After listening to the news on Weekend Edition, my wife Karin said, “We are being lulled into a nightmare.”
The Mueller report is all but forgotten — its limited focus also not remembered. Mueller’s assignment was to look only at Russian interference in the election and the possibility of a criminal conspiracy with the Trump campaign to assist this. Opponents of Trump labeled this “collusion.” Weeks before the report’s release, I argued that no such conspiracy would be found because none was needed. Putin detested Hillary and his apparatus of political infiltration was smart enough to know how to undermine her campaign. It did.
Mueller found no conspiracy, but 140 contacts between Trump campaign people and Russians showed how they were thick as thieves with one another. It wasn’t criminal, just contemptible. Such information would have ended the political hopes of any other candidate. Had the Obama campaign been guilty of anything similar, the GOP would have called for his political lynching.
What Mueller did detail were a dozen instances of potential, attempted obstruction of justice. Had Trump been anyone other than president of the United States, criminal changes would have been brought against him. Seven hundred former Democratic and Republican federal prosecutors said they would have the evidence to try this case.
What the Mueller report didn’t answer was this: Why did Trump try to stop the investigation, and why has he consistently been Putin’s defender? What explains his co-dependent relationship with Moscow? The country still doesn’t know.
The most serious criminal liability for President Trump probably lies beyond the Mueller report. Some is already in plain view, like paying hush money to silence a porn star in violation of campaign finance laws. More can emerge from the sealed indictments in the Southern District of New York, dealing potentially with insurance fraud, bank fraud, money laundering, and tax evasion.
Then there’s the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, which no one seemed to have heard of before Trump, including those who always brag about carrying a folded copy of the Constitution in their pockets. President Trump and his family have grossly violated past standards and practices designed to avoid conflict of interests and charges of corruption. That opens him to highly credible charges of profiting from foreign powers while in office, a clear Constitutional violation.
It should be no wonder that the president is going to extraordinary and unprecedented lengths to prevent his tax returns, and other financial records of his business and banking history, from becoming public. They will be not only politically embarrassing but legally incriminating. The only bank willing to deal with Trump when his businesses were going bankrupt was Deutsche Bank. Reporting last week revealed that suspicious activities by entities controlled by Donald Trump and Jared Kushner were flagged for possible money laundering, including Russian connections, but were not pursued by high bank officials.
Beyond this are President Trump’s targeted attacks on the free press and his proven and pervasive practice of lying and vilifying opponents, which fuels authoritarian practices and undermines our constitutional system. Most recently, the president’s sweeping determination to prevent all information and testimony to the Congress on matters involving the Mueller report, his personal finances, and related practices of the executive branch is far beyond historical precedent and constitutes a direct attack on the legitimate powers of the Congress.
All these transgressions constitute potentially impeachable offenses. Some are already in clear sight and beyond doubt. Even more will be revealed. But what it clear now is that the constitutional violations by this president of the United States make those of Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton seem like petty crimes.
It is argued, correctly, that impeachment in the House and conviction by the Senate requires a bipartisan process for it to have effective power and integrity. That is true. But Republicans in the Congress, thus far, demonstrate consistent profiles of cowardice, and not courage. Rep. Justin Amash, a Republican and libertarian from my former hometown of Grand Rapids, Mich., is thus far a lone exception. Republicans like Sen. Mark O. Hatfield, my boss and mentor when President Nixon was impeached and then resigned, have become politically extinct.
Further, impeachment would likely be a political advantage to Donald Trump. He loves to rally his base by playing the victim of “fake news,” “radical socialist Democrats,” and a politically motivated justice system trying to do him in. However, if the Democrats refrain from impeachment proceedings for their own political reasons, they are just as reprehensible as Republicans who refuse to criticize Trump out of fear of his base.
An impeachment inquiry should be begun by the House of Representatives because it is right, even if it’s not politically smart for Democrats. President Donald Trump has now lulled us into a constitutional nightmare. If we ignore it, either for politics, or just from weariness, or out of some desire to avoid even more polarizing contention, we are acquiescing to grave threats to our democracy.
I don’t say this lightly. I had a front row seat during Nixon’s downfall, and witnessed the excesses of his political power. And President Clinton lied under oath; the nature of the offense was not really the issue. But President Trump’s Constitutional violations are so excessive that a refusal to hold him accountable will fundamentally distort our Constitutional system. You can’t appease a Constitutional bully. You must use the law—in this case the power of impeachment—to defend the system which he attacks.
Like others, I have grave differences with President Trump on many policy issues, like immigration, racial justice, climate change, environmental protection, and much more. But these are political disputes, and in our system, they are resolved at the ballot box. Constitutional transgressions by a President are different, requiring resolution through the Congress’ power of impeachment. Let’s get real, and open the inquiry, rather than being lulled into a nightmare.