Dear Speaker Pelosi: do your constitutional duty – impeach this corrupt criminal

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Donald Trump is a horrible poker player. He has an obvious “tell” that reveals when he is lying (I know, I know, every time his lips are moving). No, it’s whenever he says “witch hunt,” he is admitting that “it’s true.” This tell has been borne out time and time again.

The other day Trump said that reports he he had talked to the new president of Ukraine about opening an investigation manufacturing “dirt” on Joe Biden and his son is a “witch hunt.” Sure as hell, President Trump confirmed on Sunday that he mentioned former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter in a phone call with the leader of Ukraine. Trump suggests he mentioned Biden in phone call with Ukrainian president:

In an exchange with reporters outside the White House before departing for events in Texas and Ohio on Sunday, Trump appeared to suggest he did speak about Biden with Zelensky.

Later in Houston, Trump appeared to backtrack, saying, “I don’t even want to mention it, but certainly I’d have the right to” raise Biden’s name with Zelensky. He also said he would “love” to release a transcript, though he added he would have to make a determination about how to do so.

In his comments, Trump also continued to suggest, with no evidence, that Biden had acted inappropriately.

… And the media, ever the dutiful stenographer, repeated every one of the lies emanating from this conspiracy mongering pathological liar, thus amplifying his lies and giving them an air of credibility. This is how the big lie propaganda technique works. The media must stop allowing itself to be manipulated and used by this dangerous demagogue. They are helping Trump normalize criminality.

As Michael Tomasky writes at The Daily Beast, “The president has all but ’fessed up’ to his latest impeachable offense, and Republicans are shrugging. That’s on them—not the Democrats. Trump’s Firing Away on Fifth Avenue, and We Are Fucked (subscription required). As I have said before, the Party of Trump is a criminal enterprise led by a third-rate mafia “Don” Trump. They are all accomplices, co-conspirators and accessories to his criminality and corruption. There is not a patriot among them. They put fealty to their “Dear Leader” above all else, including loyalty to their country and our national security, and their oaths of office to defend the Constitution. Trump allies jolt into action to deflect Ukraine-whistleblower scandal:

Almost every time a controversy emerges that seemingly imperils Trump’s presidency, the same playbook unfolds. Amid angry calls for impeachment, Trump’s allies largely sidestep a debate over the event itself, cast blame elsewhere and start rationalizing the president’s behavior. Countless times already, it’s worked as an effective counterattack that gives Trump cover as he defends his norm-busting behavior.

“I think we’re seeing a steady arc of removing constraints and institutional norms that continue to erode so that it’s really anything goes as to what he’s willing to say and do to advance whatever grievance he has at the moment,” said Randall Samborn, a former federal prosecutor and spokesman on the George W. Bush-era special counsel investigation into who leaked the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame.

“There just don’t seem to be any constraints upon him institutionally or legally or as a matter of political discretion to refrain from doing or saying almost anything,” he added.

Democrats are not blameless. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s timidity and weakness in impeaching Donald Trump for his blatant corruption and criminality only gives him license to engage in blatant corruption and criminality with impunity. He does not fear impeachment because Nancy Pelosi has become his unwitting protector.

The New York Times reports that “House Speaker Nancy Pelosi leveled a warning of her own on Sunday to the White House: Turn over the secret whistle-blower complaint by Thursday, or face a serious escalation from Congress.” What, are you going to send little Donny to his room without dessert? Is this the best you can do for a crime boss in the White House? As Trump Confirms He Discussed Biden With Ukraine, Pressure to Impeach Builds:

In a letter to House Democrats, Ms. Pelosi never mentioned the word “impeachment,” but her message hinted at that possibility.

“If the administration persists in blocking this whistle-blower from disclosing to Congress a serious possible breach of constitutional duties by the president, they will be entering a grave new chapter of lawlessness which will take us into a whole new stage of investigation,” Ms. Pelosi, Democrat of California, wrote in the letter.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s timidity and weakness in impeaching Donald Trump leads to this:

Mr. Trump showed no sign of contrition on Sunday, telling aides that Democrats were overplaying their hand on a matter voters would dismiss. Publicly, he worked to focus attention not on his own actions but on Mr. Biden’s.

Democrats’ frustration with Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s unwillingness to impeach President Trump is reaching a fever pitch. ‘We’ve been very weak’: House Democrats decry their oversight of Trump, push Pelosi on impeachment:

An increasingly vocal group of pro-impeachment House Democrats are starting to dismiss their own oversight of Trump as feckless, even accusing their colleagues of emboldening the president by refusing to stand up to what they see as lawless behavior.

At the very least, these Democrats say, the House should be taking more aggressive action to break the unprecedented White House stonewalling, possibly even fining defiant Trump officials, an idea Pelosi dismissed this year.

“At this point, the bigger national scandal isn’t the president’s lawbreaking behavior — it is the Democratic Party’s refusal to impeach him for it,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), a longtime impeachment backer, tweeted late Saturday night. “It is one thing for a sitting president to break the law. It’s another to let him. . . . The GOP’s silence & refusal to act shouldn’t be a surprise. Ours is.”

