Roundtable – Terms of Impeachment

The Roundtable is Torchlight staff’s discussion of news and events. The text has been lightly edited for clarity, and some links may have been added after the fact. This conversation happened on October 20, 2019.

Josh Kyu Saiewitz, Senior Managing Editor

Hello and welcome to today’s Roundtable, Torchlight staff’s discussion of news and events. As of today it has been less than a month since Nancy Pelosi formally announced the House impeachment inquiry over the Ukraine scandal, in which the president sought foreign interference in the 2020 election. However, the inquiry is not limited to the Ukraine issue; based on historical precedent, we might expect the House to vote on three to six charges, with each representing separate sufficient grounds for impeachment. Let’s explore today what those charges might entail. Besides Ukraine, what do you consider the most compelling impeachable offense to date in this administration?

David Spitzley, Senior Contributor

Personally, I think all of the obstruction identified by Mueller that he left unlabeled as such due to a narrow reading of his remit justifies impeachment for the same reason Clinton lying on the stand did.  If you’re willing to screw with the legal system for your own personal benefit, it demands review by Congress even if they ultimately decide it was not substantial enough to remove you from office.

Christopher Dahlin, Politics Editor (aka Christo)

I think a big one is the self dealing and violation if every single emoluments principle there can possibly be. This is not limited to just the self dealing of the President, but also the lying about divestment, his children’s own corruption, and so on.

Ann Anderson, Contributing Writer

I think both of those are very good points. I guess one of my biggest concerns is his repeated circumvention of Congress and its powers, especially those defined by the Constitution. It’s not just that Trump requested foreign interference. It’s not just that he withheld aid to pressure a foreign power for personal political gain. It’s that Congress passed said aid package, without any conditions that Ukraine crackdown on “corruption” or whatever excuse Trump has made up. In withholding aid, Trump basically acted as an autocrat, ignoring the balance of powers in the Constitution. He did the same when he declared a national emergency to get funding for a wall that he could have and should have gotten by working with Congress, since the Constitution makes it clear that it’s Congress and not the president that has the authority. His autocratic actions are a grave threat to this republic and should be deemed high crimes, as meant by the Constitution’s impeachment provisions, as well as violations of his oath of office.

Christo

Let’s not forget things like letting acting secretaries go beyond 210 days, to get around the Senate’s authority on confirmation.  Although part of that is also McConnell.

Ann

You are absolutely correct. Trump has admitted he now tries to avoid confirmations by only using “acting” personnel.

Josh

One of the charges that will definitely be added to the final list is obstruction of Congress (also one of the Nixon charges), for the way the administration has blatantly attempted to dissuade testimony, duck subpoenas, and otherwise avoid cooperating with either impeachment or ordinary oversight.

Christo

Right, quantum privilege, etc.

Josh

Which one, do we think, of these offenses (if any) is the most likely to gain political momentum, particularly among Republicans, as they become part of the formal impeachment process?

Christo

So it looks like the biggest weaknesses are a) Trump’s utterly incompetent foreign policy (Syria etc) and b) there is a limit to the self-dealing they can actually stand (e.g. hosting G7 at Doral). However, they are still generally spineless, so I think it’s going to be a background grumbling followed by a sudden massive shift, rather than a trickle kinda thing.

David

I think the foreign policy piece might be the thing that finally edges the GOP over the line, even though it isn’t by itself central to the like articles filed against Trump.  It seems clear that a lot of congressional Republicans are not copacetic with Trump’s potentially impeachable behavior, and their willingness to suck it up because they’re getting what they nominally want on policy apparently has limits when it comes to unilateral unplanned military action.

Ann

First, I want to build on what others have said here.  Trump’s decision to pull out of Syria and abandon the Kurds has weakened his standing in the eyes of Republicans, and that increases the chances, however slightly, that any of the impeachment charges will get traction.

Second, at the risk of repeating some points already made, all of the reasons should be enough, but realistically, they don’t necessarily sway Republicans in Congress. I think the two that may get the most traction among Republicans are the foreign interference issues, depending on additional information that comes to light and public pressures, and some of the emoluments or self-dealing. Mulvaney’s announcement about the 2020 G7 summit taking place at Trump’s Doral resort actually saw movement by Republicans in Congress that looked to be more than lip-service. Investigations into the selection process as well as reprimands were planned, both of which appear to have had bipartisan support. The pushback was enough that Trump caved on this without putting us through a week or two of his excuses as to why Doral was a great choice first. If that pushback had only been Democrats and a few Republicans just making grumbling noises, he wouldn’t have capitulated.

Josh

It seems to me that, as time has gone on, Trump’s offenses have grown both more blatant and less defensible. The admin is having a very hard time spinning Ukraine, and I believe that part of the reason the GOP pushed back on Doral is that it was too clearly corrupt for even them to defend on television.

David

Would Doral have been as big a deal a year or so back?  Or is its apparent impact a sign of how badly Trump’s orbit has decayed?

Josh

I think you could argue that this is demonstrating the value of the impeachment process as a check on Trump —before this, the GOP had no leverage against the president. What were they going to do, refuse to vote for the bills that aren’t getting passed anyway? Now they can threaten to support removal and so push back against some of the more blatant crimes.

Ann

Arguably, Doral wasn’t even as big a deal a few months ago when, while he was at the G7 summit, he said he wanted it at Doral the following year. Perhaps that’s because, at the time, the decision was not finalized, but I’d say it’s more than that. So I agree that impeachment and the increasingly blatant and out of control actions are a factor here.

