It’s becoming increasingly clear that the strategy Democrats are employing with this White House simply isn’t working. Trump has decided to ostensibly ignore any and all Congressional subpoenas, and his attorney general is in lock step with this obvious obstruction of justice. It’s as though Trump is daring Democrats to impeach him. So, if that’s the case, I say give him what he wants.
What? Are you kidding? Why would Democrats give this president what he wants? Isn’t that just playing right into his hands? In a way, yes. But let’s be honest for a minute. The longer this goes on, the more dragged out the investigations become with no results to show for them, the more it looks as though Democrats are just fishing for anything they can to pin on Trump. And with a presidential election just under eighteen months away, that is a recipe for disaster.
Face it: Democrats have for the last three months been conducting an impeachment proceeding without actually calling it that. Yes, they’ve been careful with their choice of words. We’re conducting oversight on this administration, they keep insisting. No, we’re not impeaching the president, at least not yet. Except, with all due respect, no one believes that for a moment. Everybody this side of the Milky Way galaxy knows where this will eventually lead. So, why dick around? It’s time for Democrats to make it official. If you’re going to impeach, then impeach.
Last December, I wrote that Democrats shouldn’t be afraid to impeach Trump if the evidence warranted it. As the Mueller report clearly stated, there were multiple instances of this president interfering with a lawful, criminal investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Just the other day, over 700 former prosecutors signed a letter stating that based on the evidence Mueller obtained, had Trump been a private citizen they would’ve sought an indictment of him for obstruction of justice. Assuming one article of impeachment for every instance of obstruction, that’s a total of ten articles, six more than were brought against Bill Clinton.
But what about the polling that shows a majority of people opposed to impeachment? Funny you should ask. A recent poll conducted by Reuters indicates that support for impeaching Trump has gone up five points in the last month. 45 percent are now in favor of it versus 42 percent who aren’t. Granted, it’s only one poll, and we all know the danger of outlier polling. Still, what it reveals is that Trump may have overplayed his hand by so arrogantly defying Congress.
But here’s the thing. Let’s say just for the moment that the Reuter poll is an outlier. Maybe the actual percentage of people in favor of impeachment is considerably less, say in the low to mid 30s. That would present a considerable problem for Democrats going into the most consequential election of our lifetime, right? Not necessarily.
In May of 1973, when the Senate began its hearings into the Watergate scandal, support for impeaching then president Richard Nixon stood at a paltry 19 percent. Nixon was in the first year of his second term, having won a landslide reelection against George McGovern the previous November. His popularity, though – after peaking at over 60 percent around the time of his inauguration – began to slowly erode. It went from the mid-40s in the Spring on ’73 to the mid-20s throughout most of ’74. Not coincidentally, support for impeachment began to tick upward. By February of ’74, when the House formally began its impeachment proceeding, it was hovering in the mid 30s, and by the summer of ’74, it was over 50 percent. It peaked at 57 percent just a couple of weeks before Nixon’s resignation.
So what changed? Well, for one thing, the formality of an actual impeachment proceeding lent an air of legitimacy to the hearings. It also gave Congress the leverage it needed to overcome Nixon’s stonewalling efforts to block their subpoenas. The public witnessed, first hand, damning testimony from members of Nixon’s cabinet that painted a portrait of a corrupt administration and a president knee-deep in the scandal. The infamous Watergate tapes – the smoking gun in the whole investigation – were obtained only because the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Nixon’s claim of executive privilege blocking their release was unconstitutional. Once the public had a chance to hear, in Nixon’s own words, the breath and scope of the coverup, his fate was sealed. His own party turned on him and he was forced out of office.
You might say that was then, this is now. Nixon didn’t have a 24-hour cable news channel and Twitter at his disposal. Perhaps if he did, he might’ve survived. I’ll admit that’s a distinct possibility. But it’s one of those things we’ll never know because its impossible to go back in time and recreate the circumstances. It’s kind of like those football fanatics who want to know how Tom Brady’s Patriots would’ve fared against Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers. Good luck with that one! What we do know is that the more the public found out about Watergate, the less popular Nixon became. And it only found out because the courts gave deference to Congress’s constitutional right to conduct a legitimate criminal investigation, not merely a hearing.
Look at what Trump is doing; not even Nixon would’ve been so ballsy. Not only is he thumbing his nose at House Democrats, we now find out that he asked Don McGahn, the former White House Counsel, to lie about him trying to have Mueller fired. If you’ll recall, one of the articles of impeachment against Clinton was encouraging Monica Lewinski to file a false affidavit. And while a formal impeachment proceeding would not automatically overcome Trump’s exertion of executive privilege against McGahn testifying, or for that matter Mueller, it would give Democrats a stronger hand to play in court. Even conservative judges are reluctant to interfere with Congressional oversight committees, especially ones conducting an impeachment proceeding.
And then there’s Trump’s tax returns, which Democrats issued a subpoena for after being told by Steve Mnunchin to go fly a kite. It’s highly unlikely that Treasury will turn them over, which means a protracted court battle that could take months and possibly drag into next year. A bill that is likely to become law in New York might give House Democrats the chance to see Trump’s state returns, but there’s a catch. The wording of the would-be law says there must be a “specific and legitimate legislative purpose” to the request. An impeachment proceeding would certainly satisfy both requirements should Trump decide to challenge them in court, which he most assuredly would.
While I understand that impeachment is a pretty big step – not to mention a risky one – I frankly don’t see any other alternative given the circumstances. It’s obvious Trump has no intention of cooperating. He’s pissing all over the Constitution, and with each passing day he grows more and more emboldened. A formal impeachment proceeding would focus the country’s attention on his misdeeds in a way that is currently not happening. Trump may think an impeachment proceeding is his golden ticket to another four years in the White House, but it’s worth noting that the last two presidents to go through such an ordeal ended up costing their party the White House in the subsequent election.