Yes, narrow is better than broad for the purposes of focus and public understanding. But narrow mustn’t mean myopic. What makes President Trump uniquely dangerous is not that he has committed a single terrible act that meets the Constitution’s definition of an impeachable offense. Neither Russia-gate nor Ukraine-gate was a one-night stand, and the obstruction of justice that enabled Trump to get away with asking for and benefiting from Russia’s intervention in the 2016 election is of a piece with his defiance of congressional investigations that might enable him to get away with demanding Ukraine’s intervention in 2020.
The impeachment and removal of this president is necessary because Trump has been revealed as a serial abuser of power, whose pattern of behavior — and “pattern” is the key word, as Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Pa.) and House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) emphasized during Wednesday’s hearing — makes clear he will repeat the same sequence again and again.
Today, it’s soliciting the help of Ukraine (and China and, yet again, Russia), both behind the scenes and out in the open, to attack the integrity of the next presidential election. Tomorrow, it could be seeking the help of foreign hackers to wage cyberwar on election machinery.
Nobody who truly cares about the right to vote or who believes we should remain a self-governing constitutional republic free from the whims of a foreign power can afford to ignore the pattern this man has established or gamble that he will suddenly find religion and “go straight,” rather than do whatever it takes to hold onto his office.
To be clear, I am by no means advocating charging Trump with all of his many impeachable offenses. Nor is that in the cards. The House leadership has clearly been parsimonious in leaving behind a boatload of potential impeachable offenses, including blatant violations of the foreign and domestic emoluments clauses, the Constitution’s main anti-corruption clauses; violating election laws as unindicted co-conspirator “Individual 1” in the Stormy Daniels affair; endangering the First Amendment by labeling the press the “enemy of the people”; fomenting racial violence and attacks on critics who include patriotic witnesses; and any number of other things that many have pressed the Judiciary Committee to include in a comprehensive set of impeachment articles. The committee will likely resist those pleas for breadth, and I will applaud it for doing so.
Rather, I am advocating that there be two or, at most, three articles of impeachment together describing a single, continuous course of conduct in which the president placed his personal and political interests above those of the nation. That narrative should include Trump’s attempt to pressure Ukraine into helping his reelection campaign just as the books appeared to close on the investigation into his invitation for illegal help from Russia to become president in the first place. And it should extend to his obstruction of justice to conceal his campaign’s role in taking advantage of that help — a demonstrated pattern of obstruction he has escalated in his unprecedented directive that the entire executive branch refuse to comply with lawful congressional subpoenas.
A president whose Justice Department says he cannot be indicted, whose White House counsel says he cannot even be investigated and whose lawyers say he can block the executive branch from participating in the impeachment process is a president who has become a dictator. None of us can feel safe in such a regime.
Unless the articles of impeachment identify and highlight the pattern the evidence has thus clearly demonstrated, the House will have failed its constitutional responsibility to present the Senate with the strongest possible basis for removing a scofflaw president. To do what some have proposed and, for example, charge the president with one act of soliciting or offering a bribe and be done with it, is to trifle with the awesome responsibility of all who take an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.