Let Slip the Dogs of Impeachment

In my last article, I warned that the impeachment clock was running out of time. House Democrats were divided on the issue of impeachment. However, over the past week, the support in the House for impeachment has made a quantum leap.

The news broke late last week that a whistleblower from within the intelligence community filed a formal complaint regarding nefarious behavior on the part of Trump and his minions. That complaint was sent to the inspector general of the intelligence community. The inspector general reviewed the complaint and deemed the whistleblower to be credible and his complaint to be of high national importance. The whistleblower described an “urgent matter” in which he or she disclosed that the Trump administration was soliciting the highest levels of the Ukrainian government, including its president, for damaging information against Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. Trump intended to use this information against Biden, who he views as his greatest threat in the 2020 presidential election. 

Trump and members of his administration withheld aid and military support to Ukraine in exchange for them producing damaging information against Biden and his son. Biden’s son was on the board of a Ukrainian energy company that was being investigated by the Ukrainian government while Biden was vice president. Biden threatened to withhold a billion dollars in U.S. loan guarantees if Ukrainian officials didn’t take action to reduce its rampant corruption. This also included Ukrainian’s top prosecutor who was affiliated with the investigation into the energy company. However, it wasn’t just Biden who was targeting Ukraine’s corruption —it was the position of the entire U.S. government, particularly the State Department. Therefore, Biden’s stance was well within the parameters of U.S. foreign policy. Moreover, as vice president, Biden did not have the authority to unilaterally withhold U.S. loan guarantees.

The whistleblower’s complaint alleges that Trump made a “promise” to the Ukrainian president. This all took place over a phone call in late July 2019. And yet a week before the phone call took place, the Trump administration withheld $400 million in aid to the Ukrainian government. The act of withholding the aid was intended to create leverage over Ukraine, pressuring them to comply. Trump, according to the whistleblower, also asked the Ukrainian president to open an investigation into the origins of the Russia election interference investigation.

Trump conspiring to use the power of his office to damage a political opponent is not merely unethical, it’s illegal. It appears members of Trump’s inner circle understood the gravity of the situation and as a result, sought to cover it up. White House officials reportedly instructed Trump’s lawyers to move all electronic evidence of the exchange(s) to a secure server that’s only used for “especially sensitive” information (e.g. top secret). By having the record of the exchange(s) stored in a server only used for classified information, it would make it much harder to ever see the light of day. 

As per regulation, the inspector general forwarded the whistleblower’s complaint to the Director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maguire. The Director of National Intelligence is an appointed, cabinet-level position. Maguire was attempting to conceal the complaint. He didn’t send it to the congressional intelligence committees, as dictated by regulation, within seven days. The House Intelligence Committee issued a subpoena for the complaint, which was disobeyed by Maguire. He claimed he reviewed the complaint and determined it was not an urgent matter. He also cited the fact that it involved classified material. And, as previously mentioned, it only contained “classified” material because Trump’s lawyer’s attempted to obscure it on the secure server. 

This past Thursday, Maguire finally testified before the House Intelligence Committee. If Trump was hoping for a William Barr or Steve Mnuchin’s performance of cabinet members obstructing a congressional hearing, he misjudged Maguire. During the hearing, Maguire did attempt to dodge questions, but his testimony was nonetheless damning. Trump, earlier in the week, attacked the motives of the whistleblower, calling him or her a “political hack.” Maguire contradicted Trump’s attack by saying he believed the whistleblower was “acting in good faith.” Maguire also said, “I am not familiar with any prior instances where a whistleblower complaint touched on such complicated and sensitive issues, including executive privilege. I believe that this matter is unprecedented.” 

The whistleblower seems to have known there would be an effort to conceal their complaint. They intentionally wrote the complaint so that the first nine pages did not include any classified information, which would make it much easier to release. And on Thursday, in a rare act of unity, both the House and the Senate voted unanimously to have the whistleblower complaint released to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. The unclassified portion of the complaint is available for the public to view for themselves.

As the events of the past week unfolded, Democratic members of the House who were reluctant to initiate impeachment proceedings were joining the rest of the Democrats in the House. The number of House members supporting an impeachment inquiry was growing by the hour. As of this moment, 223 House Democrats, an Independent (Justin Amash), and a single Republican (Mark Amodei) support an impeachment inquiry. 

With the revelations coming from the whistleblower’s complaint, coupled with all the other instances of misconduct by this president, on Tuesday, Nancy Pelosi formally announced the initiation of impeachment proceedings against Trump. Pelosi made her historic statement with a succession of American flags in the background:

“The actions of the Trump presidency have revealed the dishonorable fact of the president’s betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of our national security and betrayal of the integrity of our elections. Therefore, today, I am announcing the House of Representatives is moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry.” 

While many, including myself, have argued in favor of impeachment well before the whistleblower complaint, the sheer magnitude of the allegations could very well be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back –at least in the House. It’s now up to the House to thoroughly –and without reservation– investigate this president and make an appeal to the public in support of impeachment. 

If the House sees fit to issue Articles of Impeachment, the case will be passed to the Senate for a trial. However, with Mitch McConnell as the Senate Majority Leader, it’s possible he may not even allow a trial to take place or drag it out, betting on a re-election in 2020. He would be violating the constitution, but that’s never stopped him from obstructing the legislative process before. This is why it’s critical the House does an effective and consistent job of unearthing all the bodies Trump has buried under the White House. It’s critical that the momentum of the past week is maintained throughout the proceedings. If the majority of the public supports impeachment, the Republican-controlled Senate will be pressured to act.

Nixon’s impeachment process steadily gained public support. It started out with most Americans being against impeachment, but after they heard the barrage of revelations of Nixon’s wrongdoings and coverups, public support swayed in favor of impeachment. Nixon, however, resigned before he could be convicted by the Senate. 

Trump is not Nixon. If Articles of Impeachment are passed and a trial is held in the Senate, it’s unlikely that Trump will go quietly into the night. Trump is going to do everything he can to hold onto power. It’s not merely a matter of ego –it could potentially be his very freedom that’s at stake. The substance of the whistleblower’s complaint is a clearly-defined act of criminality. Trump has used the power of the presidency for personal gain. There’s a Department of Justice guideline that says a sitting president cannot be charged with a crime, but no such guideline exists for a former president. There’s no telling what an unhinged and amoral individual like Trump will do when he’s truly desperate.

The coming months will be tumultuous but necessary. Trump is the very incarnation of why the founders added the power of impeachment to the constitution. The integrity of our whole system of government is at stake. The presidency has already been tainted with immorality, deceit, and corruption. Yet the House now has the opportunity to show the world that the American republic can survive a rogue and lawless tyrant, “and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the Earth.”