Thursday 17 October 2019

Katrina vanden Heuvel : 'Democrats have a lot to lose - they should think carefully before impeaching president'

Comment

'Impeachment on the basis of unsuccessful efforts to obstruct an investigation into a conspiracy that didn’t happen will bitterly polarise an already polarised country.' Photo: Reuters/Leah Millis/File Photo
'Impeachment on the basis of unsuccessful efforts to obstruct an investigation into a conspiracy that didn’t happen will bitterly polarise an already polarised country.' Photo: Reuters/Leah Millis/File Photo

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Far from the "complete and total exoneration" claimed by US President Donald Trump, special counsel Robert Mueller's 448-page report paints a scathing portrait of a lawless president. The report finds "substantial evidence" that the president obstructed the investigation and invites Congress to consider how to hold him accountable to the law. The question now is how Congress should respond.

The report details much of what we already knew. The Russians did interfere in the 2016 election. But the investigation did not find the Trump campaign conspired or co-ordinated with the Russian government. When the investigation into Russian interference began, the president sought to discredit, impede and obstruct it. In the words of the report, the president launched "public attacks on the investigation, non-public efforts to control it, and efforts in both public and private to encourage witnesses not to co-operate with the investigation". His efforts were limited only by his incompetence and the common sense of aides who refused to follow orders, choosing to ignore his "crazy s**t", as then-White House counsel Donald McGahn phrased it.

It confirms Trump is a congenital liar, ignorant or scornful of the laws, who has turned the White House into what columnist Maureen Dowd characterised as a "dystopian outpost of his ID". Far from an exoneration, the Mueller report is being viewed as essentially an impeachment referral. Some of the best and brightest progressive leaders in Congress have called for initiating impeachment hearings. Senator Elizabeth Warren was the first of the presidential contenders to do so. Insurgent progressive freshmen congressional stars such as Rashida Tlaib and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are pushing Tlaib's impeachment resolution. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic leadership are more cautious. Pelosi argues, correctly in my view, that impeachment should only proceed if the misdeeds are "compelling and overwhelming". She also notes Republican support would be essential for any impeachment to succeed.

Yes, Democrats face political risks if they don't impeach. It might well demoralise the very Democratic activists and base voters needed to turn out in large numbers in 2020. But impeachment on the basis of unsuccessful efforts to obstruct an investigation into a conspiracy that didn't happen will bitterly polarise an already polarised country. Some suggest Pelosi and others fear impeachment will create a backlash that will hurt Democrats in 2020. As Republicans pushed toward impeaching Bill Clinton in 1998, they lost seats in the midterms, leading to Newt Gingrich's resignation as House speaker.

Democrats have a responsibility to accept Mueller's invitation to investigate, particularly given the disgraceful performance of Attorney General William Barr, whose efforts to cover for Trump may win him applause in the White House but surely disrepute in the history books. Yet Democrats would be wiser to move on from Russiagate. For more than two years, too many liberal voices and Democratic politicians have been focused on the last election and Russia. Pumped up by the media, many ludicrously inflated Russiagate into an attack on the US akin to 9/11. This focus often overshadowed the reality of Trump's misrule: that he has hosted a predator's ball in Washington, turning government over to entrenched interests who are rigging the rules even more against working people, while Trump hawks racial and nativist fears to distract from the plunder going on. (© Washington Post)

Irish Independent

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