Why you should care
Because Democrats are at risk of bungling impeachment.
September has arrived, meaning Congress will soon stumble back to Washington from a six-week summer break facing the same dilemma that has hung over our legislators for nearly a year: to impeach or not to impeach?
Thing is, August already gave us the answer. You might not have noticed it over the trade war, escalating 2020 campaign, nuking hurricanes and an attempted Arctic land grab, but we have already been sucked into the Donald J. Trump impeachment vortex.
Back on August 8, Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler told CNN, “This is formal impeachment proceedings.” Nadler was talking about the legal effort to force former White House Counsel Don McGahn to testify, and lawyers are using the I-word in court too, which could help their case to pry open testimony and documents the White House says are protected by executive privilege.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has reportedly embraced this strategy, as August also saw the milestone of more than half of House Democrats publicly saying they support impeachment.
They get more fodder by the day.
Consider the remarkable Washington Post story — which Trump denied on Twitter — about his push to build a border wall in time to fulfill his election promise, with Trump reportedly telling subordinates he’d pardon them if they broke laws to get it done. The Trump administration also confirmed it was shifting $155 million away from FEMA to immigration enforcement, just in time for a massive hurricane to bear down on the Southeast.
Oh, and there’s Trump talking about hosting the G-7 at one of his golf courses next year, which would allow the U.S. and foreign governments to line his pockets.
At the risk of filing Bob Woodward–book-length articles of impeachment, though, the Democrats seem to be focused on the Mueller Report and evidence that the president obstructed justice to disrupt the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Nadler subpoenaed more top Trumpworld figures last week, while the committee’s lawyers are pushing for an expedited decision to force McGahn to testify — as the first domino to compel others.
You can see the logic of keeping the inquiry focused, but reliving the Mueller Report over and over and over again is not going to accomplish Democrats’ aims. The report is an ugly look inside the White House, and perhaps some combative moments with former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski will help Democrats score political points, but the murky case of obstructing justice will likely fizzle.
Keep in mind: Trump will not be removed from office at the end of this, because there’s no chance in hades that 20 Republican senators would vote to toss a president with near-universal support within his party (sorry, Joe Walsh). Democrats hope to damage Trump’s political standing by stealing the microphone and focusing news coverage on Trump’s lowlights. It’s like the Republicans’ Benghazi hearings for Hillary Clinton, but bigger.
A crucial part of that — particularly for TV producers and assignment editors — is unearthing new information or confirming eye-popping media reports like Trump floating pardons to get the wall done. The public has largely shrugged off Mueller: Trump’s approval has been steady, even up a tick, since the report came out this spring.
“The public isn’t there on impeachment,” Pelosi reportedly told House Democrats on a recent conference call. “If and when we act, people will know he gave us no choice,” she added.
If House Democrats are able to build a narrative around Trump using the presidency as a cash grab and/or brazenly flouting the law, they can help their eventual presidential nominee. Another self-righteous James Comey appearance, on the other hand, would be an in-kind donation to Trump 2020.