Give Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) credit for finally saying that firing special counsel Robert S. Mueller III would be impeachable conduct by President Trump. “Well, I think what the president will have done is stopped an investigation in whether or not his campaign colluded with the Russians, what effect the Russians had on the 2016 campaign,” he told radio host Hugh Hewitt. “I can’t see it being anything other than a corrupt purpose.” He also was candid enough to admit, in essence, that his fellow Republicans are hypocrites who put party above country. If it were a Democratic president, Graham conceded, Republicans would “all have a different view.”
Several things follow from this outpouring of candor.
First, if Republicans under the same circumstances would take the view that a Democratic president’s actions are impeachable, they have no business being in office. They are, if Graham is right, entirely incapable of upholding their oaths. At the very least, Graham has suggested that they very likely are not willing to put country above party.
We have been saying much the same thing, namely that Republicans are signaling by their silence in the face of threats to Mueller that they have no stomach to really confront Trump. If they wanted to clear up any confusion, they could pass legislation — or simply a resolution — saying firing Mueller would be grounds for impeachment. They haven’t, and their silence is telling.
That realization — that they won’t apply the same standard to Trump that they’d apply to a Democratic president — tells us they must be voted out. If there is a substantial risk that they will not take action even when they know conduct has been committed that justifies impeachment, there is no reason to entrust the awesome responsibility of office, let alone the majority in both houses, to Republicans.
Graham invites further scrutiny. In his mind, we now know, “corrupt intent” in interfering with a prosecutor’s investigation into Trump’s own conduct is grounds for impeachment. But what if corrupt intent is revealed in a slew of other ways — drafting a false account of the Trump Tower meeting with a Kremlin-connected lawyer, firing then-FBI Director James B. Comey, asking Comey to lay off Michael Flynn, threatening Comey (with some sort of claim that he improperly leaked information), cooking up a phony explanation for firing Comey, telling his White House counsel to fire Mueller, orchestrating the firing of a witness in the Russia investigation (Andrew McCabe), spewing baseless conspiracy theories to discredit the FBI so that the investigation will not have credibility with the president, and on and on? All of these actions demonstrate a pattern of action driven by corrupt intent. The test cannot be whether his corrupt intent succeeded in decapitating the chief prosecutor; it is whether Trump had the requisite criminal mind-set and took actions in furtherance of his corrupt intent. In sum, if Trump took all the actions (and more) listed above with the intent of freeing himself from an investigation into his own wrongdoing then, under Graham’s theory, impeachment is warranted.
Two caveats are in order.
Republicans may have higher standards than Graham (and I) believe. They should be given the opportunity to go on the record now (and before the midterms) and tell us that firing Mueller is grounds for impeachment. They can give their reasons — and explain why only firing Mueller (not firing Comey, for example) would trigger impeachment. In other words, knowing what we know now, has Trump’s conduct to disrupt and impair the investigation evidenced corrupt intent?
Second, unlike Democrats who could well say, “We think he’s committed impeachable acts, but it would tear the country apart to impeach,” Republicans could remove — indeed have the obligation to remove — the political taint by making justified impeachment bipartisan. It’s their refusal to put partisanship aside (as Graham seems to anticipate) that would foist constitutional responsibility onto Democrats. Republicans will have rendered an appropriate congressional response to presidential conduct (impeachment and removal) dangerous to the survival of our democracy.
In short, Graham deserves praise for owning up to the conclusion that interfering with an investigation to protect the president’s own hide is impeachable. Now, we have to find out whether he thinks Trump has already met that standard by the pattern of conduct leading up to the present barrage of threats against Mueller. And if the voters have reason to believe Republicans will refuse to uphold their oaths — leaving in office an unfit president, or daring Democrats to set off a divisive political battle — they really need to get those lawmakers out of there. Good thing that there are elections coming up.