There were those who said the Trump administration couldn’t get any worse, but last week they did. The explosive news hit over the weekend that a government whistleblower filed an official complaint to the intelligence community inspector general alleging that, on multiple occasions, President Trump attempted to pressure the president of Ukraine. Specifically, that allegation continued, the president pressured Ukraine to investigate the son of his potential Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, by threatening to withhold foreign aid to that country. While the Muller Report made it clear to most Democrats that no bar was too low for Trump and his team in order to get to the White House, even Republicans are admitting that the Commander-in-Chief is now just getting sloppy.
This is the news that many of Trump’s critics have been waiting for. His alleged actions as president are the now the most serious on a continuum of what should have been impeachment-triggering events, starting with his actions as a private citizen, which are detailed in the Muller Report and were presented to Congress in July. A week ago, the Manhattan District Attorney subpoenaed eight years of Trump's financial records for a possible criminal investigation into hush money payments that were made to a porn actor during his presidential campaign. Things are definitely getting worse.
Calls to impeach the 45th president are louder than ever. Indeed, at least 137 lawmakers in the House of Representatives have stated that they support impeaching Trump, while Republican members of Congress continue to gaslight the American people.
But the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, remains hesitant. In an interview with National Public Radio on Friday she lamented a Department of Justice (DOJ) Memorandum that prohibits a sitting president from being indicted on criminal charges. She also argued for Congress to pass a law that would allow for a president to be criminally indicted – a measure Republicans would surely support if a Democratic president were accused of lesser misdeeds.
Pelosi is right about three things: first, she should be worried about alienating Democrats and losing their majority in the House of Representatives. Second, she’s right thatTrump will not face criminal justice while in office: the DOJ memo makes that clear. And third, she’s correct when she says that, in spite of a House impeachment, the Republican-controlled Senate wouldn't move forward with conviction proceedings (the second part of the Congressional impeachment process).
But the Speaker’s reasoning is also flawed.
First, a failure to secure a Senate conviction doesn’t matter in the long term – and as a nation we are in this for the long haul. An impeachment (even without a conviction) could serve as an important precedent for later criminal investigations into Trump's dealings before and during his presidency. But more importantly, impeachment is a critical precedent for future holders of the Oval Office who chose to abuse their executive powers for political and financial gain.
In other words, to provide evidence to convict Trump later, as well as demonstrate to Americans and the world that the concept of Rule of Law still holds meaning in our democracy, Congress has no choice but to proceed with the impeachment process.
To those who say impeachment is futile because of the DOJ memo: I agree. But Trump can still face justice once he is out of office. We know from the case of Nixon vs. US that the president is not above the law, even while in office. In that 1974 landmark case, then-president Richard Nixon argued that executive privilege and national security shielded him from having to share confidential White House conversations from the 1972 break-in of the Democratic National Committee headquarters (which Nixon ordered). The Supreme Court didn’t agree with Nixon and concluded that argument for executive privilege doesn’t necessarily override the “fundamental demands of due process of law in the fair administration of criminal justice.” Nixon resigned before he could face an impeachment and conviction process.
Again, to those who argue that Nixon’s case was different: I agree. Nixon didn’t have blind support of the Senate, as Trump does; Nixon knew he was going down. But what about the importance of impeachment as a democratic process? Just look at Bill Clinton, who was impeached for lying about having extramarital affairs while in the Oval Office to Congress, which, while incredibly distasteful and unethical, hardly rises to the level of Trump’s alleged abuse. Furthermore, if we don’t pursue impeachment for Trump under such extraordinary and unprecedented circumstances, the process is stripped of its meaning and is damaging to the integrity of our democracy.
It’s true – we are hardly nearing Trump’s final act. The corrupt and lecherous wizard of reality television who now holds the country hostage with his Twitter rants, ICE raids and foreign policy circus certainly has more tricks up his sleeve. But regardless of whether Trump and his cronies win the next round of elections, at some point Donald Trump will once again be a private, legally prosecutable citizen, and those who helped him hide his crimes will have to account for their actions.
An impeachment on Trump’s record will make him more vulnerable to criminal indictment at some point and will subject him to public humiliation; it is the modern equivalent of tarring and feathering the sovereign. But more important than subjecting the fragile ego that sits in the Oval Office to public shaming, more important even than Trump’s criminal record, is the fact that Democratic leaders need to remember this country is supposed to stand for the Rule of Law. Americans need to be reassured that regardless of the eminence of the position, those who abuse their official powers shall face some form of justice.
Our democracy depends on it.
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