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The Drumbeat of Impeachment

J. W. Verret, writing at The Atlantic, “A Trump Transition Staffer Calls for Impeachment”:

Let’s start at the end of this story. This weekend, I read Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report twice, and realized that enough was enough — I needed to do something. I’ve worked on every Republican presidential transition team for the past 10 years and recently served as counsel to the Republican-led House Financial Services Committee. My permanent job is as a law professor at the George Mason University Antonin Scalia Law School, which is not political, but where my colleagues have held many prime spots in Republican administrations.

If you think calling for the impeachment of a sitting Republican president would constitute career suicide for someone like me, you may end up being right. But I did exactly that this weekend, tweeting that it’s time to begin impeachment proceedings.

Democrats tend to overthink things, to succumb to indecision. They’re looking two steps ahead, concerned that they shouldn’t impeach Trump because they won’t get enough (or any) Republicans in the Senate to go for it, or because they worry it will only serve to fire up Trump’s base heading into 2020. Fuck that. If the president has committed impeachable offenses it is Congress’s duty to impeach. It’s that simple.

Here’s a good thread on Twitter from Tom Nichols, a “never Trump” conservative who until now — I think correctly — has opposed beginning impeachment proceedings:

But there’s an argument, internal to us, that Trump should be impeached as a lesson in civics, as a reminder that trashing the rule of law and discarding your oath is not cost-free. That’s a political question. Until now, I’ve said it’s probably a bad idea for the Dems.

But political expediency is a bad idea too. At some point, not impeaching means that nothing matters in our constitutional life, and that nothing ever will matter. Impeachment, if it follows a careful rollout and debate, can negate that legacy.

And maybe, years from now, what we need is an asterisk in the history books that says: “There was a penalty for violating the oath of office, and engaging in these high crimes. And President Trump survived due only to the corruption of a single party.”

That last point is key, and succinctly expresses why I think Democrats should impeach Trump even if they expect to lose in the Senate. If Democrats impeach, make their case solemnly and truthfully, and Trump survives in the Senate, then it’s all on one party, the Republicans. If they do not impeach, history will judge that Trump remained in office due to the cowardice and corruption of Congress as a whole, Democrats and Republicans alike.

For that reason alone, Democrats should impeach. But I don’t buy the argument that any attempt at impeachment would certainly prove futile due to Republican intransigence in the Senate. Republicans in the Senate will stick with Trump only until they don’t. J. W. Verret is not a senator, but he is a career Republican and until now, was opposed to impeaching Trump. Political support erodes similarly to how Hemingway described going bankrupt: “Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.” One or two Republican senators with the courage to step up is all it might take to get started. A burst dam begins with a few cracks. (Mitt Romney, the nation is looking in your direction.)

Lawrence Tribe — constitutional law professor at Harvard and the man who literally wrote the book on impeachment — writing in USA Today, on the Mueller report as a roadmap for impeachment:

The report is unequivocal in concluding that even if Trump is criminally innocent of obstruction, it is not for lack of trying. The main reason the investigation wasn’t completely thwarted was not that the president didn’t “endeavor” to thwart it — the definition of criminal obstruction — but rather that Trump’s subordinates refused to comply.

Consider, for comparison, that a president who ordered the military to destroy his political enemies would undeniably have committed impeachable offenses, even if the military failed to obey the directive. Add to this Trump’s decision to respond to the report by taking a victory lap rather than protecting our election systems from ongoing attack, and the likelihood that he continues to be compromised by leverage (financial or otherwise) from adversaries, and one sees a president indifferent to the security of the nation he is sworn to lead and to the Constitution he is sworn to uphold. Allowing such a president to remain immune not only from indictment but also from removal would betray Congress’ own responsibility to the public it represents.

Zealots, fools, and well-meaning idealists who don’t understand how the U.S. political system really works cry “impeachment” against every president. There were cries for it against Obama (despite the fact that his administration was the most scandal-free of any in modern history), against both Bushes, and Reagan. And of course Bill Clinton was impeached, over charges that, whatever you think of their merit, were indisputably less significant than what the Mueller report revealed about Trump.

In short, “impeachment” is oft used lightly on the political fringes. In the wake of the Mueller report, it’s starting to be used by sober-minded people who fully understand the gravity of its place in our Constitution — a measure of last resort. Alexander Hamilton described impeachment power as an “awful discretion”. Trump himself is now tweeting about impeachment, betraying, unsurprisingly, that he has absolutely no idea how the process actually works. The fact that he’s tweeting about it — and stonewalling Congressional oversight to profoundly unprecedented degrees — shows that he’s worried, but this only serves to move impeachment further into the political mainstream.

Ignore the noise and listen closely — the drumbeat is growing.