Carl P. Leubsdorf, Tribune News Service
Nancy Pelosi was right — both times. And that’s the Democrats’ problem. The House speaker had it right when she repeatedly said for most of the past year that impeaching President Donald Trump would be politically unwise without the prospect of some support from Republicans.
“Impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path, because it divides the country,” she told The Washington Post last March.
But she was also right when she later decided Trump’s effort to withhold military aid and an Oval Office visit from Ukraine’s new president to force him to investigate potential 2020 rival Joe Biden required a full-scale House impeachment inquiry. “We could not ignore what the president did,” she said on CBS’ “60 Minutes.” “He gave us no choice.”
Despite Republican tactics aimed more at disruption than defence, the House Intelligence Committee has now produced a report detailing what Trump did and why from a series of witnesses who were either nonpartisan career government employees or Trump nominees.
But as the House Judiciary Committee prepares to write and approve the actual articles of impeachment, both Pelosi’s initial concerns and her decision to proceed remain valid.
An array of polls shows the country split along partisan lines on the need to impeach and convict Trump. The hearings appear to have produced little change in the balance that also shows a roughly even division among the independents who could decide next year’s election.
The likelihood of Senate conviction seems no greater than at the start of the process, since not one of the 53-member Republican majority has shown any sign of voting to convict Trump, though a handful have criticised him or remained intriguingly silent.
Still, the Intelligence Committee’s Democratic majority strongly indicted Trump, declaring he deliberately “solicited the interference of a foreign Government, Ukraine, to benefit his re-election,” something that, for a normal citizen, would constitute a potentially indictable criminal offense.
Of course, Ukraine is not the only problematic area for the president. Until Pelosi and the rest of the Democratic leadership decided that his Ukraine acts crossed the impeachment line, various House committees had been studying other questionable presidential acts.
For example, the Judiciary Committee, which will draft the articles against Trump, reportedly has been looking into not only what the Intelligence Committee called “categorical and unprecedented obstruction” of the Ukraine probe, but prior examples cited by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on the 2016 Trump campaign; potential campaign finance violations stemming from the pre-election 2016 payments to two women alleging sexual affairs with Trump; and alleged violation of the Constitution’s so-called “emoluments” provision barring a president from benefiting financially from his presidency.
Some inside and outside government have urged the House to broaden any impeachment charges. Repeated acts favouring Vladimir Putin’s Russia infect many of Trump’s foreign policy decisions beyond Ukraine. But there are two reasons for Democrats to confine charges to the narrower case involving the former Soviet republic.
First, it would stress the clear-cut allegation Trump misused presidential power in his own interest, rather than the country’s. Second, and most unfortunately, the Democrats are operating within time constraints, given the onset of the 2020 election campaign.
In the coming weeks, the House will likely vote to make Trump the third president to be impeached. Early next year, the Senate will likely reject the charges, making him the third president to be acquitted.
Though Trump would then claim vindication, impeachment would stand as a permanent stain on his presidential record. Then, it will be up to the voters to render the ultimate judgment in November.
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