The Constitution Does Not Run On Autopilot

Or…Why we changed our mind about impeachment and Trump…

Trump this weekend admitted to talking about Joe Biden with Ukraine’s President. But not the part about withholding arms from that country until it agreed to investigate his political rival and his son. Which at this point may or may not be part of the story. Which we don’t know because Trump’s Justice Department is withholding from everybody any further details brought forth by a whistleblower and the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community, who tagged the matter “urgent”. Trump continues to insist his part in the conversation was “pitch perfect“.

Here’s a clip of Trump explaining himself, in which he strangely uses the word “largely” an incredibly large number of times. As in:

The conversation I had was largely congratulatory, with largely corruption, all of the corruption taking place and largely the fact that we don’t want our people like Vice President Biden and his son creating to the corruption already in the Ukraine“.

(Click on the photo to watch):

So who’s going to hold the President responsible this time around, if indeed he is? The Constitution doesn’t enforce itself. It needs people to do that.

Let’s rewind a sec, and quickly outline what Trump’s accused of doing, and why it could set a new milestone for seriousness among all the things he’s been credibly accused of before.

In an article that’s really about something else, the Atlantic sums it up about as well or probably better than we could:

In a call to the new president of Ukraine, Trump reportedly attempted to pressure the leader of a sovereign state into conducting an investigation—a witch hunt, one might call it—of a U.S. citizen, former Vice President Joe Biden, and his son Hunter Biden….The story may even be worse than we know. If Trump tried to use military aid to Ukraine as leverage, as reporters are now investigating, then he held Ukrainian and American security hostage to his political vendettas.”

And Renato Mariotti, writing for Politico Magazine, makes it even more succinct:

“What is abhorrent about the alleged conduct here is not that Trump is pushing a foreign government to do something, but rather that he might have used his presidential power to get a foreign government to help him win the next election.”

Do Democrats have the votes to impeach the President? Almost certainly not. Doesn’t matter anymore. If what Trump’s being accused of is true, he did exactly what he said he didn’t do during the Russia investigation, which was enlist, cajole, and threaten others to help him win.

The biggest argument against starting impeachment proceedings to this point is that it’s too politically risky for Democrats. And it’s only downside risk. Is that still true? Partly. Because there’s a potential upside now too, even if it isn’t supported (yet) by a majority of Americans.

We changed our minds over the course of the past week, or rather are ready to if the leaks that have been reported turn out to be accurate. We assume there are others out there who underwent that same change too.

Trump’s already running an old playbook, but it’s one that’s consistently worked. He’s:

  • Turning it on the intelligence community: Trump’s assertion of late is that the whistleblower may not have been officially authorized to be listening in on his call with the President of Ukraine and thus is a deep-state “spy”, even though the President had previously Tweeted that all kinds of people listen in on those types of calls typically—he doesn’t even know who—and it doesn’t matter anyway because his conduct was “perfect”.
  • Turning it on Biden. Yes, Biden’s got his fingerprints in Ukraine. Even though ever previous investigation turned up nothing. Here’s a Twitter thread that explains really well what that’s all about. Clearly the biggest hope is they can repeat it enough for it to take on a life of its own like they did with Hillary and the emails.
  • Turning it on Democrats out to get him because they’re still so angry he won. This is a never-ending narrative from Trump. And it’s been successful. So why stop now?
  • Turning it on the media. It’s useful that the Wall Street Journal has broken a lot of the biggest pieces of this story, because they seem a bit more unassailable than, for instance, the “enemy of the people” New York Times, to which Trump has done some damage (and which has done some damage to itself).

And all the stuff we listed above sticks. It does. And it’s stuck in the past. Trump’s reaction has become so predictable now because it’s so tried-and-true. It works.

Our point being: Trump and his people are going to do all of that anyway. They “won” the Mueller report, and starting impeachment proceedings at that time would’ve made it worse. It won’t now, unless there really is nothing to the whistleblower report, which we don’t know, since as we said, the Justice Department is telling the Director of National Intelligence not to release it to Congress.

The fact that they’re hiding it might mean a lot, because it completely flies in the face of the way this type of thing is supposed to be handled.

But it could also mean very little because Trump has made an effective game out of withholding stuff, so there’s this great buildup created. And then when it comes out it really doesn’t appear as bad (for him) as everyone expected. And then he can say “you see, it’s just the usual Trump-haters getting hysterical.”

So that’s why in our view, this comes down to 2 things:

  1. Democrats in the House have to do everything in their power to get the whistleblower report released to them.
  2. If Trump did the things the Wall Street Journal at least says he said, it’s finally time for impeachment.

And #2 is true even if Trump’s folks never agree to #1. And yes, that means running the political risk there might not be as much in the whistleblower report as they want, or it might bring out other issues. Or that they “don’t have the votes”, so that not only will it not actually work, but might even piss off some people (the Clinton impeachment proceeding actually helped him gain popularity). So in that sense, we understand why the people who are being cautious are being cautious. And we completely don’t agree with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ utterly ridiculous Tweet that Democrats’ lack of response is a “bigger national scandal” than what Trump may have done. (Because if that is really actually true, Trump probably shouldn’t be impeached).

But we do completely agree now (and we hadn’t before), that maybe there’s opportunity in stiffening up right now. Partly because not doing so hasn’t worked so far. Partly because a line has got to be drawn somewhere.

Late Sunday House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a communique that seems to set a deadline for this Thursday for the whistleblower report to be released to the House. That’s when the Acting Director of National Intelligence is currently scheduled appear to give testimony in an open hearing before the House Intelligence Committee. She’s not that specific about what’ll happen if that doesn’t happen, just that:

If the Administration persists in blocking this whistleblower from disclosing to Congress a serious possible breach of constitutional duties by the President, they will be entering a grave new chapter of lawlessness which will take us into a whole new stage of investigation.”

And even if Democrats don’t have the votes to impeach right now, we do think now is the time to get it going. Even if it’s potentially falling into a political trap by doing something that’s right now unpopular heading into the 2020 election, someone’s got to get things moving in some direction. Yes, maybe it’ll alienate some independent voters. But strong evidence of wrongdoing could mean picking up support maybe even from some Republicans other than Michigan Representative Justin Amash.

One thing’s for sure, evidence of serious misdeeds by this President are mounting in a big way. And yet he’s the only one right now who’s rolling a snowball downhill, picking up momentum and sweeping up everything (including the Constitution) in its path. It’s finally time to stand up and stop that.

At an event in Houston Sunday, with India’s Prime Minister Modi