Although relatively low in entertainment value, former counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s testimony before two House committees did prove at least five things:
First, that a majority of the Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee and Select Committee on Intelligence never read more than the briefest of summaries of the Mueller Report;
Second, that Attorney General William Barr’s assessment of that report was an absolute crock of beans;
Third, that candidate and then President Trump and his associates engaged in potential profit-making ventures with one of America’s worst enemies and then committed numerous provable acts of judicial obstruction;
Fourth, that not only did the Russians cyber-invade the voting systems in all fifty states in an effort to guarantee a Trump victory - they are hard at it for the 2020 election; and
Fifth, that despite the hearings, the House is hardly any closer to impeaching the POTUS than it was the day before the hearings. And while Democrats should be applauded for asking hard questions based on their (or their staff’s) reading and understanding of the lengthy, dry-as-dust report, Republicans were far more interested in bad-mouthing and taking cheap shots at Director Mueller - turning an American icon of Lincolnesque proportions into a senescent partisan hack.
Yesterday, Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler (D-NY) announced that he had asked a federal judge to unseal grand jury secrets related to the Mueller investigation, using the court filing to declare that lawmakers have already in effect launched an impeachment investigation of President Trump. In a legal maneuver that carries significant political overtones, the committee attorneys told a judge that it needs access to the grand jury evidence collected by Mr. Mueller as special counsel — such as witness testimony — because it is “investigating whether to recommend articles of impeachment” against the president. With the filing, Chairman Nadler was attempting to sidestep the debate raging inside the Democratic Party over whether the full House should hold a vote to formally declare that it is opening an impeachment inquiry. By declaring that his committee was in effect conducting such an inquiry, he was heading off a politically difficult vote in the committee or the full house to pursue impeachment.
To impeach or not to impeach: that is the question. Although a majority of Democrats across the country favor impeachment proceedings, only around 100 Congressional Democrats have already gotten on board. (Follow this link to see the latest tally of which Democrats favor impeachment, which say “not yet,” and which have yet to respond.) The percentage of Republicans polling against impeachment proceedings easily equals the president’s national approval ratings - about 43% at best. Among independents, impeachment is supported by a plurality, with “not sure” coming in a rather distant second. For House Democrats, impeachment is being debated and discussed along three different lines: the legal, the political and the moral.
The Legal: Despite what A.G. Barr, Republicans in Congress, the president’s base and conservative trolls everywhere may aver, there is a welter of evidence to show that crimes have been committed. Perhaps no one pierced what the New York Times’ Virginia Heffernan called “the clouds and cacophony” of the morning session (e.g. the Judiciary Committee) more magisterially than Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA) who wielded the gavel during afternoon session. (n.b.: for purposes of full disclosure: I have long been close to the Schiff family; his father and late mother were students of mine for many years, and I have, on occasion, served as family rabbi. My respect and admiration for Adam are boundless.) In his opening remarks, Chairman Schiff “. . .scorchingly outlined President Trump’s three-way betrayal of his country and the American people.” Adam is always low-key and lawyerly; broad emotionalism is simply not his style. The most important point he got across in his opening remarks was that even if the two-year Mueller investigation couldn’t establish criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russians, their disloyalty to country was “something worse” than a crime, and Mueller’s team amply established it. “A crime is the violation of a law written by Congress,” Schiff intoned, “but disloyalty to country violates the very obligation of citizenship, our devotion to a core principle on which our nation was founded, that we, the people, not some foreign power that wishes us ill, we decide who shall govern us.”
As one who has actually read, digested and taken copious notes on the entire Mueller report (it took me more than 5 weeks), I can attest to the fact that there were crimes ‘aplenty involving candidate Trump, President Trump and much of his staff and administration.
