Rep. Jerrold Nadler’s letter to White House Counsel Pat Cipollone runs eight pages. If you look carefully enough you’ll see Nadler (D-N.Y.) positioning the House for one of three options in dealing with President Trump’s unconstitutional stonewalling, which is designed to remove Trump from any accountability for his conduct while in office. Nadler, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, isn’t choosing one strategy over the others, but rather, is keeping his options open.
The first course of action is to continue hammering away at the facts, influence public opinion and ensure that Trump goes into the 2020 election bruised and bloodied. Atop the list of required steps: Rebutting the “exoneration” claim by Trump and his lackeys. To that end, Nadler writes:
As a threshold matter, your failure to comprehend the gravity of the Special Counsel’s findings is astounding and dangerous. The Mueller Report found that Russia interfered in our elections and outlined our nation’s acute vulnerability to another attack. The Special Counsel also found that the President engaged in multiple acts to exert undue influence over law enforcement investigations.
He reminds voters that 900 prosecutors have signed a letter affirming their view that, absent Justice Department policy not to indict a sitting president, the conduct in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report would have warranted an indictment.
Nadler is also making the record clear for a court fight. In this, he not only sets forth the records of all his committee’s efforts to accommodate the White House (judges want to see that sort of thing before resorting to injunctive relief). He also makes the legal argument: Congress has “the right — indeed the duty under the Constitution” to investigate. The president, therefore, cannot simultaneously claim “the President cannot be indicted by the Department of Justice, and that Congress cannot investigate him.” This would put Trump “above the law." Demanding that the House stop its inquiry is “inconsistent with the most basic principles underlying our constitutional system of government.”
In other words, you judges out there, Trump is trying to take an unprecedented position that Congress cannot investigate wrongdoing (Benghazi? Fast & Furious? Watergate?). The judicial branch must help us stop him.
As a third option, Nadler is also laying the predicate for an article of impeachment based on obstruction of Congress. The third article of impeachment against President Richard M. Nixon declared that Nixon had “failed without lawful cause or excuse to produce papers and things as directed by duly authorized subpoenas issued by the Committee on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives . . . and willfully disobeyed such subpoenas." Article 3 continued, "The subpoenaed papers and things were deemed necessary by the Committee in order to resolve by direct evidence fundamental, factual questions relating to Presidential direction, knowledge or approval of actions demonstrated by other evidence to be substantial grounds for impeachment of the President.”
The article described four instances in which Nixon refused to respond to subpoenas. Nadler lists nine instances in which committees have been denied access to documents or information on everything from the funding of Trump’s border wall, to Department of Homeland Security policies and the firings of its senior officials, to the Affordable Care Act. Nadler’s letter would suggest that committees certainly can turn those documents into subpoenas, giving Trump a choice between coughing up information or finding himself in a worse position than that which drew an article of impeachment against Nixon.
There you have it: Evidence of obstruction of justice; the president’s self-interested refusal to address Russia’s attack on our election system — and, indeed, to have invited it (!); and obstruction of Congress. Maybe investigations and discussion of these offenses substantially impact voters’ choice in 2020. (Stop the madness! Dump Trump!) Alternatively, Congress is building a darn good record for litigation. And finally, as an alternative or after exhausting the judicial option, Congress has enough material for at least three robust articles of impeachment. (And we haven’t gotten to a possible campaign finance conspiracy or possible financial misconduct.)
In Watergate, they said to follow the money. Here, follow the letters. They’ll tell you a lot.