|© RICHARD CODOR|
In a burst of clarity possibly disguised as sunstroke, I have untied the Gordian knot that has kept House Democrats from initiating impeachment proceedings although they should have done so once the full extent of Donald Trump's criminality in Robert Mueller's final report on the Russia scandal was apparent.
The "problem" has been that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the party leadership, ever wary of the footsteps they keep hearing, namely their fear of handing Trump a second term, have been unable to separate political considerations from moral-legal considerations in pursuing his high crimes and misdemeanors.
Once they do that -- and I believe a majority of the House Democratic caucus will support impeachment not as a political cudgel but a constitutional imperative when they return to Washington on September 9 at the end of the inexcusably long August recess -- then we can finally commence the payback phase of the national nightmare Trump has visited on America.
Although Mueller's appearance before two House committees on July 24 produced plenty of smoke but little fire, it prompted several fence-sitting Democrats to join in the call to open impeachment proceedings.
At least 114 Democrats now advocate impeachment, 21 of them since last week, or nearly half of the 235-member caucus. Of the 121 Democrats who are not yet on board, about 20 represent "safe" districts where Trump lost by at least 38 points in 2016, and it's a safe bet that enough of them will come out for impeachment to give the party's pro-impeachment wing a majority and Pelosi a very big problem if she doesn't get out of the way.
Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, was one of those coming off the fence.
Engel said that Mueller's testimony "provided ample evidence that the president committed obstruction of justice [and] abused the power of his office in an effort to stymie a legitimate investigation into his campaign's involvement with Russia."
"The American people want, and deserve, the truth," Engel added.
Several of the Democrats cited the issue of election security as a reason for their decision.
Republicans, led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch "Moscow Mitch" McConnell, blocked election security bills the same week that Mueller warned that Russia was continuing to interfere in U.S. elections.
Two days after the former special counsel's appearance, the House Judiciary Committee -- apparently with Pelosi's tacit approval -- gave the screw a big turn by petitioning a federal judge to unseal grand jury secrets related to Mueller's investigation.
This was a necessary moral-legal (as opposed to political) move following months of dithering in the face of a president who believes that the Constitution permits him to do anything he wants, including resisting all efforts from Congress to fulfill its constitutional oversight obligations by resisting subpoenas, ignoring contempt citations and refusing to appear before its committees.
The Judiciary petition effectively bypasses William Barr's Justice Department, which had of course stonewalled the committee over the grand jury transcripts. When and if the transcripts are released to the committee under court order, there really is no option but to launch an impeachment inquiry to test the evidence presented to the grand jury. That evidence likely details Trump's vile deeds, including his multiple efforts to obstruct justice while consorting with Russia and its president, beyond what was stated in Mueller's report, which stopped short of calling for Trump to be criminally charged because of a long-in-tooth Justice Department ruling that a sitting president cannot be indicted.
It should be noted that the long slog toward impeachment -- let alone the proverbial line bring crossed -- is not the result of a public outcry.
Democratic congressfolk home for the August recess will not hear widespread calls for impeachment. While most polls show a substantial majority of voters say they will not vote for Trump in 2020 under any circumstances, the same polls show voters pretty much evenly split on whether he should be impeached.
This makes impeachment no less of an imperative, and actually all the more so because of Trump's loudly declared race war, which more than qualifies as an article of impeachment (along with obstructing justice, collusion with Russia, profiting from the presidency, advocating violence, violating campaign finance laws and abusing power), as well as a potent campaign issue if minority voters don't stay home as too many did in 2016.
I daresay, although with trepidation given the parlous state of politics overall, that the steady if slow crawl toward impeachment is a reflection of the diversity of the Democratic House caucus. Translation: More and more Democrats who have consciences are listening to them.
If all of this seems squishy, as in really tentative, then you're paying attention. But the wheels of justice, while turning slow (just like the cliché says they do) are finally turning.
Expect them to speed up shortly.