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Opinion What Democrats must do when impeachment is over

(Susan Walsh/AP)

Not long after you read this, Republicans in the Senate will likely complete their task, enact their profile in cowardice and close down the impeachment trial of Donald Trump with a proclamation that the president, should he be a Republican, can betray his office in any manner he pleases without consequence.

So now Democrats have a choice to make. They can slink off miserably and await Trump’s reelection, or they can keep fighting to create the accountability that impeachment was supposed to be about.

The latest Trump impeachment trial updates

The president and his defenders will certainly demand the former. Once he’s acquitted, they’ll insist that anything resembling oversight of this presidency can only be the act of a bunch of sore losers. Not only can’t we talk about his Ukraine misdeeds anymore, but any further attempts to uncover or explore wrongdoing on the part of Trump or his administration have been rendered invalid.

Democrats should greet those arguments with the contemptuous dismissal they deserve. And then they should get to work.

The first thing they can do is invite John Bolton to testify in an open hearing before either the Intelligence Committee or the Foreign Affairs Committee in the House (and if he declines the invitation, subpoena him). The fact that Senate Republicans stopped him from testifying in the impeachment trial doesn’t mean he’s barred from opening his mouth forevermore. So let’s hear what he has to say.

The House impeached Trump, but it was a victory for alternative facts, Russian disinformation and Fox News, says columnist Dana Milbank. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Susan Walsh / AP/The Washington Post)

Did Trump tell him explicitly, as Bolton’s book reportedly says, that he was holding up military aid to Ukraine until they announced an investigation of the Bidens? Why did Bolton call the scheme to pressure Ukraine a “drug deal”? What was the full extent of Rudy Giuliani’s influence over the government’s foreign policy apparatus? Just imagine what a huge media event it will be when Bolton comes to answer those questions.

But that’s just the beginning. Democrats should also make it a top priority to finally get hold of Trump’s tax returns. Granted, this isn’t entirely in their hands — there are multiple cases in the courts in which Trump is trying to keep them hidden with all the desperation of a cornered mongoose. But the idea that we could go into a second Trump election without knowing where he’s getting money from, to whom he owes money, and what kind of possible tax fraud he might be engaged in is absolutely ludicrous.

So the tax return issue should be part of a broad initiative aimed at exposing and highlighting Trump’s personal corruption and self-dealing. For instance, why have there been no hearings on Trump’s aborted effort to award himself a multimillion-dollar contract to host the Group of Seven summit? Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney claimed that the Secret Service concluded that Trump’s faltering Miami golf club was “far and away the best physical facility for this meeting” in the entire country, which is almost certainly a lie. So let’s find out: Get whoever was running the planning under oath and start asking questions.

They shouldn’t stop there. How about considering new legislation to punish employers who hire undocumented immigrants? Like, say, Donald Trump? I’m sure the undocumented workers who among other things were responsible for ironing Trump’s underwear would be willing to testify about the nature of their employment.

And of course, Democrats should be ready at a moment’s notice to vigorously investigate whatever efforts Trump makes to cheat in this year’s election.

I can already hear some Democrats saying, “Oh no, but if we’re too mean to him the voters will punish us!” There’s never any shortage of that advice in the party. But let’s consider how Republicans do this.

When their first investigation of the September 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi failed to find that Hillary Clinton personally flew to Libya and killed four Americans with her bare hands, did Republicans decide that the matter was done?

No. They mounted another investigation, and another one, and another one, until during the eighth congressional investigation they discovered that Clinton had committed an atrocity far worse than murder: She had used private email for work. It was that discovery that eventually, through the enthusiastic efforts of the news media and the helpful 11th-hour intercession of James Comey, made Trump the president of the United States.

Did Democrats say it was absurd overkill? Sure they did. Did Clinton, in her 11 hours of testimony, make Republicans look like fools? Yes, she did. But they didn’t suffer any political harm for it. Nor should Democrats fear that being too tough on Trump will make them look bad.

To be clear, a redoubled effort to investigate Trump and his administration might be political (every congressional investigation is, at least in part), but it’s absolutely justified on substantive grounds. No one seriously doubts anymore that Trump is the most corrupt human being to ever sit in the Oval Office. The only question is whether Democrats are going to decide that because they took a shot at impeachment and didn’t get him removed from office, there’s no longer anything they can do about it.

There’s plenty they can do. They just have to do it.

Read more:

Greg Sargent: Lamar Alexander’s craven surrender to Trump leaves our country exposed

Jennifer Rubin: Republicans are pursuing acquittal in the worst possible way

George T. Conway III: Don’t let the defense fool you. This impeachment is all about corruption.

Dana Milbank: The impeachment trial hurtles toward its worst-case conclusion

The Post’s View: If Senate Republicans give Trump the coverup he wants, his acquittal will be worthless

Jonathan Capehart: If there are no witnesses in the Senate trial, it’s a miscarriage of justice, Kamala Harris says