Even House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), an impeachment skeptic and Pelosi ally, suggested impeachment might be inevitable. ‘We very well may have crossed the Rubicon’: Schiff says impeachment may be necessary.

Kerry Eleveld at Daily Kos makes a salient point:

Some people will argue that the only way to remove from Trump from office is at the ballot box since Senate Republicans clearly won’t convict him. But any Democrat still making a political argument against impeachment because 2020 is the silver bullet is deluding themselves. Trump is actively rigging the election, extorting foreign powers to help him, and god knows what else. Leaving Trump to do whatever he wants unfettered so Democrats can supposedly prevail in 2020 is lunacy. That is exactly what Pelosi is doing—asking voters to provide a remedy while Trump predetermines its outcome. It’s a total dereliction of duty.

Over the weekend, George T. Conway III and Neal Katyal in an op-ed wrote, Trump has done plenty to warrant impeachment. But the Ukraine allegations are over the top.

Among the most delicate choices the framers made in drafting the Constitution was how to deal with a president who puts himself above the law. To address that problem, they chose the mechanism of impeachment and removal from office. And they provided that this remedy could be used when a president commits “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

That last phrase — “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” — was a historical term of art, derived from impeachments in the British Parliament. When the framers put it into the Constitution, they didn’t discuss it much, because no doubt they knew what it meant. It meant, as Alexander Hamilton later phrased it, “the abuse or violation of some public trust.”

Simply put, the framers viewed the president as a fiduciary, the government of the United States as a sacred trust and the people of the United States as the beneficiaries of that trust. Through the Constitution, the framers imposed upon the president the duty and obligation to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed” and made him swear an oath that he would fulfill that duty of faithful execution. They believed that a president would break his oath if he engaged in self-dealing — if he used his powers to put his own interests above the nation’s. That would be the paradigmatic case for impeachment.

That’s exactly what appears to be at issue today. A whistleblower in U.S. intelligence lodged a complaint with the intelligence community’s inspector general so alarming that he labeled it of “urgent concern” and alerted the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Though the details remain secret, apparently this much can be gleaned: The complaint is against the president. It concerns a “promise” that the president made, in at least one phone call, to a foreign leader. And it involves Ukraine and possible interference with the next presidential election. The complaint is being brazenly suppressed by the Justice Department — in defiance of a whistleblower law that says, without exception, the complaint “shall” be turned over to Congress.

We also know this: As he admitted Thursday night on CNN, the president’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, has been trying to persuade the Ukrainian government to investigate, among other things, one of Trump’s potential Democratic opponents, former vice president Joe Biden, and Biden’s son Hunter about the latter’s involvement with a Ukrainian gas company.

Trump held up the delivery of $250 million in military assistance to Ukraine, which is under constant threat from neighboring Russia. He had a phone conversation on July 25 with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine. According to the Ukrainian government, the call included a discussion of Ukraine’s need to “complete investigation of corruption cases, which inhibited the interaction between Ukraine and the USA.”

So it appears that the president might have used his official powers — in particular, perhaps the threat of withholding a quarter-billion dollars in military aid — to leverage a foreign government into helping him defeat a potential political opponent in the United States.

If Trump did that, it would be the ultimate impeachable act. Trump has already done more than enough to warrant impeachment and removal with his relentless attempts, on multiple fronts, to sabotage the counterintelligence and criminal investigation by then-special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and to conceal evidence of those attempts. The president’s efforts were impeachable because, in committing those obstructive acts, he put his personal interests above the nation’s: He tried to stop an investigation into whether a hostile foreign power, Russia, tried to interfere with our democracy — simply because he seemed to find it personally embarrassing. Trump breached his duty of faithful execution to the nation not only because he likely broke the law but also because, through his disregard for the law, he put his self-interest first.

The current whistleblowing allegations, however, are even worse. Unlike the allegations of conspiracy with Russia before the 2016 election, these concern Trump’s actions as president, not as a private citizen, and his exercise of presidential powers over foreign policy with Ukraine. Moreover, with Russia, at least there was an attempt to get the facts through the Mueller investigation; here the White House is trying to shut down the entire inquiry from the start — depriving not just the American people, but even congressional intelligence committees, of necessary information.

It is high time for Congress to do its duty, in the manner the framers intended. Given how Trump seems ever bent on putting himself above the law, something like what might have happened between him and Ukraine — abusing presidential authority for personal benefit — was almost inevitable. Yet if that is what occurred, part of the responsibility lies with Congress, which has failed to act on the blatant obstruction that Mueller detailed months ago.

