|ERIN SCHAFF / THE NEW YORK TIMES|
One way or the other this darkness got to give. ~ ROBERT HUNTER
Donald Trump's self-impeachment began almost as soon as his nightmare of a presidency did, a never-ending series of scandals that with his blatant efforts to extort the president of Ukraine by withholding nearly $400 million in aid unless he pursued baseless corruption allegations against a leading Democratic challenger to his reelection has now entered a new realm. Practically speaking, only Nancy Pelosi has stood between Trump's ongoing crime spree and the initiation of impeachment proceedings, but the House speaker finally has blinked.
Let's be clear that Pelosi's decision to clear the way to Trump becoming only the fourth president in history to face impeachment is fraught in the extreme.
Her decision, announced after she met with the Democratic caucus on Tuesday afternoon, comes belatedly and is less a Road to Damascus moment than the consequence of a risky political calculus.
That calculus is balancing her fragile perch atop the restive caucus while trying to put an end to the president's assault on American democracy and belief he can act with impunity, which have been reinforced by the reality that Robert Mueller's Russia scandal investigation, effectively whitewashed by Trump and presidential lawn ornament William Barr, had become a dead end for Democrats seeking to remove him from office.
Will the attorney general now try to make the Ukraine scandal disappear? He already is by not investigating Trump's latest spasm of criminality, while two announcements on Tuesday prior to Pelosi's decision -- to allow a whistleblower alarmed by Trump's July 25 call to Ukrainian President to appear before the House Intelligence Committee and release a transcript of the call -- are feints to try to put off impeachment.
Pelosi long argued that a majority of voters did not support impeachment, it would further energize Trump's mythic political base, the Republican Senate would never vote to convict after an impeachment trial, even if it allowed a trial in the first place, and the best way to deal with the president was to oust him in the 2020 election.
But a different reality was marching on relentlessly.
The awfulness of the Ukraine scandal -- the Chosen One demanding that another country help keep him in power as Russia had so obligingly done in 2016 in greasing the skids for his improbable "victory" over Hillary Clinton, as well as relentless attacks on Joe Biden all too reminiscent of the fiendishly successful Lock Her Up Hillary slime campaign -- apparently became too much for even the calculating Pelosi.
"The president must be held accountable. No one is above the law. The actions of the Trump presidency revealed dishonorable facts of the president's betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of our national security, and betrayal of the integrity of our elections," Pelosi declared in brief remarks from the Speaker's Balcony of the Capitol, which overlooks the Mall, a location selected to emphasize the significance and grandiosity of the moment.
On cue, Trump unleashed a tweetstorm savaging Pelosi and House committee chairs that was a foretaste of the vicious White House pushback to impeachment.
"Such an important day at the United Nations, so much work and so much success, and the Democrats purposely had to ruin and demean it with more breaking news Witch Hunt garbage," Trump tweeted. "So bad for our Country!"
Pelosi noted that the chairs of six key House committees already involved in investigating Trump and his administration would make recommendations to the House Judiciary Committee, which has the authority to handle impeachment. Their reports could help form articles of impeachment brought against the president.
Impeachment has occurred only twice in U.S. history — against Presidents Andrew Johnson and Clinton, although neither was removed from office. President Nixon resigned in 1974 after the House initiated impeachment proceedings but he resigned before an official vote.
Little noticed amidst the impeachment uproar, Senate Republicans join unanimously with their Democratic colleagues on Tuesday to call on Trump to stop stonewalling and to release the Ukraine whistleblower complaint.
While Pelosi had hinted that Trump's refusal to release the whistleblower's report could push Democrats toward impeachment, much of the credit for breaking the dam must go to Adam Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee chair, who all but endorsed impeachment on Sunday.
This galvanized many more House Democrats to call for impeachment on Monday and Tuesday, bringing to at least 208 the number of the 235-member caucus who now publicly advocate taking that action, while earlier on Tuesday, Biden called for impeachment if the president does not comply with congressional requests for information related to Ukraine and other investigations.
It is easy to say that we finally have reached the beginning of the end, and as political historian Walter Karp wrote of the drive for impeachment following Nixon's Saturday Night Massacre in 1974, "the hour of the Founders had come around at last."
Easy, but wrong, because we've been at this point as other scandals engulfed the White House, only to ebb and then disappear into the Washington swamp because of Trump's unrivaled ability to neutralize his foes and play the news media, which most recently has however inadvertently been helping him to slime the Bidens.
Let us strive to make this time different.