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Opinion An impeachment that Democratic leaders can get behind

The chief law enforcement official seems intent on incinerating his professional reputation. (Video: Kate Woodsome, Joshua Carroll, Danielle Kunitz/The Washington Post)

It is striking, given how reticent they have been on the topic of impeaching President Trump, to hear House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) open the door to impeachment of Trump’s attorney general.

On the Senate floor Thursday, Schumer railed against Attorney General William P. Barr:

Mr. President, Attorney General Barr’s performance in yesterday’s Judiciary Committee hearing was abysmal, raising all types of questions about his willingness to be a faithful steward of the law. But of several outlandish claims, one stood out — one that should send shivers down the spine of anyone who believes in this democracy. It would probably send shivers down the spines of the Founding Fathers if they heard the attorney general say what he said. Because Attorney General Barr said yesterday that the president could not have obstructed justice because he believed he was falsely accused.
But he even went further. He made a broad principle. Here’s what he said ... he said that if an investigation is, quote, “based on false allegations, the president does not have to sit there constitutionally and allow it to run its course. The president could terminate that proceeding and not have it be corrupt intent because he was falsely accused.”
What a statement! What a statement. If the president himself believes he was falsely accused, he can ... terminate any investigation or proceeding against him? Any at all? And is that determination in the president’s own head and nobody else’s?

The minority leader has sent a letter to Barr seeking clarification, but he seems ready to pull the plug on Barr’s tenure. “If this were to become the actual standard, then no president could be guilty of obstructing a federal investigation — and every president would have the right to terminate any investigation, certainly about that president and maybe about many others with some relationship to the president,” Schumer said. “Attorney General Barr’s comments are as close as it gets to saying the president should be above the law. So I will be writing him a letter and sending it to him this morning asking him explicitly these questions and asking him if he stands by his statement. Because if he does, he should not be attorney general. He should not be attorney general.”

Pelosi went even further. “I really lost sleep last night after watching over and over again the testimony of the attorney general of the United States,” she said at her Thursday news conference. “How sad it is … to see the top law enforcement officer in our country misrepresented, withholding the truth from the Congress of the United States.” As for Barr’s earlier claim that he had no idea that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III was upset with his four-page summary, Pelosi said, “The attorney general of the United States of America was not telling the truth to the Congress of the United States. That’s a crime.” She reiterated, “He lied to Congress. If anybody else did that, it would be considered a crime. Nobody is above the law.”

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Barr’s remarks are unlikely to meet the legal requirements to make out a case of perjury or even a false statement to Congress. However, impeachment need not be based on a crime. Pelosi says, in essence, his conduct in misleading Congress disqualifies him from office; the remedy, if one believes that, is impeachment.

The case for impeach will grow exponentially stronger if the House subpoenas him, he refuses to appear and the House issues a contempt citation. No Republicans are likely to join, but Democrats are on sound constitutional ground. We cannot have a president who believes he is above investigation advised by an attorney general who believes he is above congressional subpoena power.

Impeachment proceedings for Barr should be seriously considered, if for no other reason than it will help lay the predicate for possible impeachment hearings for Trump. It buys time. It educates the public. He will be a blot on his record and his most noteworthy “accomplishment.” And if we want to maintain our constitutional system, it’s a necessity.

Let’s see if Barr blinks and agrees to show. If not, Democrats should have at it.

Read more:

Jennifer Rubin: Barr’s testimony was a low point in Justice Department history

The Post’s View: William Barr torched his reputation. His testimony compounded the damage.

Jennifer Rubin: William Barr and his horrible hearing

Randall D. Eliason: Why didn’t Barr order Mueller to make the call on obstruction?

Dana Milbank: Barr betrayed a friend, lied to Congress and trashed his reputation