Democrats Making a Big Mistake by Rushing Impeachment

Democrats Making a Big Mistake by Rushing Impeachment
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
Democrats Making a Big Mistake by Rushing Impeachment
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
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Just in the last 48 hours, a torrent of revelations about the deepening scandal President Trump ignited when he asked Ukraine to investigate a political rival has begged the question: When it comes to impeachment, what are House Democrats not waiting for? 

At Trump’s behest, Rudy Giuliani has been corralling Ukrainians to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son with the help of two Soviet-born Trump donors who were arrested Wednesday night as they attempted to leave the country with one-way tickets, hours after having lunch with Rudy at the Trump International Hotel in Washington. One of the charges they face is funneling Russian money into the Trump campaign. 

It’s a lot, but there’s more. The arrest of Rudy’s pals follows other alarming recent developments that indicate the Ukraine story is far more complex than originally understood. The Wall Street Journal reported that when legal questions arose from career staff about Trump holding up aid to Ukraine, the White House -- in an unusual move -- put a political appointee in charge of the freeze. A top China adviser to the president, Michael Pillsbury, asked the Chinese government for information on Hunter Biden and received it, according to the Financial Times, which – sorry, Sen. Marco Rubio -- means Trump’s openly stated request was never a joke. And Bloomberg reported that in 2017 Trump asked then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to intervene at the Department of Justice to help stop a case against an Iranian-Turkish client of Giuliani’s.

All of this means that, no, House Democrats shouldn’t vote on articles of impeachment by the holidays. Democrats right now are fretting over whether to hold a vote to formally launch an impeachment inquiry, one that will put their members from swing or Trump districts on the record but will not lead to any cooperation from the White House. But they should take the vote on an inquiry, as enough evidence of impeachable acts exists to warrant it, and no one has to commit now to an outcome later. Yet Democrats are in denial about their deadline, and they need to let it go. 

Democrats say their decision to move forward isn’t political; it’s that they have no choice -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi quotes Thomas Paine: “The times have found us” -- and they’re willing to lose their majority if that results. So why the political timing? 

Democrats want to “strike while the iron’s hot,” complete this before an election year, deter further Trump corruption and attempt to secure the integrity of the next election the president is clearly working hard to meddle in. They believe the Ukraine story, what is already known, is impeachment-worthy and easy for voters to understand and that it should remain the narrow focus of any articles of impeachment.

Pressure surrounds them, not only from a restive base but a bipartisan array of lawyers and political columnists urging them to act quickly. They argue this is the very emergency the Framers imagined, and nothing less than the integrity of next year’s elections -- and those ever more -- are at stake. “Mr. Trump’s brazen attempt to cheat his way into a second term stands so scandalously exposed that there can be no assurance of a fair election if he’s allowed to stay in office,” Will Wilkinson, a conservative, wrote in the New York Times. 

But Democrats have to face it: They only get one shot. One. An impeachment that leads to acquittal by the Senate, no matter how legitimate, will be branded a failure that would be even less credible if there’s a second attempt before the election next year or should Trump be reelected, even if the alleged crimes are far more grave.  

As the story explodes, and more questions are raised not just on Trump’s conduct with Ukraine but with Turkey as well, Democrats seem to think that piling up blocked subpoenas for an obstruction charge is good enough, given the polling that continues to trend against the president on the subject of impeaching him. But obstruction of Congress should be added to charges backed by evidence -- facts that Trump, Republican senators and voters must face. And what Republicans know is that the bad news will just keep coming. The more the administration stonewalls, the more leaking and whistleblowing that will likely result. As Rep. Jim Himes, who serves on the House Intelligence Committee, told the New York Times, “There is another risk [in rushing to impeach], that you don't get to the bottom of the story.” 

In addition to the Ukraine story now involving Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Democrats will have to examine the role of Attorney General Bill Barr. If Barr has known since February about the investigation into Giuilani’s now-charged associates, why would he have refused to open an investigation into the July 25 phone call when the Intelligence Community Inspector General referred it to the FBI as a potential campaign finance violation? Even stranger still is that Barr also denied a request by CIA General Counsel Courtney Simmons Elwood for investigation into potential criminal misconduct -- bribery or extortion -- on that same call. According to reporting by NBC News, Elwood raised her concerns in a phone call that Barr was made aware of but that officials decided wasn’t a formal criminal referral because it wasn’t in writing. 

Democrats are also examining Trump’s decision to acquiesce to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s invasion of Syria, which placed thousands of U.S.-allied Kurdish fighters in danger and threatened to let loose the ISIS prisoners they had captured. The decision angered Trump’s GOP allies, who said he had not only abandoned the Kurds to die at the hands of the Turkish military but had threatened our own national security and any future alliances. But the process also raises critical questions about Trump’s governing and motive -- no discussion took place with foreign policy and national security officials before his sudden decision, and his possible conflicts of interest are well-documented in a country where he and his family have more than 100 business engagements with people at the highest levels of media and government. Trump himself said in a 2015 Breitbart interview he had “a little conflict of interest because I have a major, major building in Istanbul.” As prime minister, Erdogan attended the ribbon-cutting at the Trump Tower in Istanbul in 2012, which Ivanka Trump thanked him for by tweet. And Erdogan leaned on the Obama administration to halt the same case Giuliani wanted blocked for the Iranian/Turkish gold trader because he feared corruption would be revealed in the trial. So that abuse of power from 2017 may not have been just about Rudy after all. 

Democrats need to use these months for an investigation that will further educate voters about what a threat to the balance of power and our constitutional democracy the president’s conduct, combined with his subpoena blockade, represents, and that under the Constitution he is not empowered to defy impeachment or congressional investigation. 

Democrats should also be advocating for, and campaigning on, badly needed reforms such as the requirement for disclosure of any campaign help from foreign governments. Another would be to provide for expedited court consideration of future oversight battles between the legislative and executive branches -- Republicans should have no problem voting for both. 

Finally, there should also be concern that a narrow impeachment sent to the Senate may never go to trial. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he would have no choice but to take it up, but on CNBC he added,  “How long you’re on it is a whole different matter.” We can all too easily imagine a scenario where McConnell dispenses with and rejects articles of impeachment on the argument that the House vote was partisan and Republicans “can’t impeach the president for one phone call.” 

A more thorough and compelling set of charges would make it much harder for McConnell to skip a trial. All Republican senators must put on the record just what it is they support and oppose in service of the oath they swore to the Constitution (and not to politicians or party). 

Slow your roll, Democrats. Done right, this will take a long time.

A.B. Stoddard is associate editor of RealClearPolitics and a columnist. 

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