Best Thing I've Read on Impeachment

It's way more complicated than the huffed-up MSM would have it.

Of all the things Trump’s done, why pick on the Zelensky call? It’s as if Trump’s sins had been inscribed on ping pong balls and placed in a big tumbler, like the kind used to pick lottery numbers. “And the winner is, ‘Zelensky phone call on July 25.’” OK! Democrats and the press then all agree to get very worked up over the “systematic attack on American democracy.”

I still don’t believe what Trump did is a “high crime” — that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. I can think of 10 things he’s done that are worse, including firing Comey. And hiring Priebus. (And, yes, putting the children of families separated at the border into foster care—that was too harsh.) None of these justify removing Trump under the Constitution, or else every president in my lifetime would have been the subject of ongoing impeachment proceedings—which may be where we’re headed. Always Be Impeaching.

The most useful thing I’ve read on this issue is Edward B. Foley’s 11/6 Politico article. Foley says it’s not enough to show that Trump asked a foreign government to investigate a political rival—there’ve been several times in our history when that would have been a more-than-reasonable request: Jefferson investigating whether Burr was conspiring with the British to split the US, for one.  LBJ after learning that candidate Nixon was trying to sabotage the Vietnam peace talks. I mean, if as president you were convinced these people were guilty, it would almost be a dereliction of duty *not* to lean on the foreign governments to get what evidence they had. 

Journalists take the truth wherever they find it. Why not presidents? Note to MSM: Finding out the truth from a foreign government about the conduct in office of a Vice President (who’s also a current presidential candidate) is not ‘interfering in our election.’ Finding out about candidates is a large part of what campaigns and elections are for. Established politicians don’t like it, for obvious reasons—the same way they don’t like negative ads. Screw ‘em. If Biden somehow wangled proof Trump was on Putin’s payroll, would that be “interfering in our election”?

But was Trump trying to find the truth? It all turns on intent, says Foley. “Was it done in good faith, with U.S. foreign or domestic interests in mind, or ... merely for Trump’s personal and political benefit?”  This is where things begin to get mucky. There seems to be substantial evidence, for example, that Trump actually believed the charges against Biden were legit. Foley envisions an impeachment inquiry that considers a) whether the charges against Biden were so baseless nobody could honestly buy into them b) Trump’s “character and behavior generally,” and c) “ the ways Trump has arguably abused the powers of the presidency for personal gain throughout his time in office” — all of this with the aim of determining whether he acted in “good faith.”  

If this sounds a lot like Democrats impeaching Trump because, in their eyes, he’s still Trump, that is because that’s pretty much what it is. It would take years and amount to rehashing all the charges made against Trump in the 2016 campaign and during his presidency pre-Zelensky, when we weren’t seriously moving toward impeachment. 

Foley realizes this, and proposes narrowing the inquiry to Ukraine and China. But he says Congress must still determine whether Trump can “never be expected to exercise his presidential powers on behalf of the public”—which opens up the whole Grand Trump Assessment Foley says he wants to avoid. It’s an investigation in which Congress is not obviously better positioned to come to a firm conclusion than the electorate. It will probably be the main issue in the 2020 campaign. Unless you think the country can’t survive the final year of Trump’s presidency, the case for having Congress decide the issue now seems weak.

It’s not easy to distinguish whether a politician is pursuing “national” interest or “self-interest.” It’s in fact one of the silliest inquiries in our legal system. Ann Coulter has some fun with this point here. I had my own run-in with the distinction when I wrote speeches for Senator Ernest Hollings in 1983-4. I was paid as a quarter-time Hill staffer, three-quarters campaign volunteer. Various people urged me to pick a pending Senate bill and pretend to follow it, to make it look like I was doing Hollings’ “public” job in addition to working on his “political” campaign. This seemed cynical and idiotic. I figured that way more than a quarter of my time was already spent trying to convince Hollings to come out for the best policies. Wasn’t that a good way to win votes? I didn’t follow any bills. I hope the statute of limitations has passed.

Even politicians more conventional, less egomaniacal than Trump might not distinguish the two motives in their minds.  Obama probably thought he was doing the right thing by embracing the Ferguson, Missouri protests, though it might also have helped shore up the African-American vote.  And it’s common for presidents to complain about Fed tightening in the final year of their term—is that because they want to see America prosper, or because they want to get reelected?  It would be a superhumanly cynical (and unTrumpish) pol who didn’t think he was pursuing both. Evolution has built our brains to conflate self-interest and justice. A good con man believes his own con. If “intent” is what counts, that might make Trump unimpeachable.