The case for Donald Trump’s impeachment

It won't work, and it’s politically risky — but it’s a moral imperative

ITMFA. Gino Santa Maria /

There's no excuse, no alternative. What's politically messy is constitutionally demanded.

Donald Trump must be impeached.

Impeachment is risky. It will drown out progressives' messaging on health care and jobs. It will enrage Trump's base and fuel conspiratorial "deep state" rants. It might lead to retaliatory investigations into the FBI and Hillary Clinton and the rest of Trump's enemies list.

And it won't lead to Trump's removal from office. House Democrats probably have the votes to impeach the president, but the Republican-controlled Senate is unlikely to convict him. (It's possible that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will refuse to hold a trial.) When that happens, Trump will again dismiss the whole exercise as a partisan witch hunt.

Politically, there's little upside for Democrats. Trump is already headed into an election year polling around 40 percent with a good economy. Views on Russia and Robert Mueller's investigation are fixed: According to a recent Politico/Morning Consult Poll, voters are split 41–41 on whether Trump's campaign worked with Russia, a 47–34 percent plurality believe Trump obstructed the investigation, but only a third of voters think Congress should begin impeachment proceedings.

So why take a chance on something that won't work and might provoke a backlash?

The answer is simple: It's their obligation. It's not just about Donald Trump or gaining a political advantage. It's about coming to terms with the fact that the president of the United States has violated the public's trust and betrayed his oath of office.

None of this is in dispute, at least by anyone with fealty to reality, nor is it something to be shrugged aside as a personal failing, like lying about a blow job. This is a man fundamentally attacking the institutions of our democracy. He doesn't just need to be defeated; he needs to be held accountable. More important, this country needs to reckon with the cancer Trump both embodies and represents. Regardless of how it ends, impeachment forces that reckoning.

That matters more than politics.

One article of impeachment against Richard Nixon accused him of "making or causing to be made false or misleading public statements for the purpose of deceiving the people of the United States." Specifically, Nixon lied to Americans about the investigation into his campaign and White House staff. I dare anyone to say Trump has done anything less.

Mueller's report showed that Trump lied about his business dealings in Russia, about his campaign's coordination with Russia, about his son's meeting with a Russian operative, about his decision to fire James Comey, about wanting to fire Robert Mueller, about so many other things. His press secretary and attorney general also misled the American people about the investigation.

Another link between Nixon and Trump: obstruction of justice. Mueller made clear that, if Trump weren't president, he would've been charged. Had his underlings not ignored his instructions to, for instance, fire the special counsel and then lie about it, the case against him would be even stronger. Referencing "constitutional processes for addressing presidential misconduct," Mueller's report amounts to an impeachment referral.

There's also the matter of Trump, aka Individual 1, being in essence an unindicted co-conspirator in the case against his personal lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, who pleaded guilty to helping the president pay a porn star to keep quiet about their alleged affair, in the process violating campaign finance laws. In addition, Trump has flagrantly profited off the presidency. Republican PACs and political campaigns have spent millions at Trump-branded properties, and deep-pocketed Mar-a-Lago members get close-up access to Trump and top officials. His Justice Department has also adopted a "narrow" interpretation of the emoluments clause that allows Trump hotels to accept huge sums from foreign governments.

But the corruption offends me less than what Trump has done since the Mueller report's release — that is, to effectively elevate himself above the Constitution's checks and balances. His administration has refused to comply with a congressional subpoena for Trump's tax records and sued the House Oversight Committee over a subpoena for Trump's financial records; it has also instructed a former aide not to testify before a House panel and is fighting a subpoena of former White House counsel Don McGahn.

There's no compelling justification for any of this, other than that Trump doesn't feel like he should have to cooperate. According to The Washington Post, White House lawyers are planning to fight all subpoenas and defy all inquiries, because, as Trump put it, "There is no reason to go any further, and especially in Congress where it's very partisan — obviously very partisan."

If Trump can simply ignore Congress — and lie to the American people, and commit campaign finance fraud, and be openly corrupt, and obstruct justice — with impunity, because Democrats are too frightened of the political fallout, then they don't deserve the power they've been given.

The question isn't whether Trump deserves to be impeached. It's whether congressional Democrats have the courage to impeach him.

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About The Author

Jeffrey C. Billman

North Carolina-based journalist, focusing on politics and policy analysis.
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