The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The push to impeach Trump just got more serious. But there’s a problem.

Harvard University professor Danielle Allen says it is wrong to discuss impeachment as a purely political question, not a legal, moral, or constitutional one. (Video: The Washington Post)
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House Democrats are dramatically expanding their inquiry into whether to bring articles of impeachment against President Trump. That inquiry, which is being run out of the Judiciary Committee, will now include not just an examination of the special counsel’s findings but also scrutiny of Trump’s corruption — his dangling of pardons and his latest shameless acts of self-dealing.

And this inquiry is expanding even further than that: Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a senior member of the committee, told me it might include scrutiny of financial information obtained from Deutsche Bank, which is being sought to determine whether Trump engaged in money laundering or whether his foreign dealings left him subject to foreign influence.

But there’s a serious problem here that cannot be deferred forever: There are still no indications that the House Democratic leadership is prepared to allow a full House vote on articles of impeachment, even if such articles are passed out of the Judiciary Committee.

Yet at the same time, the broadening of this inquiry is likely to make the case for a full House vote on impeachment articles increasingly irresistible.

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In an interview with me, Raskin detailed the Judiciary Committee’s plan to broaden its ongoing inquiry into whether to bring articles of impeachment, which the New York Times reported on over the weekend.

“We are expanding the investigation outwards from the Mueller report to what I think every American can understand intuitively — the president has treated the office as an extended get-rich-quick scheme,” Raskin told me.

The reason this is happening: Trump has pushed his corruption to the forefront. He publicly confirmed that he wants to host the next Group of Seven meeting at his Doral resort in Florida, an extraordinarily blatant act of self-dealing.

Meanwhile, his vice president, Mike Pence, stayed at Trump’s resort in Ireland amid circumstances that rendered the move almost comically unjustifiable. And this comes after reports confirmed that Trump privately dangled pardons to officials after urging them to break laws to build his border wall faster.

Democrats are now examining all of it. The Judiciary and Oversight committees have demanded documents illuminating Trump’s effort to host the G-7 and the vice president’s stay, arguing that these moves likely violated the Constitution’s ban on foreign and domestic emoluments. They’re also scrutinizing Trump’s dangling of pardons.

Raskin told me that Democrats would conduct hearings on Trump’s violations of the emoluments clauses. And he said Democrats might vote on a resolution calling on Trump to reimburse the emoluments he has pocketed, which, if nothing else, might force the issue to a head.

“If he does not, then he has chosen to escalate the constitutional confrontation,” Raskin said. “At that point, we would probably need to repair to the wisdom of the founders, and exercise the remedy they identified for a president engaging in this extraordinary breach of the public trust.”

Raskin added that all these blatant moves by Trump should help concentrate the public case against Trump’s corruption. “The public is just waking up to the fact that the president has been using his office like a private corporation,” he said.

The Deutsche Bank angle

In a quiet but important move, the Judiciary Committee recently asked multiple other committees — including Intelligence and Financial Services — to share documents or materials they think might assist in deciding on whether to vote on articles of impeachment.

This is suggestive of one route all this could take. The Times has reported that the records of Trump’s finances held by Deutsche Bank — a longtime lender to Trump — go far beyond Trump’s much-coveted tax returns.

These records, the Times reported, are of intense interest to the Financial Services committee, which is examining whether Trump helped Russians or other foreign buyers launder money, and to the Intelligence Committee, which is trying to determine whether Trump’s financial entanglements made him vulnerable to foreign influence.

We don’t know how much of that paperwork House investigators will get, or how far those probes have gotten, or what they will turn up. But if they do bear some fruit, it would likely become part of the inquiry into whether to bring articles of impeachment — and part of the basis for such articles, if they are eventually voted on.

Raskin confirmed as much to me, though he cautioned that Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) makes final decisions.

“All the evidence turned up by these other committees will be used by the Judiciary Committee in making decisions about further actions to be taken, including articles of impeachment,” Raskin told me.

The coming explosion

It seems obvious that Trump’s extraordinary blatant acts of corruption — he’s basically flaunting his ability to carry them out with impunity at this point — can only help build the public case against Trump. If Judiciary does pass articles of impeachment, which appears at least plausible, the question will then be whether Democratic leaders will ever decide that it obligates a full House vote on them.

Here’s where the problem arises. The leadership appears dug in against any such vote. The fact that members in moderate districts aren’t feeling constituent pressure on impeachment isn’t helping.

But if that public case against Trump gets stronger and stronger — indeed, it’s already incredibly strong — that means not acting threatens to do serious political damage to Democrats, further dividing them and making them look feckless and unwilling to hold a corrupt president accountable.

What’s more, not acting threatens civic damage as well — it would send a message to the public that none of this will be subject to accountability via use of the tools the House has at its disposal. Indeed, as Brian Beutler points out, failing to hold a vote clarifying Trump’s corruption also lets the full GOP off the hook for its enabling of that corruption.

How this tension will get resolved is unclear. But it isn’t going away, and as it intensifies, it only threatens to grow more destructive.

Read more:

Danielle Allen: Don’t forget there’s an impeachment inquiry underway

Jennifer Rubin: A major impeachment development: Court may order McGahn’s testimony

Jonathan Capehart: Give Pelosi what she wants on impeachment

Greg Sargent: It’s time for impeachment hearings on Trump. Here’s how Democrats may proceed.

Ron Fournier: Will impeachment backfire on Democrats? Not if they do it right.