The U.S. House is set to vote on two articles of impeachment, which if conveyed to the Senate will be the basis for a trial of President Donald J. Trump. The first involves abuse of power, the second claims the president is guilty of obstructing Congress. Ardent Trump supporters, like Georgia Republican Rep. Doug Collins (above, right, courtesy of Kevin Kruse), are adamant that he has done nothing to warrant impeachment; critics believe the list of Trump’s impeachable offences is almost endless. I agree with the latter assessment but here’s why two is best for now.
First, almost no one believes that the GOP-controlled Senate would convict Trump, no matter how many articles are presented, how egregious the offences they describe or how damning the proof of his conduct. Sadly, his grip on the party is just that strong.
Still, numerous pundits believe Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif) is rushing this process and that she should include many more charges. New York Times columnist David Leonhardt listed six additional offenses he believes Trump committed, including obstruction of justice as outlined in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report, corruption of elections (hush money payments to Trump’s paramours) and conduct grossly incompatible with the presidency (constant lying). I would add one more, criminal conspiracy. Trump arguably conspired with his attorney, Rudy Giuliani, and others to commit a crime, possibly bribery.
Other writers have decried Trump’s blatant disregard of the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which prohibits the president from accepting a gift or profit from a foreign government. No wonder, Trump still controls his business empire and foreign governments curry his favor by flocking to the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. and his other properties. In fact, Washington, D.C., and Maryland filed a lawsuit against Trump on that issue, which is currently working its way through the courts.
No doubt Democrats were mulling important political considerations in choosing just two articles. There are numerous newly elected Democratic representatives in districts won by Trump in 2016 who would prefer to avoid a vote on impeachment. And numerous articles would result in a long, drawn out trial in the Senate that could significantly exacerbate their reelection problems.
Also, impeaching a president is not wildly popular with the electorate and may become less popular the longer the process continues, particularly into an election year. Voters are impatient and tend to believe that an election is the way to resolve problems with a president. That’s probably why Ms. Pelosi discouraged impeachment inquiries for as long as she did. As she knows – and has cautioned several times – impeachment is a very divisive process and the nation is already polarized more than it has been in decades.
But for the whistleblower’s complaint that shed light on crimes Trump may have committed during his phone call with Ukrainian President Zelensky, we wouldn’t be where we are on impeachment. And we might never have known about Trump’s months-long scheme to coerce a foreign government into announcing an investigation that would smear his political opponent and support a conspiracy theory that Democrats and Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election. This attempt by Trump to get a foreign government involved in the 2020 election, however, was just too much for Pelosi to let pass.
It’s clear that Trump believes he’s above the law. “I’ll do whatever I want” is one of his favorite phrases. After getting caught with his call pressuring Zelensky, he doubled down on national TV by asking China to investigate the Biden’s and confirmed what he wanted from Ukraine, “If they were honest about it, they would start a major investigation into the Biden’s.”
Regardless, I agree with the two-article indictment against Trump. Both are simple and easy for the public to understand. The obstruction of Congress charge is particularly strong and very difficult for Republicans to refute. The record is clear that Trump blocked all document production and witness testimony from his administration. In effect, he refused to acknowledge that Congress is a coequal branch of government with oversight powers as set forth in the Constitution. If this precedent is established, future presidents, including a Democrat, could hide corruption and criminality with no accountability.
Yet, I believe there might be another consideration on Pelosi’s mind. The courts are deciding numerous cases that should shed light on Trump’s conflicts of interest and his subservience to Russian President Vladimir Putin. It’s likely his financial records and tax returns will see the light of day, particularly if Democrats control the House in 2021. Key administration officials like former White House counsel Don McGann, acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and others could be required to testify before Congress.
Pelosi knows that when experienced prosecutors have indicted a criminal for several serious crimes, they frequently try them first on just one of the many offenses. If they fail on the first, they can try the perpetrator on a second, a third, and so on. Democrats may be thinking that later evidence of Trump’s crimes would provide a another opportunity to hold him accountable, whether or not he is reelected for a second term.
If they loaded the articles of impeachment with Trump’s many other impeachable offences now and he is acquitted by Senate Republicans – which is nearly certain – it would be difficult, if not impossible, to charge him with those crimes in the future.
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and a shiny, uplifting New Year to all.