The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The impeachment walls are closing in

President Trump is joined by Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, second from right, as he arrives at Melsbroek Air Base in Brussels in July 2018. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)
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Three new developments suggest that President Trump’s political future is much worse than Republicans imagine and that the party’s outlook for 2020 is materially worse with Trump than without him. Given Trump’s predilection for self-destruction, the chances that he will come through this unscathed are remote.

First, the polls: A new Post-Schar School poll reports that a clear majority of Americans support the impeachment inquiry.

By a margin of 58 percent to 38 percent, Americans say the House was correct to undertake the inquiry. Among all adults, 49 percent say the House should take the more significant step to impeach the president and call for his removal from office. Another 6 percent say they back the start of the inquiry but do not favor removing Trump from office, with the remainder undecided about the president’s ultimate fate. The results among registered voters are almost identical.

Remarkably, nearly 30 percent of Republicans favor an impeachment inquiry and “almost one-fifth of Republicans say they favor a vote recommending his removal.”

Given these numbers, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s effort to concoct a reassuring poll from the National Republican Congressional Committee for his members looks amateurish and blatantly dishonest, if not ridiculous. Among Republicans’ worries is that they have a House minority leader who is entirely inept and the subject of derision.

Polling numbers this bad and this early in the process begin to shift the calculations of members of Congress and 2020 candidates. Democrats have the public behind them and no longer fear a backlash for fulfilling their constitutional obligations. Republicans see that Trump’s tactics are not working and that they will be tied to Trump, with their echoes of Trump’s inane defenses used against them in opponents’ political ads.

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In addition to the polling, Trump’s belated decision to prevent Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, from giving a deposition Tuesday suggests abject panic on the White House’s part. He seems to have made the calculation that a prime example of obstruction of Congress is preferable to whatever Sondland has to say.

The Post reports, “Sondland worked closely with Kurt Volker, the U.S. special envoy to Ukraine, to shape U.S. foreign policy around Trump’s desire to investigate Joe Biden’s son Hunter, who was on the board of a Ukrainian gas company, as well as an unsubstantiated theory that Ukraine had interfered in the 2016 presidential election to undermine Trump’s candidacy.” Presumably, Sondland would have shed light on a damning portion of the text conversation with Volker:

The text messages released last week show what appear to be Sondland’s effort to minimize political fallout from the administration’s dealings with the Ukrainians.
On Sept. 9, William B. “Bill” Taylor, the senior U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, texted Sondland: “I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”
Hours later, Sondland, who had been aggressively pursuing a public agreement for Ukraine to launch the investigations, replied, “Bill, I believe you are incorrect about President Trump’s intentions. The President has been crystal clear: no quid pro quo’s of any kind.”

Sondland could, of course, quit or testify and be fired, but ethical rectitude does not seem to be his strong suit. Like so many others who foolishly served in a corrupt administration, a previously respected man now will have his name forever linked to the most egregious act of betrayal by a president in our history.

Finally, Trump’s broadly condemned decision to abandon the Kurds (to the delight of Turkish strongman President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin) reminds Republicans that Trump is a threat to U.S. interests and their own political “principles.” It is also a reminder that leaving Trump in office a day longer than absolutely necessary is reckless. Contrary to the argument that we should not “bother” with impeachment in the last year of the Trump presidency, this latest appalling decision underscores the urgency of ridding ourselves of an ignorant, confused and possibly compromised commander in chief.

The Syria debacle also damages the credibility and integrity of former defense secretary Jim Mattis and other silent ex-Trump officials. Mattis and others owe it to the troops, the American people and the Constitution to speak up. Their silence at this point amounts to enabling, different only in degree from House Republicans who parrot Trump’s absurd defenses and Republican senators who hide from the public and the media.

In sum, with each new development Trump’s situation gets worse. There is no good news in any of this, nor any prospect that Trump can reverse the momentum in favor of impeachment. Even if he is still in denial, those around him might want to rush on to the “bargaining” stage of grief and figure out how to get him out of office with the least amount of humiliation and legal exposure.

Fear-driven Republicans have been enablers of President Trump with their silence, argues Post columnist George F. Will. (Video: The Washington Post)

Read more:

Greg Sargent: This will get worse for Trump. Adam Schiff signals what’s next.

Michael Gerson: If Republicans stay loyal to Trump, they’ll be implicated in the moral decay of our politics

Dana Milbank: Trump’s defense: You can’t impeach me. I impeach you.

Eugene Robinson: The GOP’s bootlicking cowardice knows no bounds

Danielle Allen: Why impeachment is the only answer

Henry Olsen: Trump is looking a lot like King Lear — but this tragedy is far from over