Originally shared on PPI’s Medium channel.
Donald Trump’s shambolic presidency has been one long, nauseating exercise in defining American democracy down. He’s relentlessly undermined the norms that uphold our Constitutional order, while abusing the powers of the presidency to pursue his own selfish interests at the expense of our nation’s interests.
There is no clearer example than his infamous July 2019 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenski. Trump pressed Zelenski to dig up dirt on Vice President Joe Biden, promising a meeting between the two presidents and warmer Ukraine-U.S. ties in return. That Trump sees nothing wrong in soliciting a foreign country to interfere in America’s presidential election for his personal benefit tells you all you need to know about this man’s deformed moral sense.
To her credit, Speaker Nancy Pelosi until now has resisted pressures from her party’s left wing to launch a premature bid to oust President Trump from office. Now, to protect the integrity of U.S. elections against a rogue president, she’s announced a House inquiry into impeachment. It’s the right and patriotic thing to do.
True to form, Trump is trying to lie and bluster his way out of this self-inflicted crisis, polluting the air with ludicrous conspiracy theories, sliming the Biden family, and casting himself as the victim of Democrats, the media and the fictive “deep state.” He and his minions also are slurring Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, whose systematic amassing of devastating facts about Trump’s efforts to obstruct the Mueller investigation should be a model for the impeachment inquiry.
To the everlasting shame of a once grand U.S. political party, Trump is abetted in his public disinformation campaign by the usual gaggle of robotically partisan Republicans. John McCain must be spinning in his grave as even his former protégé, Sen. Lindsay Graham, turns into a Trump sycophant. That only a handful of GOP leaders – including Sen. Mitt Romney – have been willing to venture even mild criticism of Trump’s outrageous abuse of power tells you all you need to know about how thoroughly he has corrupted his party.
Now that Trump has brought impeachment on himself, it’s crucial for Congress to proceed in a disciplined and dignified way. The inquiry should steer clear of Trump’s long catalogue of misdeeds and focus narrowly on the complaint from the intelligence community whistleblower that the president sought to induce Ukrainian officials to investigate one of his main political rivals. That complaint cites “multiple U.S. Government officials” – including some who work at the White House – as sources. These people need to be heard from, with due privacy protections to shield them Trump’s vindictive wrath.
The House inquiry should also focus on the White House attempt to cover up Trump’s efforts to get Zelensky to “play ball” by moving the record of Trump’s call onto a computer server reserved for top-secret information. Even if Trump describes his call with the Ukrainian leader as “perfect,” White House aides obviously felt otherwise.
Now the House needs to methodically build and lay before the public a solid case for impeachment. Speaker Pelosi will have her hands full discouraging histrionics from her party’s most reflexive partisans, which would likely play into the Trump-GOP strategy of dismissing the crisis as Washington swamp gas voters should ignore. Here the sure hand she’s shown on impeachment thus far inspires confidence.
You’ll see reams of punditry on the subject, but no one knows how the impeachment drama will unfold. The conventional view today is that there’s no way 20 Republican Senators will join Democrats in voting to convict Trump of high crimes and misdemeanors. That means the U.S. government could grind to a halt over the next year as lawmakers get consumed in an impeachment battle that inevitably must end in failure – and that leaves Trump crowing over having yet again evaded the reckoning he so richly deserves.
Maybe so, but we are past political calculation at this point. Every Member of Congress has sworn an oath to protect and uphold the U.S. constitution. Congress has a duty to bear witness to Trump’s vandalizing of American democracy – and put its case plainly before the voters who will make ultimately decide the issue next year.