What more evidence does the House Democratic leadership need before it will start an impeachment inquiry?! On Thursday morning, the day after Robert Mueller’s press conference, Donald Trump—like a suspect in an old TV crime show who accidentally admits he committed a crime (think Columbo)—stated on Twitter that Russia helped him win in 2016: “I had nothing to do with Russia helping me to get elected.”
Mueller did everything but yell out at his press conference, “Speaker Pelosi, if you’re listening, it’s time to start impeachment!” Mueller’s statement Wednesday was clearly designed to help re-focus America on what he actually did find.
First, he detailed that the Russia government in the 2016 campaign was intent on hurting Hillary Clinton and helping Trump: “…the Russian military launched a concerted attack on our political system… they used sophisticated cybertechniques to hack into computers and networks used by the Clinton campaign,” which was later released by WikiLeaks. As a reminder, Mueller’s report made clear that the Trump campaign “expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts.”
Then Mueller delivered the line that will be cited for years to come by historians about Trump’s conduct concerning obstruction of justice: “If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.” Add to that, Mueller’s report outlined 10 possible instances of obstruction of justice by Trump including a very compelling case of witness intimidation involving Michael Cohen.
Yet here we are with House Democratic leadership still not stepping up to the table to call for an impeachment inquiry. How surreal is that a conservative member of the House, GOP Rep. Justin Amash, who is calling for impeachment, is more in line with the 70 percent of the Democratic base that supports impeachment than the House Democratic leadership?
Why did we all work so hard to capture control of the House in 2018 if Democrats are not going to hold impeachment hearings? That is the sentiment I’ve heard from countless progressives—be it in person, online, or calling my radio show. And I couldn’t agree more.
To be clear, we are not talking an up or down vote tomorrow on impeaching Trump. Rather what so many of us want is simply the formal commencement of an impeachment inquiry. There’s no guarantee that Trump will be impeached simply because these hearings began. Historically, the House has initiated impeachment inquiries over 60 times, but less than a third have led to full impeachment of the federal officer being investigated.
Trump’s impeachment inquiry would begin simply by a formal vote of the House Judiciary Committee, followed by series of public hearings. As a reminder, in the case of Bill Clinton’s impeachment, the House Judiciary committee voted on October 5, 1998 to begin a formal impeachment inquiry. After two months of hearings, the GOP-controlled Judiciary committee voted on December 11, 1998 to approve three articles of impeachment.
With regard to Trump, the case against him is much more complex and would require far more than two months of hearings to examine simply what Mueller detailed. And let’s not forget the potential crimes noted by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York that Trump (“Individual 1”) committed a felony or felonies by secretly paying hush money to his mistresses in violation of federal election laws.
I get there are concerns politically that impeachment could ultimately hurt the Democrats in 2020. But in this case politics should not play a role. If the ghosts of the Framers of the Constitution came back today, they would tell us Trump is the very reason they included impeachment in the Constitution.
Indeed, there was a debate among the Framers about whether to even provide for an impeachment mechanism. Rufus King of Massachusetts argued as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in 1787 that the legislature should not have the power to impeach but rather that decision should be made by voters; the president “would periodically be tried for his behavior by his electors.” In opposition, people like Massachusetts’ Elbridge Gerry, one of the most vocal delegates at the convention, argued that impeachment was the way to police an executive, stating, “A good magistrate will not fear [impeachments]. A bad one ought to be kept in fear of them.” Gerry’s view won out.
In fact, as historians have noted, the framers of the Constitution “considered impeachment so important that they made it part of the Constitution even before they defined the contours of the presidency.” To that end, the Framers gave the sole power to begin impeachment to the House, the only federal body at the time directly elected by the people.
That’s why Speaker Pelosi, for whom I have the utmost respect, was wrong when she recently stated that she won’t start the impeachment inquiry process until there is “bipartisan support for impeachment” in the Senate. The Constitution does not provide that the House shall only impeach for “high crimes and misdemeanor” if it is confident that it can win the trial in the Senate to remove the person. The House is in essence like a grand jury that impeaches—aka indicts—a person who then stands trial in the Senate.
And keep in mind even before impeachment hearings have been initiated, Americans are evenly split on whether Trump should be impeached, per a recent NBC poll. The numbers supporting impeachment will no doubt rise if Democrats present evidence of Trump’s crimes to the American public.
But the longer the House Democratic leadership delays commencing an impeachment inquiry the more it will both dampen the enthusiasm of the Democratic base and just as importantly make it appear to our fellow Americans that Trump’s list of misdeeds is not troubling enough to House Democrats to impeach. And I can assure you that combination will hurt the Democrats in 2020 far more than starting an impeachment inquiry.