Trump Must Go. But All In Good Time

President Trump talks with reporters on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, April 24, 2019. (Susan Walsh/AP)
President Trump talks with reporters on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, April 24, 2019. (Susan Walsh/AP)

In a CNN interview about whether or not to impeach the president, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina argued:

 [N]obody because of their position in society has the right to cheat and to get somebody to lie for them, even as the president. That means we’re not a nation of men or kings. We’re a nation of laws, and that’s what this case has always been about to me … He turned the judicial system upside down, every way but loose. He sent his friends to lie for him. He lied for himself.

His Republican colleague, Roy Blount of Missouri, strongly concurred, declaring:

Oaths taken in the American system of government are serious commitments to truth and the rule of law. Violating these oaths or causing others to impede the investigation into such acts are serious matters that meet the standard for impeachment.

In fact, 14 sitting Republican senators (including Mitch McConnell and several senators who were once members of the House) have agreed that witness tampering and other attempts to impede a legal investigation constitute grounds for impeaching a president. But only if the president is a Democrat.

These men voted to impeach Bill Clinton for allegedly trying to influence the potential testimony offered by his secretary, Betty Currie, in the Monica Lewinsky affair. But regarding the 10 attempts documented in the Mueller report by our current president to impede and mislead — to offer pardons to potential witnesses, fire investigators, instruct his staff to lie, lie himself, and, oh yeah, as a footnote, buy the silence of one of the women with whom he had an affair — these men, whose superpower is hypocrisy, have said not a word about President Trump's conduct.

The Constitution cites as impeachable offenses “treason, bribery, and other high crimes and misdemeanors,” but it doesn’t spell out what constitutes the latter. Indeed, in 1970, then Representative Gerald Ford — the man who would eventually pardon Richard Nixon — said, “An impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history.”

Regardless of whether you agree with Ford’s pragmatic if ethically questionable definition, the Justice Department policy that states a sitting president cannot be indicted all but assures whether or not to impeach is a political decision. So, too, does the near certainty that a colluding, corrupt and dumbstruck Republican majority in the Senate will never vote to convict the object of their sycophancy.

[14 sitting Republican senators] whose superpower is hypocrisy, have said not a word about President Trump's conduct

So let’s accept that whether or not to impeach is fundamentally a political decision, in both its debased sense of being a partisan exercise, but also in its original sense of governing on behalf of the people. I believe that getting Trump out of office, whether through impeachment or the ballot box, will most certainly advance the public good. I also believe that the behavior documented even in the redacted Mueller report should constitute sufficient grounds to impeach him.

But invoking the articles of impeachment now may not be the best course of action. Gaining access to the unredacted report, and through the testimony of Attorney General Barr, Robert Mueller, Don McGahn and others, Congress and the American people will learn more about the president, the law and the subversion of the law. Trump’s tax returns (if they’re turned over to the House) in addition to what's revealed through the Deutsche Bank records subpoenaed by New York’s Attorney General, seem likely to show opponents and supporters alike how Trump has practiced the art of the dirty deal. Lawsuits against Trump for violating the emoluments clause and for using the Trump Foundation as a personal piggy bank, are still playing out and will undoubtedly color in this portrait of corruption.


Rather than relying solely on the Mueller report, the members of the House have the opportunity to go beyond Mueller’s remit and independently assemble a more complete portrait of this presidency. And as they do, the investigations and suits underway in numerous courts on multiple charges will work towards conclusion. Waiting won’t preclude impeachment, but may have the effect of creating greater public consensus around the need for it.

[Democrats can] reveal more about how democracy and basic decency have been assaulted by unbridled greed, stupidity and cronyism.

History has proven out this approach. From 1973-74, Congress held over a year’s worth of hearings before voting to impeach Richard Nixon. As Illinois representative Jan Schakowsky notes, “If you look at history, articles of impeachment were considered in the House of Representatives two weeks before Richard Nixon resigned; all the rest happened before that. By the time that decision was made to go to articles of impeachment, the American people had heard it all and were persuaded.”

We are in an extended teachable moment — the Democratic-led House has an opportunity to reveal more about how democracy and basic decency have been assaulted by unbridled greed, stupidity and cronyism. But more important, the new wave of representatives that rolled in with the 2018 mid-terms have begun to generate bills and public debate about important issues, including climate change, which will soon create challenges on a global scale the likes of which will make Trump’s tawdry venality as inconsequential as the man himself.

In pursuing these parallel paths — investigation and legislation — the Democrats may change the views of Americans who, earlier this year, ranked impeachment as lowest on a list of 21 potential initiatives for the new Congress. As importantly, they’ll continue to expose the complicity of the Senate Republicans — those paragons of toadyism, who speak out of both sides of their mouths, who publicly support a president they know to be a dangerous fool, who deny hearings to some Supreme Court nominees and ratify others they know to be unfit, who approve tax cuts that they know will bankrupt the social safety net programs, and above all, who are colluding in the destruction of the planet through their refusal to act on climate change.

Whether through impeachment or election, Trump must go. But let’s not squander the opportunity for Democrats in the House to ensure that his enablers go with him.

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Headshot of Julie Wittes Schlack

Julie Wittes Schlack Cognoscenti contributor
Julie Wittes Schlack writes essays, short stories and book reviews for various publications, including WBUR's Cognoscenti and The ARTery, and is the author of “This All-at-Onceness” and “Burning and Dodging.”



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