Fear is not a governing principle, and impeachment is not a dirty word; it is a constitutional one. Democrats’ fear of a backlash at the polls is no reason to avoid their constitutional responsibility to begin a formal impeachment proceeding against President Trump. This is a complex decision, but given the evidence presented in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report, it is not a difficult one. The special counsel did not have a pathway to hold Trump accountable for obstruction of justice. Congress does.
Some members of Congress ruled out impeachment long before receiving the Mueller report, predicting that the Senate would not convict — and they might be right. Some believe impeachment is a distraction for voters who care more about health care and jobs, pocketbook issues. Still others believe the president will use impeachment as a rallying cry for his base. Some are still suffering from Post-Clinton Impeachment Syndrome and worry Democrats will lose the House or narrow their majority as the GOP did in 1998. Others want to “build the record” before deciding whether to begin an impeachment proceeding. These are all legitimate concerns, but they do not address the constitutional consideration of the evidence that the president of the United States may have committed “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Such evidence requires the Congress to act.
Impeachment is building the record: considering a resolution in the Judiciary Committee; conducting an investigation pursuant to that resolution; and referring articles of impeachment (or not) to the full House. So, Democrats should stop using the language of oversight and accountability (important to be sure) for what takes place next. They should instead, in the manner of a home-plate umpire, call the strike: Use the constitutional framework and its language to sort out this mess and hold the president responsible for his actions.
Impeachment is an extraordinary measure designed for extraordinary behavior by the executive. By any stretch, the behavior detailed in the Mueller report is extraordinary. The Framers were guarding against the possibility of an executive behaving like the English king they left behind — stealing from the people, breaking the law, acting with impunity. President Trump is not a king, and we must use the Constitution as it was conceived to ensure he does not become one.
From former White House counsel John Dean to NFL great Ray Lewis to mobster John Gotti, legions of people have received felony sentences for obstruction of justice. This is a serious crime — it is not a misdemeanor shoplifting offense. Imagine the girlfriend who intentionally lies to investigators about the whereabouts of her boyfriend on the night of a robbery, sending them on a wild goose chase; or the boss who threatens his employees if they tell investigators that he cooked the books. Obstruction of justice is a crime because it undermines the rule of law and wastes valuable law enforcement resources.
The Mueller report lays out evidence that Trump engaged in 10 separate acts of potential obstruction. However, as detailed as it is, the report does not end the process. Witnesses, including the special counsel, will be called. Potential witnesses who are crucial to understanding the president’s actions were not interviewed by the Mueller team. The House needs to hear from them. Many Americans will read the full Mueller report, and others will read and hear media accounts. Nothing will substitute for viewing and hearing witnesses under oath in front of the House Judiciary Committee. This is an important part of the process to educate the American people. That process has a name: impeachment.
Those who are waiting for the next election to solve this problem are trying to solve the wrong problem. What if Trump loses? What if he wins? If this president is not held to account through the constitutional process that is available to Congress, it will create a problem for the next president and the next Congress. Maybe the next president only commits six obstructive acts. Will they give him or her a pass, too?