Impeachment rumblings grow among Democrats
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi this week faced growing pressure from Democrats to begin impeachment proceedings against President Trump, with an angered Trump saying he would no longer attempt to work with the opposition party on any legislation. In a tense closed-door leadership meeting, Pelosi rejected calls for impeachment from Democrats increasingly frustrated by the Trump administration’s blanket refusal to honor congressional subpoenas. Democratic anger boiled over after the White House blocked former counsel Don McGahn from testifying before Congress about Trump’s attempts to end or curtail special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, which Mueller listed among 10 possible acts of obstruction of justice. The White House is also refusing to turn over Trump’s tax returns, despite a law requiring the Treasury Department to do so upon a request from Congress. “I think we’re at an inflection point,” said Rep. Ted Lieu of the House Judiciary Committee. “If we can’t get information, I think we have to start proceeding down this path.”
Pelosi accused Trump of conducting a “cover-up” by trying to hide information from congressional investigators. But the Speaker counseled fellow Democrats to have patience, saying the House still has many options for getting information the president wants to conceal. She pointed to a strongly worded ruling from a federal judge this week ordering Trump’s accounting firm to turn over financial documents to Congress.
Pelosi’s “cover-up” statement enraged Trump, who stormed out of a meeting on infrastructure with Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer after only three minutes. In a rambling Rose Garden speech after that meeting, Trump said he was done working with Democrats on infrastructure or any other issue unless they end the investigations into his administration. “You can’t do it under these circumstances,” Trump said. “So, get these phony investigations over with.”
What the editorials said
“It’s understandable that Democrats are concerned that an impeachment fight” could get in the way of their campaign to unseat Trump in 2020, said Cristian Farias of The New York Times editorial board. But Mueller’s report laid out clear evidence of grave misconduct by Trump: eagerly accepting campaign help from a foreign adversary, and making multiple attempts to thwart the Russia investigation. Democrats have a “constitutional duty” to consider whether Trump has violated his oath of office.
Democratic leaders know impeachment “would be a disastrous waste of time,” said the New York Post. But Pelosi and Nadler know that their Trump-hating base will never accept that, so they’re doing their best to appease the “Impeach now!” wing of the party with pointless theatrics. The president has the “right to frank, confidential discussions with his staff,” so Democrats can’t force McGahn to testify. Nevertheless, Democrats are portraying the White House’s inevitable use of executive privilege as a cover-up. “It’s all a show.”
What the columnists said
The Democratic leadership’s “reluctance to even utter ‘impeachment’ is becoming untenable,” said Dahlia Lithwick in Slate. More than 900 federal prosecutors—including many Republicans—signed a letter stating that Trump would already be facing “multiple felony charges” if Justice Department rules didn’t prevent sitting presidents from being indicted. With Trump’s “lawless” and “corrupt” administration now rejecting any form of congressional oversight and threatening to investigate investigators, the president clearly “believes himself all-powerful.” Democrats will only cede even more power to him by declining to impose consequences. Political calculations should not take precedence “over the rule of law.”
Relax, Democrats, “Pelosi’s strategy is working,” said Rick Wilson in TheDailyBeast.com. The political momentum for impeachment is building, thanks to the House’s efforts. This week a federal court ruled that the House is entitled to Trump’s financial records held by an accounting firm. Trump’s taxes, which he clearly sees as his political “kryptonite,” could be next. Trump’s foot-stamping on McGahn and Mueller also ensures that, if and when the Democrats do compel them to testify, it will be must-see television. For now, the smart play remains the same: “Impeachment in All but Name.”
Sorry, but anyone hoping for Watergate 2.0 is “likely to be disappointed,” said Megan McArdle in The Washington Post. The revelations about Nixon’s crimes started small “and gradually got bigger and bigger.” Trump’s transgressions “were almost immediately overhyped as hard evidence of an active conspiracy with a foreign power.” But in the Mueller report, they’ve mostly been downgraded to obstruction of justice. Will that capture the public’s imagination? “Just ask the Republicans who futilely impeached Bill Clinton.” Don’t be so sure impeachment will backfire this time, said Aaron Blake, also in the Post. Clinton’s scandal was fairly simple: “He engaged in an affair, lied about it, and covered it up.” Trump’s obstruction, however, pertained to grave matters of national security and election integrity. If his outrageous behavior is detailed in televised hearings, it could shift public opinion. “Nobody should overextrapolate the lessons of 1998-99 onto 2019.”
House Democrats are still negotiating with the Justice Department to secure testimony from Mueller, said Jeremy Herb in CNN.com. The special counsel is reportedly willing to testify behind closed doors, but doesn’t want to speak in a televised public hearing, for fear of being forced to take sides in a partisan struggle. But Democrats are insisting that Mueller testify publicly. “This is an investigation that was done on behalf of the American people after our democracy was attacked by a foreign adversary,” said Rep. David Cicilline of the House Judiciary Committee. “They have a right to see the results of the investigation and really hear from the individual who led it.” House Democrats did win a battle to see some of Mueller’s underlying evidence, said Michael Balsamo in the Associated Press. The Justice Department has agreed to turn over some counterintelligence documents from the special counsel investigation to the House Intelligence Committee. In exchange, Democrats agreed not to pursue an unspecified “enforcement action” against Attorney General William Barr.
Cover illustration by Fred Harper.
Cover photos from Reuters, Alamy, Getty ■