Wednesday, December 11, 2019

By sweeping aside the Russia scandal and Mueller report, Democrats are in the process of blowing it on their efforts to impeach President Donald Trump

Democrats announce articles of impeachment 

House Democrats yesterday produced two articles of impeachment -- one for abuse of power and one for obstruction of Congress -- against President Donald Trump. In so doing, Democrats focused solely on issues related to Ukraine, with no article based on Russian election interference and the Mueller report. In essence, impeachment will focus on the alleged misconduct of President Trump, while ignoring the much more expansive and serious misconduct of Candidate Trump.

Is it a mistake to give Trump a pass on the Russia scandal? A number of commentators already are crying, "Yes" -- and we agree with them. We also suspect this is the first major sign that Americans will have to endure four more years of a Trump White House. Whether the country can survive that is anyone's guess, but our suggestion is, "Brace yourself."

A Salon article by Andrew O'Hehir, dated 12/6/19 (last Friday) seemed to presage yesterday's events, with the headline "Are Democrats Blowing Trump's Impeachment?" Writes O'Hehir:

[Last] Thursday’s announcement by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that Democrats are ready to vote articles of impeachment against President Trump — presumably on the narrowest possible terms, after a constrained and foreshortened process — is hardly surprising. It is, however, disheartening. Why they would even consider moving to a floor vote on impeachment without doing whatever is necessary to compel testimony from John Bolton, who is now a private citizen and has always been a blast-hardened neocon Republican, and who is clearly eager to roast Donald Trump’s gizzard on a fork and then eat it, is profoundly baffling. 
Or maybe, sadly, it isn’t. So far, this spectacle confirms my sense that the Democratic Party is strikingly ill-prepared for the historical role it ought to play in this moment of small-d democratic crisis. Driven as usual by fear, excessive caution and a morbid fascination with identifying the middle of the middle of the political middle (and then veering slightly to its right), the Democrats are entirely likely to screw things up, whether morally or tactically or politically or all at once.

O'Hehir, in fact, suggests Democrats already have botched it by settling into a "back to normal" political stance that has placed Joe Biden as a frontrunner who quite possibly could lose to even an impeached Trump in 2020:

Actually, the Democrats have already screwed it up. Let’s be clear that the Republican defense of Trump is completely incoherent, because there is no defense for his actions. But on a generic or abstract level, Republicans have floated halfway-valid concerns about the process of the impeachment inquiry and the motivations behind it — which Democrats have done little to dispel.

Republicans claim that Democrats have been itching for a pretext to impeach Trump since before he took office, and finally landed on one. That’s at least partly true, although the Angry White People Party is too consumed by paranoid delusions to understand the ways in which it is both true and untrue, and how those reflect the deep and wide schism within the Democrats over how to respond to the Trump era. Sure, Rashida Tlaib got elected in Detroit vowing to “impeach the motherf***er,” but a whole lot of other Democrats got elected while not talking about that at all, and explicitly or otherwise espousing the “back to normal” politics that have made Joe Biden the 2020 frontrunner all year long.

In case you haven’t been keeping score, there is no “normal” to go back to, history never flows backward and that whole approach is a dangerous delusion, as we will all learn the hard way soon enough. Biden would be a disastrous nominee and a terrible president, which is not to say there’s an obvious alternative who inspires immense confidence. But for our present purposes all that is a side issue, even if it’s also a yawning abyss beneath our feet.

Susan Hennessey, executive editor of the Lawfare blog and general counsel of the Lawfare Institute, argued in a piece published Monday (12/9/19) that Democrats should present articles of impeachment that have some breadth and are not too narrow. The headline: "The One Episode From the Mueller Report That Democrats Must Include in Impeachment."Writes Hennessey:

It would be a huge mistake not to include an article related to Mueller. It would be a mistake substantively and a mistake strategically. And the House Judiciary Committee’s recent hearings on impeachment show why.

The argument here is not that the House should include any and every plausible article based on conduct described in Mueller’s report. To the contrary, it would be unwise to be so overbroad. But there is a single, specific article of impeachment that should be included: one describing how the president of the United States obstructed justice by directing White House Counsel Don McGahn to create a false internal record denying that the president had instructed him to have Robert Mueller fired as special counsel.

For those who might be foggy on the details regarding McGahn, Hennessey provides a primer:

It’s worth briefly recapping the facts on this episode, as recounted in the Mueller report. In June 2017, following press reports that the special counsel was investigating Trump personally, the president ordered McGahn to have Mueller fired. McGahn prepared to resign rather than carry out the order, but he was persuaded to remain. Months later, in January 2018, the New York Times reported that the prior June Trump had directed McGahn to have Mueller fired. The president sought to have McGahn publicly deny this story, but McGahn refused to do so because the story was accurate in significant part. Approximately one week after the initial Times story, Trump told White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter to direct McGahn to create a record “for our files” denying the story and saying McGahn had never been told to fire Mueller. Trump suggested to Porter that if McGahn refused to write such a letter, Trump might fire McGahn. Porter communicated Trump’s request to McGahn, and McGahn refused to create such a record, reiterating that the story was true and that in June 2017 the president had, in fact, told him to have Mueller fired. Finally, the president directly pressured McGahn, in an Oval Office meeting, to refute the story and McGahn again refused. 
Susan Hennessey
Mueller determined that McGahn’s account of events was credible and that the weight of evidence supports an inference that Trump’s pressure on McGahn was not about countering a news report but, rather, was an effort to “deflect or prevent further scrutiny of [Trump’s] conduct towards the investigation.” Running through the three elements of statutes criminalizing obstruction of justice—an obstructive act, nexus to an investigative proceeding and corrupt intent—Mueller found that evidence supports the conclusion that the president’s conduct met all three. And critically, Mueller determined that there are no available constitutional defenses for the president here. Whatever the scope of Article II, it does not extend to directing the White House counsel to falsify records.

Numerous other Mueller-related articles could be included, but Hennessey explains why the McGahn episode cannot be swept aside:

While there are other compelling examples, the McGahn episode is the single strongest episode of obstruction of justice in the entire Mueller report. The facts of what occurred are established by clear evidence and are supported by both documentary records and the testimony of multiple White House officials. It is also an example of obstruction that is unambiguous on the law—it presents a clear criminal violation.

And that’s exactly why the Democrats would be nuts not to include this episode as an article of impeachment.

We know now that Democrats did not follow Hennessey's advice, and we suspect they -- and the country -- will pay a huge price.

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