Congressional procrastination has probably emboldened Trump, and it risks emboldening future presidents who might turn out to be of his sorry ilk. To borrow John Dean’s haunting Watergate-era metaphor once again, there is a cancer on the presidency, and cancers, if not removed, only grow. Congress bears the duty to use the tools provided by the Constitution to remove that cancer now, before it’s too late. As Elbridge Gerry put it at the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, “A good magistrate will not fear [impeachments]. A bad one ought to be kept in fear of them.” By now, Congress should know which one Trump is.

UPDATE: Former U.S. Attorney Renato Mariotti makes an important point to the impeachment case. Trump Didn’t Bribe Ukraine. It’s Actually Worse Than That. (excerpt):

If what Trump is accused of doing is true, it is a kind of corrupt conduct that the criminal system is not equipped to handle. Labeling his behavior with criminal terms such as bribery and extortion not only misunderstands the statutory language, it gives Trump and his supporters ammunition with which to defend themselves, making impeachment—the proper constitutional remedy for presidential corruption—harder to achieve.

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[T]he impulse to label this as a potential crime, as many respected former prosecutors and legal analysts have done, is flawed legally and even strategically. Even if true, this is not a case that would end up in a criminal proceeding even if Trump were no longer in office.

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What Trump is alleged to have done is not a garden variety crime; it’s worse. It involved misusing $250 million in aid appropriated by Congress for his benefit—the kind of gross misconduct that easily clears the bar of high crimes and misdemeanors set by the Constitution when impeaching a president. Which means the best way to hold Trump accountable for that misconduct isn’t a criminal trial; it’s for Congress to impeach him.

Pursuing criminal cases that won’t stand legal scrutiny, or arguing that Trump has violated a criminal statute, risks undermining that goal.

First, it gives the false impression that this is something the criminal justice system can deal with. But the criminal system is not built to handle misconduct by a president who is acting corruptly through the use of his or her immense constitutional powers in this manner.

Second, it suggests that if critics can point out that it is not really bribery or extortion, then it is not a huge problem, which is not true. This is already happening, as allies of the president assert that there was no explicit quid pro quo. [There do not need to be explicit “magic words;” the quid pro quo can be implicitly understood from the context.]

Third, it may give the public a false impression about what happened. Impeachment in many respects is a political act, and that means Congress needs public support to pursue it. Anything that confuses or fails to convince the public is therefore counterproductive.

Finally, it understates the magnitude of the alleged misconduct. Labeling Trump’s alleged conduct as “bribery” or “extortion” cheapens what is alleged to have occurred and does not capture what makes it wrongful. It’s not a crime—it’s a breach of the president’s duty to not use the powers of the presidency to benefit himself. And he invited a foreign nation to influence the 2020 presidential election on the heels of a nearly three-year investigation that proved Russia had tried to influence the 2016 presidential election.

No one should expect law enforcement to act if our elected representatives are unwilling to do so.

Exactly. Time to do your constitutional duty, Speaker Pelosi. History will be your judge.




3 COMMENTS

  1. There is no doubt Trump has committed impeachable offenses, but shouldn’t Pence be impeached also? I think it’s pretty likely that Nancy Pelosi is trying to be sure to remove both and that could mean having the patience to let the election do the job.

    • Several legal experts have commented that if Trump gained the presidency through electoral fraud or corruption, Pence would also be impeachable. See, law professor Michael Glennon, “If Trump is impeachable, so is Pence”, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/if-trump-is-impeachable-so-is-pence/2019/01/21/f4274962-1902-11e9-8813-cb9dec761e73_story.html

      “The framers clearly intended that theft of an election through fraud and corruption constitute an impeachable offense. James Madison was not concerned only about post-election perfidy when he worried, at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, that a president might “betray his trust to foreign powers.” George Mason seemingly spoke for many the same day when he asked, “Shall the man who has practiced corruption and by that means procured his appointment in the first instance, be suffered to escape punishment” by allowing him to stay in office?

      Removing a president who had procured office through corruption would not, under the original Constitution, have resulted in a friendly takeover by a vice president of the same political party. When the impeachment clause was written in 1787, political parties did not exist.

      The 12th Amendment … had critically important — and unnoticed — implications for impeachment. The election of a two-person ticket, rather than an individual, had the potential effect of permitting a vice president and his political party to benefit from electoral fraud by the presidential candidate so long as the vice president himself avoided committing an impeachable offense. A party’s ill-gotten gains — the presidency and all its appointments and prerogatives — would then remain in its hands even though its leader, the president, had been impeached and removed from office. Electoral corruption would still be rewarded.

      That was not the amendment’s intent.”

      I suspect that Nancy Pelosi’s reluctance to impeach Trump has to do, in part, with the fact that she is next in line of succession to the presidency. If Trump and Pence were impeached and convicted in the Senate (unlikely with this unpatriotic and lawless bunch of Republicans), she would become the first woman president of the U.S. Pelosi has been demonized for years by sexist and misogynist Republicans. If she succeeded to the presidency through impeachment, Republicans would rally around how the presidency was “stolen” from them — ironic, in that Trump and Pence would have been impeached for electoral fraud and corruption, i.e. stealing the presidency.

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