct justice. And it needs to be on TV. He may walk. He may even become stronger, but at least the Democrats did something.
It’s also possible to do something less than impeachment. (See Peggy Noonan’s piece from the WSJ on June 1). Censure of the president is a perfectly acceptable position for the Congress to take that rebukes his behavior without reversing the outcome of an election.
Is this political? You bet it is. Is it supposed to be? Can’t help but be. Does that make it less legitimate. It does not. Put his feet to the fire. If he remains standing at least you can’t say you didn’t try to do the right thing. Besides it’s a long process. You never know what will happen.
Maybe Trump will quit. He never wanted to be president anyway. Maybe Congress will tell him, “You’re fired.”