As we are finally in the throes of an “official” impeachment inquiry, it’s worth noting two related arguments making the rounds against such a process.
First, some say, it is pointless because the Senate will never vote to convict and remove President Trump. They argue that it’s impractical to impeach him because exoneration is a foregone conclusion in a Republican-controlled Senate and furthermore the whole process could embolden, and potentially help re-elect, him. Notwithstanding how many hypothetical secret ballot Senate Republican votes there may be for conviction, the reality is that at this moment the conclusion probably is foregone. As Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell recently said, “I will say I’m pretty sure how it is likely to end. If it were today, I don’t think there is any question it would not lead to a removal.” He’s likely correct, though things can change with time. As discussed below, however, this doesn’t mean impeachment is inappropriate.
Second, some people say, the 2020 election is just around the corner and voters should decide, at the ballot box, whether Trump is fit for office. To wit, former Deputy Assistant Attorney General (and torture memo author) John Yoo told Laura Ingraham on Fox News: “What the framers thought was [that] the American people would judge a president at the time of an election, they would have never wanted an impeachment within a year of an election, it’s up to the American people.” This is ahistorical and absurd on its face because literally the first time Congress undertook to impeach a president was during an election year, involving Andrew Johnson in 1868. So fifty percent of the time there was an actual impeachment in the House, an election was around the corner.
Putting aside Yoo’s historical amnesia, both of these arguments against proceeding take a narrow view of impeachment and its purpose. Sometimes it is important to take action for its own sake and this is especially the case with actions meant to enforce the Constitution. Choosing not to impeach would send a message that the Constitution’s core principles of separation of powers can be flouted. When the Executive usurps power such that Congress and the Judiciary are no longer co-equal branches of government, the Constitution mandates us to take a long view of what’s good for the Republic. The answer is in Article I sections 2 and 3, which call on the House to investigate and to present evidence to be tested in the Senate.
In traditional prosecutorial thinking, which I did as a U.S. attorney, you certainly want to be aware of the political clock, especially the proximity of the next election. You don’t want to be interfering with or influencing an election through a law enforcement process; you don’t want to be substituting prosecutorial action for democratic action. That’s a good and deeply held principle. But that logic is less applicable when you’re talking about Congress holding the president accountable through a political process that is explicitly provided for in the Constitution, as opposed to ordinary criminal process. That’s a different question, and a nearby election doesn’t matter nearly as much.
In fact, those saying “let the voters decide” ignore the fact that the impeachment inquiry, which is not the same thing as a vote to impeach and remove Trump, is bringing to light a great deal of important information – revelations that have filled the news with evidence of possible corruption by Trump in pressuring Ukraine to find dirt on the Bidens. That is fundamentally important information that voters have a right to know about Trump, and it has come to light only because of this accelerating impeachment inquiry.
To be sure, some elements of the case against Trump were known before the official opening of the House impeachment inquiry and, in fact, prompted the inquiry. The avalanche of facts however — emerging from the testimonies of current and former Trump administration officials – is critical information that the public needs to know. It’s not only important for the purpose of deciding whether the investigation needs to be continued, but also for the purpose of informing the public as to the fitness of this president for office before they cast their votes.
In this light, consider the absurdity of the Yoo argument: cancel the impeachment inquiry because there’s an election coming, even though it is this impeachment inquiry that is bringing electorally and politically significant information to the people that they should have in advance of that election.
The impeachment inquiry is proper and just and worthwhile, whatever the ultimate result. Stay tuned for the first public hearings starting as soon as next week.
Given that the 2020 presidential election is less than a year away, how much should timing matter when it comes to proceeding with impeachment? Let us know your thoughts by replying to this email or writing to us at [email protected]
STAY TUNED LIVE TOUR
Stay Tuned is on the road! Join Preet and guests for a night of thoughtful and inspiring conversations in the following cities:
Detroit | November 12, 2019
Dana Nessel, Michigan’s 54th Attorney General and long-time advocate of LGBTQ rights
Barbara McQuade, Former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan
Atlanta | December 4, 2019
Sally Yates, a veteran of the Justice Department who served as the Acting U.S. Attorney General
LIVING IN HISTORIC TIMES
It is only the fourth time that an American president has been the subject of an impeachment inquiry. With the investigation moving at full speed and as the House enters the public phase of the process, we look back at Nixon and Clinton for context.
HOUSE INQUIRY VOTES
TIME BETWEEN INQUIRY OPENING AND FULL HOUSE INQUIRY VOTE
LENGTH OF INQUIRY
ARTICLES OF IMPEACHMENT APPROVED BY JUDICIARY COMMITTEES
THIS WEEK ON STAY TUNED
Errol Morris is this week’s guest on Stay Tuned. He is an award-winning documentary filmmaker, known for his portraits of controversial political figures, such as former secretaries of defense Robert McNamara and Donald Rumsfeld. Morris joins Preet for a wide-ranging conversation covering his most recent film, American Dharma, a profile of former White House chief strategist and executive chairman of Breitbart News, Steve Bannon.
In this sneak peek at the interview, Morris discusses what Bannon saw in Donald Trump as a presidential candidate:
He saw him as…an armor piercing shell, a blunt force instrument…If your aim is to destroy everything, if you have, secretly or not so secretly, a scorched earth policy, then that’s your candidate. A guy untouched by morality, by rationality—really untouched by anything except by some insane desire to promote himself.
Don’t forget to listen to this week’s episode. It drops on Thursday, November 7th.
Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii has dedicated his career to public service as a strong advocate for the State’s middle-class families, a clean energy economy, seniors, veterans, and Native Hawaiians. Sen. Schatz tweets frequently, providing insightful commentary on the Capitol’s happenings. Follow @brianschatz and don’t miss a beat as the impeachment inquiry heats up.
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That’s it for this week. We hope you’re enjoying CAFE Insider. Reply to this email or write to us at [email protected] with your thoughts, suggestions, and questions.
— Tamara Sepper, Carla Pierini, Julia Doyle, Calvin Lord, and David Kurlander