Christo

The 2018 elections also changed a bunch, as we have direct evidence that people are not happy woth what’s going on. As we get closer to elections next year, I think the cries will get louder. But yes, finally saying we are investigating impeachment is probably the largest catalyst.

David

One thought that occurs to me:  do you see any sudden GOP senate retirements if it looks like the House is going to send charges?

Josh

Probably.

David

“I’m not voting to acquit the bastard, but I already get enough death threats…”

Ann

I think today a GOP House member who was for impeachment just announced he’ll be retiring, so I’d think so too.

Josh

I can definitely see, like, Susan Collins or Cory Gardner retiring so that they can safely side with Trump.

David

Collins retiring assumes she actually wants to support him.  Ick.

Ann

Collins got a full-page ad in a Portland paper from a constituent about how she refused to answer his questions on a flight they had together (some were on impeachment) and then later complained to someone else that he was rude when all he did was ask questions. So yes, she may have to retire if she sides with Trump.

Josh

If it looks like they won’t survive the general if they vote to exonerate, but also that they won’t survive a primary if they vote to convict, they may decide that supporting Trump is the best way to ensure their continued financial security, in terms of making money in the right wing media sphere, talk circuit, lobbying efforts, etc.

Does it make sense for Democrats to try and fold all these issues together, or for them to focus on whatever one charge has the strongest impact?

Ann

I understand the arguments for both approaches, but my thought is to go for a little bit of both. Get some charges down now. However, also make it clear that the problematic actions are so wide-spread that this is not the end of impeachment and investigations need to continue. His self-dealing issues never seem to end, for instance. At the same time, make sure the public understands enough of the underlying facts of any charges brought so that the Senate can’t do a rush trial and vote to clear him without dealing with public fallout. Also make it a complete package, in that, if it’s going to be about Ukraine, don’t plan to tack on more Ukraine dealings later. For example, include obstruction about the investigation into the Ukraine matter in with the charges of seeking foreign interference. 

I guess the thing that keeps going through my head is that the majority of Americans were not behind Nixon getting impeached, but as time went on and information was made known to the public, opinion slowly changed. We need to rein in Trump now, or there is nothing to discourage similar behavior from those who come after him. But we need to educate the fence-sitters so they aren’t just chalking all this up to Democrats’ sour grapes.

David

I think I would follow the Rule of 3. If they can lay out three coherent, concise, and meaningfully independent High Crimes and Misdemeanors, it takes a hat trick to knock them all down, but it doesn’t spread the arguments too thin.

Josh

I think that points to a fundamental truth about this process, which is that what the Democrats are really trying to do here is tell a story about Trump’s corruption and crimes. Whether that story is going to end up convincing the GOP to turn on Trump, or convince the electorate in 2020 to vote him out, is as of yet unknown. But either way the most powerful narrative will be the one that’s the clearest, simplest, and most universal.

Final thoughts on the impeachment process so far?

David

I think the biggest relief to me has been that Pelosi’s go-slow approach has been, if not vindicated, a non-disaster.  In truth, she probably always assumed that if she gave Trump enough rope he’d hang himself.

Christo

So far, it seems like the Democratic leadership knows what it’s doing. The objective is the slog of convincing the American people something happened. They have to get through the noise, and I think they are doing that. (Trump is probably helping by making everything about the process a story). As I said, I think nothing is going to change, until it changes completely. If it looks like Republican support will collapse (or at least voter enthusiasm looks like it’s collapsing), then we may finally see the Republicans actually having to choose whether continuing to hold the tiger’s tail is worth it. The key is whether the dems can stay with it. Thus far, it looks like Pelosi does indeed have the discipline for it, but it’s only been 4 weeks. Let’s not celebrate until we actually cross the finish line.

Ann

I have two main thoughts. Right now, I want the House to move forward with bringing charges based on their investigation regarding the Ukraine matter and the obstruction by the White House, and to make clear to the American people why they are doing so. It needs to be presented in a clear, non-partisan fashion, with emphasis on how this matters, not just because of Trump, but for the future of the Office of the President and the republic as a whole. If there is good evidence for impeaching others in the administration, such as Pence, Barr or Pompeo over this, then they should include them as well, but again making it clear why.

I’d also like it made clear to the Republican senators that how they vote on this is being watched, and they will be judged by it. It seems to be clear to more and more Republican politicians that they have let their party degenerate to the point that they are being led around by the whims of a petty man like Trump and left trying to cover for it, as he makes increasingly disastrous decisions. No more secret polling in agreement with Democrats’ impeachment efforts. It’s time Republicans act publicly in support of it for the good of our democracy. It’s crunch time. Now or never. No more waiting “to let the voters decide” and for Democrats to clean up the Republican Party for the Republicans. Time for Republicans to fix their own party and get it back on track. How Republican senators vote on this puts them on record as either for country over corrupted party, or for corrupted party over country.

Josh

I think Ann’s second point there is important. No matter what charges are finally laid out in the impeachment vote, what the Senate does will really be about whether the GOP is willing to stand behind Trump and defend his utterly blatant corruption, or whether they’re finally able to break away from his toxic administration. There will be a day when they have to stand in public and take that vote, and history will mark their choice.

That’s all the time we have for today. Thanks to everyone here, and thanks to you for reading.

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