Opinion | Mike Littwin: Whatever Trump or Pelosi hopes, it looks like impeachment isn’t quite dead yet
Fair and Unbalanced
For those still keeping score at home, Robert Mueller is out, and Jerry Nadler is now in.
Anyone (like me) who thought the momentum for impeachment was dead following the Mueller hearings seems to have gotten it wrong. It turns out, as Miracle Max would put it, it’s only mostly dead. And maybe not even that.
As you may have heard, Nadler, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, is beginning an impeachment inquiry, which, because we’re talking politics here, will not be called an impeachment inquiry. It’s not clear what it will be called, but I’m guessing Trump will come up with a nickname.
Nadler does concede that the committee investigation is “in effect” an impeachment inquiry, but not quite one because — here we go — impeachment is only one of the possible outcomes from Nadler’s decision to go to court in bids to enforce several ignored-to-this-point-by-Trump-administration subpoenas. What other outcomes? I guess instead of impeachment, they could, say, vote to cut off the White House cable TV connection. But let’s be real. This is a big first step. It would be even bigger, and maybe more urgent, if Congress were not about to take its six-week summer recess.
Some people will be working, though. The first subpoena covers the committee’s request for grand jury information from the special counsel’s Russia probe. And the other would be to force testimony from former White House counsel Don McGahn, who, according to the report, rejected Trump’s order to tell the attorney general’s office to fire Mueller as special counsel and then turned down Trump’s, uh, suggestion that McGahn lie about the fact that Trump told him to help fire Mueller.
If you listened closely to Mueller’s testimony, when asked about McGahn, he answered, I believe, “yes” on whether McGahn rejected playing any role in firing Mueller and “that’s correct” on whether Trump asked McGahn to lie about it.
Democrats are now hoping McGahn would be the star witness that Mueller didn’t turn out to be. (Please, remember, Mueller warned everyone that he wouldn’t say anything that wasn’t already in the report. And, it turns out, he meant it.)
The reason the Judiciary Committee investigation is not being officially called an “impeachment inquiry” is because Nancy Pelosi doesn’t want it to be. The odds are that an official inquiry of Trump would lead to a recommendation of impeachment, meaning the House might eventually have to vote on it. And Pelosi remains unconvinced that voting to impeach — which would never result in a Senate conviction — is the best path to to take. Let’s just say not everyone agrees. There are now 101 House Democrats who favor impeachment proceedings, including Colorado’s Diana DeGette and Joe Neguse. And many more pundits who wonder if Republicans ever worried they were going too far when they got to the upteenth Benghazi hearing.
But Pelosi did support Nadler’s use of impeachment as a reason to investigate Trump. That’s because it’s not as likely — according to the legal experts — that a judge would force Trump to hand over documents or to allow witnesses to testify without citing an impeachment inquiry. So here we are, in semantic land.
Nadler is arguing that since the Justice Department has a rule that a sitting president can’t be prosecuted and since Mueller’s report has laid out a possible case of Trumpian obstruction of justice — one from which Mueller pointedly says Trump has not been “exonerated — the committee filing says “the United States House of Representatives is the only institution of the federal government that can now hold President Trump accountable for these actions.”
In holding Trump accountable, the committee’s filing cites the House’s “full Article 1 powers,” including articles of impeachment. Of course, Trump now often cites his own version of Article 2 constitutional powers, “where,” he says, “I have the right to do whatever I want as president.”
The semantics here are not important. Committee members flanking Nadler during a news conference Friday said it was, in fact, an inquiry. Verona Escobar, a Texas Democrat, says, “We’re crossing a threshold with this filing.”
Naturally Trump responded, telling reporters that the Mueller report — which we can safely assume Trump has never read — fully exonerated him, whatever Mueller has said about it. Of course Trump hasn’t read it. I mean, even his FBI director, Chris Wray, admitted he hadn’t read “every word” of it, without clarifying how many he missed.
Meanwhile, Trump did his best to change the subject by saying that Barack and Michelle Obama’s book deal should be investigated. OK, he didn’t offer a rationale for that, but, as he may have noted, he can — and does — do whatever he wants as president, including, the Supreme Court ruled Friday, take money from the Defense Department budget to build a fence he promised Mexico would pay for.
After hitting the Obamas for writing, Trump then explained why he will spend part of August at his golf course in Bedminster, N.J., instead of staying at the White House. If you guessed that this, too, must be Obama’s fault, you have been paying full attention.
Trump says he needs to spend time away from the White House because of maintenance work, noting, “The Obama administration worked out a brand new air conditioning system for the West Wing. It was so good before they did the system. Now that they did this system, it’s freezing or hot.”
I’m not sure how much time Trump spent in the West Wing before the new air conditioning system was installed, but maybe McGahn can help us get to the bottom of it. Nadler and his committee and a growing number of Democrats hope so.
Mike Littwin writes the biweekly column “Fair and Unbalanced” for The Colorado Independent. He previously worked at The Denver Post, Rocky Mountain News, Los Angeles Times and Baltimore Sun. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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