Many liberals understandably want Donald Trump held accountable for every crime, every abuse, every assault on democracy and the U.S. Constitution he has perpetrated since taking office. It makes perfect sense and yet it’s not what they will be getting.
Instead, House Democrats have whittled down Trump’s endless transgressions to two articles of impeachment centered exclusively on the Ukraine scandal: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. It’s not ideal, but it’s smart. Even as I write, Trump is preparing to talk “election security” on Tuesday afternoon with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the Oval Office. The meeting is closed press and Trump may even oust the stenographers or simply confiscate their notes afterward, because the last time Lavrov infiltrated the Oval Office, Trump trash-talked his former FBI director and disclosed sensitive intelligence to the Russians.
There’s no reason to think this go-round will be any better and, in fact, we have every reason to believe it will be worse since Trump has now gotten rid of anyone in his White House who had any inkling of common sense and patriotism. Now it’s just a West Wing full of “let Trump be Trumpers” (i.e. let him commit his crimes in plain sight).
As long as Trump is alive, he will be committing crimes and shredding the institutional safeguards of our democracy. A crook is a crook is a crook. And as long as Trump occupies the Oval Office, he will pose “a clear and present danger” to the integrity of U.S. elections, as Democratic counsel Daniel Goldman put it, and a “threat to national security and the Constitution” as House Judiciary Democrats wrote in their impeachment resolution.
So instead of trying to chase down every last bombshell of Trump’s presidency (and there’s guaranteed to be plenty more), House Democrats chose to alert America to the immediate danger Trump poses with the clearest cut case they have. House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff addressed this tradeoff directly on Tuesday morning during the press conference in which Democrats unveiled their two articles of impeachment: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
“The argument ‘Why don’t you just wait?’ amounts to this: Why don’t you just let him cheat in one more election? Why not let him cheat just one more time? Why not let him have foreign help just one more time?” Schiff explained, noting that it had taken eight full months just to get a lower court ruling on whether former White House counsel Don McGahn would be compelled to answer his subpoena. Needless to say, we don’t have another eight months to spare, even if the courts ultimately come down on the side of Democrats.
Yes, Trump clearly committed obstruction of justice during the Russia probe, as was thoroughly documented by the Mueller report. But by depriving Trump and his defenders of the opportunity to wade into a case that the vast majority of Americans have already made up their minds about, Democrats have significantly decreased the amount of confusion Republicans can stir up to distract Americans from the hard evidence of Trump’s impeachable offenses regarding Ukraine. Just look at Attorney General Bill Barr’s latest interview with NBC’s Pete Williams in which Barr deployed a smokescreen of disinformation about the FBI’s Russia probe. Trump and Barr so clearly want to continue stoking the GOP base by talking Russia rather than defending Trump’s actions on Ukraine.
But precisely because Democrats have mounted such an open-and-shut case on Trump’s solicitation of Ukraine help in his 2020 reelection, it’s easy to forget what a miracle it was that they managed to gather as much evidence as they did given Trump’s obstruction. Democrats had almost no access to documents from the administration and they likewise got zero cooperation from top-level Trump officials. Instead, they built the entire case around leads provided by the whistleblower complaint and subsequent interviews with a parade of public servants who chose to honor congressional subpoenas over Trump’s legally dubious orders not to cooperate. Indeed, the evidence was so convincing that conservative columnist Peggy Noonan wrote, “The case has been so clearly made you wonder what exactly the Senate will be left doing. How will they hold a lengthy trial with a case this clear?”
What House Democrats accomplished in a little over two months while their Republican counterparts ran a Russian disinformation campaign was nothing short of astonishing given the roadblocks in their way. It’s far from perfect, but given this political moment, it’s pretty damn good. And most importantly, it provides American voters with a solid framework for the upcoming election cycle as we hurdle toward 2020: Donald Trump sought foreign help to steal the election out from under the American people, and left to his own devices, he will do it as many times as necessary to try to ensure his victory.