After resisting for almost a year, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi may finally be ready to look seriously at impeachment of President Trump. Pelosi has long been a voice of reason among Democrats on the subject of impeachment, saying as recently as July that the House should move slowly on taking the constitutional action against the president. With the White House stonewalling the recent report on whistleblower accusations against Trump, however, Pelosi may be starting to lean the other way.
Axios reports that Pelosi sent a letter to lawmakers over the weekend that warned that if the Administration continues to block Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire from turning over the whistleblower complaint, Democrats may escalate their legal efforts against Trump.
"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," Pelosi said in the letter.
While Pelosi did not specifically mention impeachment, it is likely that the “whole new stage of investigation” refers to the constitutional remedy that available to Congress.
Separately, House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who has also resisted endorsing impeachment, also said that Democrats may be getting close to impeachment. On CNN's "State of the Union," Schiff told Jake Tapper, "The president is pushing us down this road and if in particular — after having sought foreign assistance and welcomed foreign assistant in the last presidential campaign as a candidate, he is now doing the same thing again but now using the power of the presidency — then he may force us to go down this road. I've spoken with a number of colleagues over the last week and this seems different in kind and we may very well have crossed the Rubicon here."
While all the facts are not in the whistleblower incident, the original meaning of the Constitution’s phrase, “high crimes and misdemeanors,” does not require proof of a criminal act. As the Constitutional Rights Foundation points out, under the English law where the Framers took the phrase, examples of high crimes and misdemeanors included officials who were “accused of offenses as varied as misappropriating government funds, appointing unfit subordinates, not prosecuting cases, not spending money allocated by Parliament, promoting themselves ahead of more deserving candidates, threatening a grand jury, disobeying an order from Parliament, arresting a man to keep him from running for Parliament, losing a ship by neglecting to moor it, helping ‘suppress petitions to the King to call a Parliament,’ granting warrants without cause, and bribery.”
“Some of these charges were crimes,” the group’s explanation continues, “Others were not. The one common denominator in all these accusations was that the official had somehow abused the power of his office and was unfit to serve.”
As the Washington Post explains, federal law requires the Intelligence Community Inspector General to forward valid complaints to the Director of National Intelligence, who then has seven days to forward it to congressional oversight committees. In this case, Acting DNI Maguire did not forward the complaint to Congress or respond to congressional subpoenas, claiming, it was not valid because it involved “conduct by someone outside the Intelligence Community and did not relate to any ‘intelligence activity within the responsibility and authority of the DNI.’”
As the Wall Street Journal reports, Administration officials are saying “the call didn’t mention a provision of U.S. aid to Ukraine” and sources “don’t believe Mr. Trump offered the Ukrainian president any quid pro quo for his cooperation on any investigation.”
The bottom line is that Congress does not have all the facts about the whistleblower complaint and the Administration is trying to see that they don’t get all the facts. After the Administration’s previous shading of facts to make itself look good, Congress, the media and the public can be forgiven for not taking the Administration’s denials at face value.
I’ve long held that Trump’s previous abuses of power justified impeachment and there seems to be widespread agreement that, if the president tied aid to Ukraine to forcing an investigation that would benefit him politically, it would be an impeachable offense. Even refusing to be held accountable to Congress would be impeachable under original intent, which is based on abuse of office. The problem for Democrats is that impeachment would founder in the Senate where Republicans would be almost certain to acquit the president.
The easiest way out for Donald Trump is to release the whistleblower complaint and transcripts of the calls associated with it. It’s possible, however, that the president wants to generate an impeachment investigation, believing that it will help him in next year’s election. Schiff said in May that Democrats believed that Trump wanted to be impeached.
Whether impeachment would benefit President Trump politically is debatable, but it would definitely not be good for the country. If the president is truly as innocent as he claims, the Trump Administration should have no problem releasing the complaint and associated evidence to prove his case.
If they refuse to do this, the inspector general could release the whistleblower complaint directly to Congress but it’s possible that he could be prosecuted for doing so. Further, the whistleblower himself could come forward, either publicly or anonymously. If he or she is seriously concerned about what he knows, then the need to inform Congress should outweigh the risks.
If the Trump Administration continues to stonewall, information will continue to leak out slowly, perhaps well into the 2020 election season. There is an old aphorism in politics that the coverup is often worse than the crime. That was the case with the Russia investigation and it may well be the case here.
Originally published on The Resurgent