The Political: To impeach or not to impeach is also an issue with a major political component. As of today, Speaker Pelosi is not in favor of impeaching the 45th POTUS. Why? Certainly not because she believes he is innocent or falsely accused, but rather because there is a highly critical national election on the horizon. As the highest ranking official in the opposition, she must determine if supporting and carrying out impeachment proceedings in the House (which stand a snowball’s chance in Hell of succeeding in the Republican-led Senate) will put a major roadblock in her party’s attempt to take back the White House and both houses of Congress in 2020. Knowing that there will undoubtedly be a tremendous amount of Russian meddling in the 2020 election, she must do what is best and politically smartest to garner the maximum number of votes in places like Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, and West Virginia. As such, will it be better (and politically smarter) to run on “kitchen-table issues” like jobs, healthcare, taxes, and Social Security (among others) or on impeaching Donald Trump? If it’s the latter, will she then see her party drowning in the very swamp he has created? She must determine which is more politically potent: hatred of Trump or concern for the working class. Never underestimate the political smarts of Nancy Pelosi; she is one of the shrewdest political operators in American history.
Make no mistake about it: Should House Democrats decide to proceed with impeachment hearings, the Trump White House will Twitter away with all the wrathful vengeance and fury of the Biblical plagues. And while they will be applauded by their base for standing up to “the Socialist Squad,” they will likely gain few if any new supporters. On the other hand, it is possible that pushing the impeachment envelope may keep many independent voters away from the polls, fed up with Democrats who, in their opinion, are far more interested in getting rid of ‘45 than in addressing their middle-class needs and concerns. For the Democrats, this could easily become their Sisyphean challenge.
In an interview Adam Schiff gave nearly 2 months ago (well before the Mueller’s presentation to Congress) to Los Angeles Times staff writer Christine Mai-Duc, the California Democrat summarized the political conundrum about as well as is humanly possible:
I think the most powerful arguments both for and against impeachment are really mirror images of each other. If we don’t impeach him, what does that say to future Congresses and presidents about whether this kind of conduct is compatible with office? And by the same token, if we do impeach him, and he’s acquitted in the Senate, and there is an adjudication that that conduct is not impeachable, that may be a worse precedent. So I think before we go down the road of something that would absorb the whole Congress and whole country and lead to a very predictable result, we should be sure that this is the right thing to do for the country.
The Moral: Without question, our current president lacks both a moral compass and basic human decency. It may well be that Democrats must respond to all this immorality and indecency with a tactic which is not all that politically smart. After all, to many Americans - whether they are consciously aware of it or not - Donald Trump has two distinct advantages: he is a media celebrity and he stridently opposes virtually everything that has a moral component.
Those who aren’t ferociously enamored with Donald Trump are well aware of his many, many flaws and shortcomings: his racism, sexism, xenophobia, crudity, heartlessness, narcissism and perhaps above all, his utter inability to tell the truth. He is, without question, the least moral, most disloyal citizen to ever occupy the White House. And if for no other reason than this, Democrats should proceed with impeachment. Much of the nation is both benumbed and bewildered at the Republicans’ spinelessness; at their rank inability to confront the leader of their party. It seems to me that if the Democrats do not proceed with impeachment hearings that they too will be guilty of spinelessness. It may not, in the long run, make for smart politics. Goodness knows it will - succeed or fail - carry all the marks of courage and good citizenship - qualities sorely lacking in our time and place.
In the mid-1930s, shortly before the beginning of World War II, Austrian Robert Musil, the author of The Man Without Qualities (easily one of the greatest novels-of-ideas ever written) noted that “No culture can rest on a crooked relationship to truth.” Herr Musil, you said a mouthful. The political culture of the United States (and now, with the ascension of Boris Johnson, of Britain) is sick. It is unserious, crooked and lethal. There is no honest way to dissociate the rise of Trump and Johnson from the societies that produced them. The triumph of indecency is rampant. Choose your facts. The only blow Trump knows is the low one. As the gutter is to the stars, so is this president to dignity.
Although impeaching him will likely not succeed in the Republican-controlled United States Senate nor fix what is wrong with our political culture, it is nonetheless, in my very humble opinion, the right thing to do. Some will respond “Although I agree with your assessment, winning the presidency is far more important.” I disagree: sometimes it is essential to do what in the short-term may be the wrong thing . . . but for the right reason.
In the long run, if we impeach him it’s not because we despise ‘45 so much; it’s because we love our country and its ideals so very much more.
467 days until the presidential election.
Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone