Let’s imagine for the moment a hypothetical in which Nancy Pelosi continues along the current course, keeping it somewhat vague on her final intentions until, in the end, the drive to impeach President Trump concludes without the speaker endorsing or allowing any full House vote on impeachment articles.
In this scenario, the Judiciary Committee would vote out articles on its own, and the leadership would end up not throwing its weight behind them (allowing vulnerable members to remain opposed), dooming the push. Or the Judiciary Committee, seeing that outcome as inevitable, would not vote out articles at all. Either way, the effort would peter out and die.
Such an endgame has long seemed difficult to sustain, given Trump’s mounting corruption and lawlessness. But the scandal around Trump’s pressure on Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden — and his administration’s seemingly illegal coverup of the whistleblower complaint, which is said to involve that pressure — throws the untenable nature of that endgame into even sharper relief.
Trump has now openly allowed that his call with the Ukrainian president was about how “we don’t want our people, like Vice President Biden and his son, creating to the corruption already in the Ukraine.”
The fact that Trump appears to have withheld military aid to Ukraine while demanding that it investigate his most likely general election opponent — even as his administration is violating the law by withholding an “urgent” and “credible” whistleblower complaint from Congress that appears to involve this matter — has combined to exert a new level of pressure on top Democrats.
Thus it is that Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the chair of the Intelligence Committee, has now told CNN that Trump may have “crossed a Rubicon.” Schiff said that if Trump is “using the power of the presidency” to seek foreign assistance in an election a second time, while engaging in a “coverup,” then impeachment may be the “only remedy.”
Subsequent to this, Pelosi warned that if the whistleblower complaint continues to be withheld, Democrats will enter “a whole new stage of investigation.” Schiff’s and Pelosi’s statements were reportedly coordinated.
It is becoming exceedingly difficult to imagine what an endgame in which impeachment fizzles would look like.
We’re likely getting articles of impeachment
In an interview with me, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, suggested that if these latest revelations are as grave as they look, it’s all but certain we’ll get articles of impeachment from the committee.
“If the evidence indeed shows that the president again betrayed the national interest by placing his personal political agenda in front of the rule of law and the interests of the American people, that is easily reducible to an article of impeachment,” Raskin told me.
What vaults this to a whole new level is that Trump is doing all of this in real time, right now, as president. The already known facts are damning. Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani has admitted that Trump has signed off on his ongoing pressure on Ukraine to investigate Biden, saying: “I don’t do anything that involves my client without speaking to my client.”
You don’t need an explicit quid pro quo for this to be extraordinarily serious. Trump is using the leverage of the presidency — and it’s hard to see how the Ukrainian president could experience this otherwise — to get a foreign power to interfere in our election on his behalf.
This comes after Trump and his top advisers already went to great lengths to conspire with and benefit from foreign sabotage of our democracy in the last presidential election. Trump continues to mostly shrug about that, even as he has openly invited more of the same on other occasions as well.
He’s rubbing our faces in all of it
David Leonhardt has a good list of Trump’s many other transgressions. But he leaves off an important one: In committing extensive and likely criminal obstruction of justice, Trump wasn’t merely acting to defend himself against accountability; he was also trying to impede an accounting of a foreign attack on our political system. Impeachment experts have said this may well rise to the level of a high crime and misdemeanor.
But now, not only is Trump again actively soliciting more foreign interference in our election on his behalf. It appears he may again be trying to cover it up: Trump’s top officials are currently withholding the whistleblower complaint from Congress, in plain violation of the law.
We still don’t know for sure that the pressure on Ukraine was the subject of that complaint. But we do already know that this is an extraordinarily corrupt manipulation of the machinery of government to prevent Congress from carrying out its institutional role in holding the executive branch accountable.
Given all this, what message will it send to the country if House Democrats don’t exercise the remedy of holding an impeachment inquiry that has the party’s full and forceful backing?
Yes, the GOP Senate will acquit. And yes, defeating Trump’s reelection would be a form of accountability. But how will Democrats justify failing to use every institutional tool at their disposal — not just to take the case to the country that such misconduct is simply unacceptable in a president, but also to compel our political system to seriously grapple to its maximal institutionally designed extent with whether that misconduct merits his removal?
That means compelling Senate Republicans to take a stand on specific articles that the Democratic-controlled House has institutionally endorsed as rising to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors.
Trump is serially betraying the country
What should make refraining from a fully backed impeachment inquiry even more difficult for Democrats to entertain is the bigger story here. This scandal is the only the latest example of Trump placing his own interests before those of the nation. But it simultaneously underscores how corruptly Trump has been doing this on a regular basis — that is, how brashly and serially he is betraying the country.
“He’s converted the government into an instrument of his own self enrichment,” Raskin told me. “He’s making money hand over fist from princes, kings and foreign governments. He is also channeling federal taxpayer dollars directly to his businesses.”
“The unifying theme of the president’s misconduct is his constant betrayal of the oath of office and the national interest,” Raskin continued. “He continues to place his own financial and political interests above his duty to the rule of law and the country. This is the cardinal sin for a president under the Constitution.”
Given all this, what happens if Democrats don’t try to use all the tools of accountability at their disposal, and Trump wins reelection? Democrats should seriously ask themselves what would be left of our democracy at that point — and whether they want such an outcome to be part of their legacy.