The Impeachment Conundrum – Get This Right or Everyone Loses

Image by Gerd Altmann, Pixabay

 What Wins? History? Politics? Morality?

The Mueller Report (well, a lot of it) is out. The Attorney General led the release with a “press conference.” Not really a press conference, since no one had seen the material and no questions were allowed. Really more of a publicity launch.

At least we know where the AG stands. Another person who arrived with something of a reputation goes down in flames. This would be a hard man to trust with a sandwich order going forward. Actually leading the Justice Department sure seems a bridge too far now. As a footnote, I would give a lot of money to be able to mind meld with Rob Rosenstein at that event. What an expression he had!

What Stands Out Immediately?

I confess to not having finished reading all the available report yet (working on it). But I have read a bunch and heard all the commentary around us at the moment. Still, I have seen enough to know a few things with reasonable certainty:

– Mueller punted on the issue of charges. He did so based on the DOJ memorandum on charging Presidents (in spite of the AG’s statement otherwise). He did a disservice by not stating unequivocally if he would have pursued indictments in the absence of that memo.

– The investigation was through and professional, in spite of the above note.

– Two key departure points are before us now. These are control of the national dialogue and institutional standards. We could not have more important decisions to make than what awaits us on these paths.

The Road Ahead

First, the matter of controlling the national dialogue. Barr attempted that with his “summary” and his press conference. Trump has tried to declare total vindication. Both failed. As more people read excerpts of the report, their failure will be more pronounced. It is not possible to read much of that report and conclude all is well.

This does not mean a sure thing for the Democrats. Once the initial dust settles, they need a coherent process dealing with the report. They need to communicate to the public that they are going through the report carefully. They will get the redacted portions as well. Getting it all is constitutionally important.

They must do all this in a deliberative, careful, professional manner. If this turns into a flood of loose excerpts, everyone loses. The media and social media will do enough of that. Congress needs to, dare I say it, act like adults. Doing so will serve the nation well and will benefit the Democrats politically as well.

Which brings us to the second departure point. This one is much tougher. To what end is this material being reviewed? Congressional Democratic leaders remains focused at this point in staying away from impeachment. That is understandable but may be wrong.

Understandable because pursuing it would be divisive and painful. Logical because it is hard to imagine getting enough votes in the Senate to convict. Trump apparently is correct. He could shoot someone, and his followers would not convict him. Impeachment seems a losing option. Look at what happened to Republicans with a terminally dumb effort to impeach Clinton. They paid heavily for that. Clinton got a second chance from their bungling.

If I Were King for a Day…

To not allow impeachment to be the touchstone of all politics going forward is the right call, for many reasons. But to take it off the table out of the fears listed above is short-sighted. In my view, it is also a failure to meet our obligations. Far better to say something like the following.

Now that we have most of the report, we will study it. We will get the rest of the report as well, and the background documents. We will call witnesses (Mueller, most certainly). We will ensure we understand the processes and the results. We will call forward those identified in the report as lying or otherwise hindering the investigation. We will note prominently Mr. Trump’s decision not to be interviewed, as well as his dozens of “I don’t remember” responses to written questions. Once all that is done, we will decide the course going forward.

Decision Time Approaches

If this is done right, enough Republicans might find a spine and/or a sense of responsibility to the country to vote for impeachment. Knowing what we already know, how one could decide Mr. Trump’s conduct does not warrant impeachment is a mystery. That conclusion should be clear to more people as the information is processed in the light of day.

Is this current situation actually the standard half a hundred Republican senators want to endorse for eternity? Is this their vote for America going forward?

If a threat of impeachment becomes credible, Mr. Trump’s resignation might be possible. This would spare us almost two more years of this disastrous reign. Or we might have to proceed with an impeachment. We would do so because we decided national leadership should stand for something.

But even if neither of these outcomes occurs, at least the Congress will have done its duty. It will have chosen to oversee, investigate, and decide via civilized standards. To walk away from this obligation would make Democrats seem little more than small creatures of political convenience.

Boy, does our country need more than small creatures just now.

        Bill Clontz

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