Volume II of the report from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III documents a pattern of behavior by President Trump that should alarm anyone who cares about the rule of law and our democracy. That he should be impeached is a no-brainer. The question for the party and for the nation is how to proceed with the process. And it would be a mistake for both if House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the committee chairmen acceded to the burn-this-mutha down caucus’s demand that Trump be held accountable sooner rather than later.
Let me state at the outset that I understand the arguments for “impeachment now.” While Mueller doesn’t come right out and say that Trump obstructed justice, an impeachable offense if there ever were one, he leaves it up to Congress to make that determination with the evidence presented. Kind of like leaving the last puzzle clue for your spouse to complete, and that clue is “2+2=” and the answer has four letters, three of which have already been filled in.
“In the wake of Mueller revelations, to not act is to accept the president’s conduct as tolerable—be it for 18 more months or four more years,” Susan Hennessey and Quinta Jurecic argued convincingly in a post on LawFare blog over the weekend. I agree with them, up to a point. However the Democrats “act,” I want it to be done right. I want their moves to be clear, methodical and determined. And I want it done this way because the folks on Earth 2 will make the lives of the rest of us in the “reality-based community” a living hell unless there is a tsunami of evidence that cannot be ignored.
In a normal world, all 400-plus pages of the Mueller report would be enough to convince both sides of the aisle in Congress and the American people that Trump had to go. His above-the-law efforts to impede the Russia investigation alone would have guaranteed his impeachment in the House and conviction in the Senate. He would be a private citizen within a matter of weeks.
But our reality is quite different. We’re saddled with a president who has fed his narrow base of die-hard supporters a steady diet of opprobrium. He has accused Mueller of “conflicts of interest.” Trump has branded the Mueller probe “a witch hunt” and a “hoax.” And he has slammed the FBI and Mueller’s investigators as “angry Democrats” and “dirty cops.” And Trump’s attacks have been amplified by his propaganda machine, otherwise known as Fox News (Chris Wallace, notwithstanding), which is also the most-watched cable news channel in the country.
According to a YouGov daily survey covering April 19-20, Trump’s job approval rating among Republicans is 86 percent. Gallup’s survey for April 1-9 put it at 89 percent. This stunning level of support that has been consistent through Trump’s presidency explains why we are saddled with Republican members of Congress who mock their oaths of office to defend the Constitution by defending Trump. The depths of the obsequiousness were on vivid display during a shameful appearance on CNN “New Day” by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) on April 19, where they even parroted the president’s attacks.
In this environment, the Mueller report, as solid as it is, won’t be enough. For Democrats to shut down the likes of Jordan and Meadows and to successfully push impeachment, they will need even more evidence that adds to and goes beyond the 10 instances of possible obstruction of justice highlighted by Mueller.
As E.J. Dionne Jr. points out, the House Judiciary, Intelligence, and Oversight and Reform committees are all ramping up ongoing investigations and will pursue others. That means public testimony by Mueller, Rod J. Rosenstein, Donald McGahn and others. Also, we now know that Mueller made 12 previously unknown criminal referrals to other jurisdictions. Trump could be implicated in some of them. The Southern District of New York, where the president is known as “Individual-1,” continues to buzz with activity. And New York State Attorney General Letitia James is doing her own investigation into the president’s foundation and his business practices.
Our Constitution and our democracy demand that impeachment happen right now. That’s why Democrats calling for it to happen, especially the presidential candidates, must keep talking about it. But the politics of the moment demand that the members of Congress who would be responsible for leading such an effort proceed methodically. This would help blunt the impact of incessant presidential carping and hopefully bring along the American people, whose support will be needed for a process that is inherently political.
But make no mistake: Impeachment is coming. Trump is an affront to the Constitution and has violated his oath of office. His conduct is intolerable, and he must be held accountable.
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