BY MICHAEL S. JOHNSON | OCT 7, 2019
As Yogi Berra would have likely observed, “this is deja vu all over again.”
President Donald Trump is again accused of violating the law and his Constitutional oath of office; committing impeachable offenses for which he should be removed from that office.
The clamor for his removal has been loud and angry since Nov. 8, 2016, the day he was elected. The accusations have run the gamut from tax fraud, covering up extra-marital relationships accompanied with violations of campaign finance laws, to continuing to profit from his businesses, and the catch-all for other charges–constant abuse of presidential authority. (I’ve always wondered if Mr. Trump was the kind of child who just couldn’t stay out of trouble. But I digress.)
Most egregious was the nearly two-year-long, $30-million Robert Mueller investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 elections and Trump’s alleged collusion in it. There seemed little doubt among critics in politics and the press that Mueller would bring Trump down. They led us to believe it was inevitable.
It wasn’t. It didn’t happen. The bomber took off. It was on course, but when the bomb bay doors opened nothing fell but cherry bombs.
Now, President Trump is chest deep in the dung again. In an eloquent understatement, the Wall Street Journal pointed out in a September editorial: “Mr. Trump’s refusal to abide by the normal guardrails of presidential decorum is often offensive.” Most offensive this time.
The July 2019 phone call he had with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in which he asked a foreign government to investigate political rival Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, was an embarrassment, and a blatant abuse of his foreign policy responsibilities and obligations.
It was also politically stupefying, arrogant, and defiant. It is no wonder the complainants are coming out of the intelligence community woodwork. It is no wonder the howls for his head are louder and more vicious than ever. The incident and the nuclear reaction to it have put us in a dangerous downward spiral.
Are his actions impeachable? Will the Senate convict him?
He will most likely be impeached by the House, and soon, under Article II Section 4 of the Constitution that reads:
“The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
When asked what was meant by “high crimes and misdemeanors” President Gerald R. Ford, who had just gone through the impeachment ringer with President Richard Nixon, said very simply, “high crimes and misdemeanors means whatever 218 members of the House say it means.”
Ford, for whom I was privileged to have worked, got scolded for that over-simplification but he was right. It is a political exercise of constitutional authority that the courts have been very reluctant to act upon.
So, barring some bizarre twist of circumstances he will be impeached. Unfortunately, the President has asked for this. He has never come across as an individual who understands the Presidency, or the need to bring the country along on his wild roller coaster ride of rebellious change.
The Presidency is an office with great powers, but also great restraints enforced by law, tradition, precedent, and the political and constitutional divides created specifically to drive domineering and hard-charging chief executives nuts. But there are no tethers on Trump. He cuts them faster than they can be tied to him. Strong supporters love that about him.
None of that would necessarily matter, however, because the outcome of the so-called formal inquiry was pre-ordained on November 8, 2016.
The Democratic Party apparatus has never acknowledged Trump as a legitimate President and abdicated its role of loyal opposition or partner in the process of governance. Speaker Pelosi has declared that the resistance is comparable to the American revolution, once again engaging in her own brand of Trumpian hyperbole designed to elevate ones importance.
The Democrats have been amply fortified by a mainstream media industry that has also denied the legitimacy of his presidency, and joined the resistance movement against him, some much more aggressively than others. Some even vowed never to normalize his presidency.
While all of the focus is on Trump, we should not lose sight of that which is wrong with this impeachment inquiry. In previous cases of impeachment, an official inquiry only commences if the House says it does; that is, it adopts a formal impeachment inquiry resolution, such as the one adopted exactly 21 years ago authorizing the Judiciary Committee to investigate whether there were sufficient grounds to impeach William Jefferson Clinton.
That resolution was the proper procedure. It formalized the process. It ensured some bipartisanship by giving both the committee chairman and ranking (in that case democratic) minority member power to issue “subpoenas and interrogatories,” subject to a vote of the full committee.
Making the minority part of the process is important. It respects the constitutional process and elevates it above the partisan political swamp.
No such resolution has been adopted by the House. Speaker Pelosi simply declared the inquiry open, probably using as props procedural resolutions adopted earlier this year in the House. She has also unilaterally granted extraordinary power to not one committee, but six committees, turning the inquiry into a partisan free-for-all, and giving too much authority to staff.
