Throughout Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation, President Trump and his team embraced a strategy that recognized Trump could not be indicted while in office (thanks to prevailing Justice Department guidelines) and that, therefore, his only problem was the faint possibility of impeachment and removal from office. To eliminate that risk, Trump’s counsel figured that all he needed to do was to avoid perjuring himself (i.e., refuse to talk to Mueller’s team under oath) and to throw up enough dust (No collusion!) that Republicans dared not step out of line. With a Republican-controlled House and Senate, Trump had little to fear.

Fast forward to the Ukraine scandal (remarkably amounting to the same plot — inviting a foreign power to help him win an election) and Trump, as evidenced by Wednesday’s display, has become a raving lunatic complete with threats, non sequitur and blatant lies. He created the basis for an entirely new article of impeachment — witness intimidation and violation of the whistleblower statute. Thursday morning, he openly called for both Ukraine and China to interfere with the election by providing dirt on former vice president Joe Biden. He seems to be compulsively committing impeachable offenses in plain view.

“Trump’s manic performance Wednesday was distressing to watch, even for his supporters. Far from being the master of transgressive politics, his anger and frustration are evident and ugly,” writes Rick Wilson. “He’s lost control of the story and of himself. Trump can’t keep the process running on his terms and his timetable, and it’s driving him deeper into what I call the Eccentric Dictator Phase of his Presidency.”

Meanwhile, despite the dramatic excess and assault on the speaker, the House Intelligence Committee chairman and the whistleblower, Trump seems to want to court House Democrats. Sure, this is “a pursuit at odds with fresh political attacks from the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee,” The Post reports, but somehow he thinks that threatening to remind voters some 31 Democrats promised to work with Trump will convince House Democrats to abandon impeachment.

This is nutty insofar as House members have already passed a slew of bills, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is killing through legislative neglect. But it is even weirder to think he could behave in this fashion and persuade Democrats to stick with him. (He obviously is giving them cover to vote to impeach a president patently unfit to govern himself, let alone the country.)

But wait a minute. Trump still cannot get indicted while in office. The chance of removal from office is virtually nil considering that an insufficient number of Republican senators are capable of independent, rational consideration of the country’s interests. So what is Trump so panicked about? He won’t be removed, so why all the hysteria and contradictory desperation to chase Democrats in the House from joining in impeachment?

Both the planned outreach and Trump’s emotional unraveling remind us it is not conviction that terrorizes him, but impeachment itself. After all, he would not be crazed if all that concerned him was criminal liability or removal, nor would he be desperate to enlist House Democrats. What we have learned over the past couple of weeks is that Trump is deathly afraid of joining only two other presidents to be impeached. It is the impeachment itself — a historical and permanent stain on his record and a personal humiliation — that has freaked him out. And it must drive him around the bend that it is his own words, preserved from his “perfect” call with Ukraine’s president, that will be the instrument of his downfall.

Trump’s fear of impeachment is not altogether irrational from a political perspective. He might believe, with significant justification, that after impeachment and a trial, his party will abandon him and/or his reelection chances will plummet. For him, impeachment even with acquittal would signal the end of his presidency. The polls, which are shifting against him on both impeachment and job approval with remarkable speed, suggest he might be right.

Understanding Trump’s fragile emotional state and torment, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) should move confidently, knowing that the politics of impeachment have shifted decisively in their favor. Moreover, they should stick firmly to the strategy of avoiding court fights over witnesses and documents and, for now, focusing impeachment on the Ukraine matter.

If Democrats prefer, they can throw into the “obstruction of Congress” article (e.g. refusing to allow State Department employees to testify about Ukraine) Trump’s refusal to produce documents and allow testimony before the House Judiciary Committee in investigating the Russia scandal (e.g. refusing to allow Donald McGahn to testify). Nothing prevents the House from later drafting and voting on additional articles relating to financial corruption and/or the conduct described in the Mueller report. If the past week is any guide, a vote on impeachment might accelerate popular support for impeachment and provoke further displays of presidential derangement that not even Republicans can defend.

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