The long-awaited Mueller Report, 675 days in the making, has now landed with a thud of disappointment. Although we do not have the text but only a four-page summary, Robert Mueller himself has not challenged its declaration that no collaboration existed between President Donald Trump or his campaign operatives and Russian attempts to influence the 2016 elections, and that no charge of obstruction of justice should be recommended against the President for attempting to impede the investigation of these and related matters carried out by the Justice Department.
We will see what the actual report tells us, or as much of it as we can see, and within what restraints and assumptions Mueller and his staff have performed their tasks. It’s time now to move beyond its confines, and for Congress to act on its constitutional duty to determine whether we have a president fit for office as such. It’s time, in short, to consider impeachment.
It couldn’t be clearer, of course, that Trump is not only unfit for the presidency but for any position of responsibility and trust whatever. The saga of his business career over more than four decades is one long, sordid story of illegality, fraud, racial discrimination and serial bankruptcy, and not merely as a matter of past history but present litigation. Even before assuming office, and daily since, he has exploited the presidency on behalf of his family financial interests in brazen violation of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution. He has violated his oath to uphold the law of the land, most conspicuously in his long campaign to undermine the Affordable Care Act on which twenty million Americans rely for basic health care; at the same time, he has attempted to impose rules and regulations specifically rejected in Congressional legislation. He has abused his executive authority to impose tariffs without due cause, and likewise to declare states of national emergency. He has demeaned and defamed both Congress and the courts, accused agencies and members of the executive branch itself of treason, and willfully distorted the functions and operations of agencies as defined by statute.
I will be interested to see how Mr. Mueller reached his conclusion that neither Trump nor anyone associated with his presidential campaign collaborated, even implicitly, with Russian attempts to influence its outcome. It is certainly absurd to suggest that he did not willfully obstruct justice in the firing of James Comey over Comey’s investigation of Russian influence, since the admission of it came publicly from his own mouth. A similar act of obstruction was the salient article of impeachment voted against Richard Nixon by the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives in 1974, which asserted that Nixon, “knowingly misused the executive power by interfering with agencies of the executive branch.” Then as now, those agencies included the Justice Department and the FBI.
The Founding Fathers gave the Congress wide latitude in determining impeachable offenses — “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors,” in the words of the Constitution — but they also raised a high bar in separating the process of impeachment into indictment by the House of Representatives and conviction and removal by two-thirds of the Senate. The question, then, is at what point the impeachment of a sitting president is required to preserve the integrity and authority of the law itself. I state the case narrowly. A president who lies habitually, provokes or condones racial and religious hatred or dismisses natural disasters as the fault of those who suffer them, may justly be held to account under the broad rubric of “misdemeanors.” Guilt in this regard, however, is a more subjective judgment. Abuse of power is the surest ground to proceed on, and also the one most evidently requiring action.
But why has the time for action come now? For two years, both houses of Congress were in the hands of Republicans. Their responsibility to act was no less great than anyone else’s, but they chose, with few exceptions, to condone and support Trump’s most egregious abuses. The courts, at least some of them, have done what they could to curb those abuses. The Mueller investigation was meanwhile the only avenue to pursue potentially impeachable offenses. It looks now like a dud, and even if its full report offers ground for finding such offenses, it is the House of Representatives, now with a Democratic majority, that must make a definitive determination of them. In my view, it is obligated to do so.
Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House and leader of the Democratic Caucus, doesn’t agree. In the phrase she will probably be best remembered for, she has said Trump isn’t worth impeaching. Wrong, Nancy. It isn’t whether Trump is worth it. It’s whether the Constitution is worth it. It’s whether the rule of law is worth it. And, right now, the arm of that law is the House you lead. You’re the cop on the beat, and Trump’s high crimes are on daily display. If you ignore them at the point of infamy they’ve reached, then you become part of them and the House of Representatives itself becomes their most critical victim.
That’s not my opinion alone. Elizabeth Holtzman, who served during Nixon’s impeachment proceedings, says the Trump White House and its supporters are just trying to create a new kind of monarchy in the United States with a president who’s above the law. Others from the Watergate era agree. Simply put, leaving a president in office who is free to break the law is an abdication of responsibility by those entrusted to preserve it. A failure to pursue impeachment will be a failure to govern.
The opposing argument is that sending a bill of impeachment to almost certain defeat in the still Republican-controlled Senate would be politically inexpedient. But Pelosi’s strategy of building a case against Trump short of impeachment will even more likely backfire as his supporters dismiss it as a mere propaganda exercise. A firm statement of the law, and of Trump’s repeated violations of it, is the vital step to take. Leaving the electorate for him to wreak more havoc on between now and Nov. 3, 2020 is a Constitutional copout. The Senate can wait, Nancy. But no games now. It’s time to stand up for the Republic.