The lead on the inquiry did not go to Judiciary, the normal committee of jurisdiction. She put the Intelligence Committee in charge because it is headed by a political attack-dog, Chairman Adam Schiff, who has now been accused of collusion with the whistleblower who set off the firestorm in the first place and then lying about it to the media to whom he is also accused of leaking classified information. He is attempting to try the case in the press before it even gets to the Senate.
It is of concern, as well, that the Speaker declared the inquiry open before the whistleblower complaint was presumably available and before the rough ‘transcript’ of the call was released by the President. It’s easy to believe both she and Schiff had advance and improper access to the content of both documents.
In other words, the Speaker seems to have abused her constitutional authority to investigate Trump’s abuse of his constitutional authority.
But, alas, that’s politics in America.
Impeachment is a grave undertaking, that should be done by the book by reasonable people. This politicized and highly partisan process will be like a major hurricane, its destructive forces pounding our shores, not for hours or days, but for months on end, causing the nation horrendous damage, some irreparable.
Impeachment proceedings will prevent Congress from addressing critical problems that have gone unattended for a long time already and are getting worse by the day. It’s been years since the Presidency and the Congress have been functional branches of government.
“This (impeachment) is going to suck up the oxygen from the room,” said Rep. Jeff Van Drew, a freshman Democrat from New Jersey. “Whether it was President Clinton…President Nixon, when all that activity goes on it is the focus of the media. It is the focus in the legislature. It is the focus of just about everybody in Washington.”
Not so, says Speaker Pelosi: “We continue to move forward on meeting the needs of the American people and making progress for them.” she said on September 26th.
With all due respect that is, once again just plain Trumpian truth telling; she is the modern version of Rome’s Nero, playing the violin, while our system of governance is burning to the ground.
Congress suffers from political abuse and neglect, It is ineffective and unproductive. It has lost public trust and without trust there can be no governance.
The Congress is failing miserably at “making progress” for the American people.
When the measure of success is continually passing yet another short-term continuing resolution to keep the government open for yet another two months because Congress can’t pass basic, fundamental appropriations and budgets, we have a problem. No, it’s a crisis. No, we have crises—in immigration, education, cyber security, trade, domestic violence and gun control, infrastructure, social integration, and privacy. There’s a whole laundry list of other unmet obligations.
The real tragedy is there are sound solutions on the table, but the angry partisans simply refuse to pull up a chair.
So the end of this saga may well not justify the means, regardless of the outcome. Americans are already isolated from one another, many in an ugly, hate-filled downward spiral turning their backsides to civil discourse and civil behavior; away from civic participation in the political process, away from patriotism, and away from exercising the responsibilities of good citizenship. Ultimately the future is dependent upon a responsible citizenry.
Speaker Pelosi likes to quote Benjamin Franklin, who upon leaving Constitution Hall where the Constitution was written was asked by a woman what kind of government the drafters had produced. “A Republic,” Franklin responded, “if you can keep it.”
Getting rid of President Trump prior to the presidential election only 13 months away is a long shot. The effort will have left a path of destruction that would make Attila the Hun proud, yet Donald Trump will probably still be in office, and even if he isn’t, the conditions he has helped foment will still exist. He didn’t cause them and his departure won’t end them.
You sometimes wonder whether people think our Republic, still among the greatest and most successful political experiments in history, is made of granite instead of sand stone. It isn’t, and it isn’t indestructible. In some respects, it is rather fragile.
We are not taking very good care of it. You can hear it crack and see it crumble.
We don’t need another businessman in the Presidency, or an experienced politician revered spiritual leader, or yet another ‘drain the swamp’.
We need a good stone mason.
Editor’s Note: Mike Johnson is a former journalist, who worked on the Ford White House staff and served as press secretary and chief of staff to House Republican Leader Bob Michel, prior to entering the private sector. He is co-author of a book, Surviving Congress, a guide for congressional staff, co-founder and member of the Board of the Congressional Institute, and a participant in the Congress of Tomorrow congressional reform project. Johnson is retired. He is married to Thalia Assuras and has five children and three grandchildren.