That Donald Trump was a vulgar, amoral ignoramus was why he got elected, not why he should be impeached. We tried the best and brightest, the educated and knowledgeable, the experienced and savvy, and they didn’t produce anything more than a lot of sweet words and a paralyzed Congress. Nothing was getting done, so why not try the guy whose grasp of America was as low-brow as most Americans. Throwing the alternative of Hillary Clinton into the mix made the option that much easier.
As David Leonhardt says, he was unfit for office, but that’s not a reason to impeach. But now, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has said the words that so many wanted to hear, that the House is opening an “impeachment inquiry.”
It’s up to the House of Representatives to vote Articles of Impeachment. The various committees already investigating Trump for impeachment are now doing so “officially,” as opposed to just putting on a show for the sake of trying to embarrass Trump and humiliate him in front of a nation. Pelosi has asked the chairs of the committees to put together their best charges from matters that, up to now, haven’t managed to move the dial in the hearts of the public. Those who hated Trump still hate Trump. Those who loved Trump still love Trump.
The difference this time is there is a discrete set of allegations which, if proven, are sufficiently understandable and clear to make sense to America. There was $400 million in military aid withheld while Trump pressed Ukraine President to investigate the son of his likely political rival. Whether it was a quid pro quo or whether he pressured Volodymyr Oleksandrovych Zelensky, who, ironically, was an actor and comedian before being elected president, although he also had a law degree, isn’t critical to the complaint.
There is no question that withholding money provided leverage. There is no question that asking a foreign chief executive to work with Rudy Giuliani, of all people, to dig up dirt on a political rival is both personal and self-dealing. That Trump was using American aid for leverage for his personal benefit, doesn’t take much effort. As Trump admitted asking, and as the funds were held up, and as the leverage exists by definition if not intention, the pieces to the puzzle are already there.
So why an inquiry?
There is nothing in the Constitution that requires the House of Representatives to investigate anything. They could vote on Articles of Impeachment today, if they wanted to. There are two reasons, one good and one not so good, to conduct further inquiry. It’s possible that an inquiry will reveal more evidence, including a concrete connection between the withholding of military aid and its use to influence personal political cooperation from a foreign nation.
“Nice nation you got there, Volodymyr. It would be a shame if anything happened to it.”
That he used the authority, the funding, wielded by the Office of the President for personal benefit is about as flagrant an abuse as possible. This may have been how he ran his businesses before, but his businesses weren’t a country and he wasn’t leveraging public trust and funds for his own benefit.
The second reason for an inquiry is it provides the mechanism to put on a show for the public. Even if the Senate refused to convict, the show must go on. There may be some strained hope that if the show is good enough, even Senate Republicans will be constrained to convict and remove Trump. Deep inside, they probably want to but aren’t willing to pay the price of their own political futures at the hands of those who still, despite everything, love Trump. The Senate Republicans aren’t stupid people, but pragmatic people. They know he’s unfit and a disgrace to the presidency, a clown in office, but he’s their clown. And their futures are interconnected, at least for now.
If the real purpose of Pelosi’s impeachment inquiry is to put on yet another show in the hope of damaging Trump’s re-election prospects, but not for the sake of actually impeaching him in the House because he deserves to be impeached, regardless of what the Senate does, then it’s just political gaming. It’s not unlawful or unconstitutional, and it’s not the equivalent of what Trump has done, but it’s not exactly a bright spot in governmental integrity either.
There will be a “tell” here: If the House Judiciary Committee, under Chair Jerry “Weeble” Nadler, uses committee counsel, the lawyers on the committee payroll who possess some level of competence at the examination of witnesses, to conduct the formulation of sound questions for the purpose of obtaining information, the inquiry is serious. If we’re asked to suffer another round of speechifying nonsense from grandstanding representatives, they’re putting on a show to see how many new useful idiots they can put on the team.
John Yoo, the same Yoo who wrote the “torture is cool” memo at OLC, cautions against this inquiry.
The framers believed that “high crimes and misdemeanors” included a president who used his foreign affairs powers for personal or political gain. A special congressional committee could review classified information in secret and bring United States and foreign officials to testify under oath. The House could meet any stonewalling by cutting intelligence, military and diplomatic funding. Congress’s traditional oversight powers will force the intelligence agencies and the White House to provide the facts behind the Trump-Zelensky call and any delay in Ukrainian aid. Mr. Trump will also have his opportunity to provide a transcript of the call and to make the case that his official acts remained uninfluenced by any ulterior political motives — the same argument that won the day in the travel ban case at the Supreme Court last year.
Not that Yoo is the sort of fellow one would expect the New York Times to turn to for any reason ever, but his argument that the outcome of this inquiry will impair future presidents, some of whom may be Democrats, serves to make the point that this time, these facts and circumstances, are the right ones for impeachment. To believe Trump was “uninfluenced by ulterior political motives” is to believe in Trump’s purity. Anybody buying that? Even if you like what he says and does, no sentient person doesn’t realize he’s at best a conniver who can’t help his impulse to lie.
Use official power for personal gain and it’s an impeachable offense, that could have a collateral consequence of impairing the latitude given a president to exercise needed authority. If this is so, then impeachment is not only the proper remedy, but the deterrent needed. Unlike guys on the street, presidents know and think about how consequences work and if they want to make the big bucks after office on speeches and books, they need to suck it up and not engage in a flagrant abuse of power. Well, most presidents know and have the capacity to think about this, anyway.
And before the angry hordes storm the castle gates, nothing here bears upon the tu quoque question of whether this vulgar, amoral lying ignoramus will do less harm to America than the Democrats reinvention of America as a progressive Utopia.