Littwin: Why did House Dems decide to pull punches on Trump’s articles of impeachment?

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 24: U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) walks towards to a podium to speak to the media at the Capitol Building September 24, 2019 in Washington, DC. Pelosi announced a formal impeachment inquiry today after allegations that President Donald Trump sought to pressure the president of Ukraine to investigate leading Democratic presidential contender, former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, which was the subject of a reported whistle-blower complaint that the Trump administration has withheld from Congress. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 24: U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) walks towards to a podium to speak to the media at the Capitol Building September 24, 2019 in Washington, DC. Pelosi announced a formal impeachment inquiry today after allegations that President Donald Trump sought to pressure the president of Ukraine to investigate leading Democratic presidential contender, former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, which was the subject of a reported whistle-blower complaint that the Trump administration has withheld from Congress. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

In response to Donald Trump’s seemingly endless array of high crimes and misdemeanors, House Democrats decided to settle their impeachment hopes simply on the Ukraine fiasco. They went narrow instead of wide. They went cautious instead of for the throat. They didn’t use the word “bribery” and went for “obstruction of Congress” instead of “obstruction of justice,” passing up on the number of obstructions detailed in the pre-Ukraine-scandal-reveal Mueller Report.

The question some Democrats, particularly on the liberal side, are asking is whether the party — meaning, in this case, Nancy Pelosi, who certainly cast the deciding vote — went far enough and hard enough or anything enough in the articles of impeachment.

I mean, even Trump is calling the articles of impeachment “very weak,” which seems like a strange thing to say of a text charging that he “betrayed the nation.”

The answer on the tough-enough question is this: It depends on what exactly Democrats are trying to accomplish by impeaching Trump. 

There are those — I know because I hear from them — who believe it is not impossible that 20 Republicans will jump ship and turn on Trump the way Republicans did, at the very end, against Richard Nixon. But you have to remember that Nixon’s defense — that he had no knowlege of any coverup — exploded with the release of the tapes which clearly showed that he knew full well. 

The facts in the Trump impeachment are clear to everyone, even those who pretend otherwise. I’m guessing even Ken Buck understands that much. The facts were laid out in the rough transcript of the infamous July 25 phone call and then confirmed by the testimony before the House Intelligence Committee. 

I don’t see anything that could possibly persuade 20 Republican senators to go rogue. As everyone should know by now, the truest thing Trump ever said was that he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and his base would stick by him. Certainly he could take a baseball bat to a few Ukrainian knees without any worries.

Here’s the best evidence I can offer: When the vote comes in the House, maybe sometime next week, it is likely that more Democrats (probably two to five) vote against impeachment than Republicans (here’s a guess: zero) who vote for impeachment.

Or this: Nancy Pelosi tried to show she was able to do more than impeach a president. She also gave Trump the gift of the new NAFTA, which is a lot like the old NAFTA, except with different letters.

Or this: How many Republicans have jumped to the defense of the Inspector General’s report showing no bias in the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign? How many have defended Trump-appointed FBI Director Chris Wray from Trump’s tweeted attacks on him?

And then there’s this: As Thomas Wright writes in The Atlantic, among those who should say what they know of Trump’s me-first (or you could say, me-only) approach to foreign policy — and what might come next — are the generals, H.R. McMaster, John Kelly and Jim Mattis who worked for him as well as, of course, super hawk John Bolton. 

These are all tough guys who left the White House with documented ill feelings toward the president’s conduct and who, you might think, would listen to their consciences and do the patriotic, love-of-country thing and explain why, in fact, Trump either is or isn’t a danger to American democracy. Instead they’ve been shamed by Fiona Hill, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and others who put their careers and reputations at risk to testify.

Meanwhile, there’s reportedly an argument between Trump and Mitch McConnell about how to proceed. McConnell wants to proceed quickly with a fast-moving Senate trial, while Trump, who has changed his mind on this a few times, now apparently wants a drawn-out defense and to call the Bidens and Adam Schiff and Nancy Pelosi and any other enemies he can think of to testify. The Democrats might agree to most of that — not Pelosi, certainly —  if they could call Mick Mulvaney and Bolton and Rudy Giuliani et al.

I think McConnell will win this argument. A real trial wouldn’t be good for Trump, but it would be a disaster for Republican senators, who stand to be the real losers here, whether the trial is quick and dirty or long and, yeah, dirty.

We know how many craven GOP senators there are — I’d say all of them — and now they will now be forced to vote on whether it’s OK for a United States president to pressure (extort, bribe, whatever word you want to use) a foreign head of state to interfere in the 2020 election in exchange for nearly $400 million of congressionally approved, critical military aid needed to hold off Russian aggressors.

This will be very tough for those senators in states where Trump is deeply underwater, like, say Cory Gardner. Gardner, who is a hawk on Russia, would have to hear months of how he’s supporting the guy who insists on spreading Putin propaganda. It’s part of the price he’d have to pay to vote against convicting Trump. But Gardner long ago figured the price of abandoning Trump would be even greater.

So, what is the Democrats’ play here? They know Trump isn’t going to be convicted whether they go narrow or go wide. And, if you read carefully, the first article does posit that Trump “betrayed the Nation by abusing his high office to enlist a foreign power in corrupting democratic elections,” which is what he did.

Is Pelosi’s play then to make it easier for vulnerable House Democrats to vote to put the mark of impeachment on Trump and call it mission accomplished? Or is it — and this is how I’d play it — to make it somehow possible for four or five vulnerable, or retiring, senators to turn on Trump.

I don’t know how many Republican yes votes it would take to put a dent in Trump’s re-election campaign. But if the price of turning even a few Senate Republicans — Romney? Collins? Murkowski? —is to accuse Trump of bribery without using the word, that would be a price well worth paying.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Starr did have clear and precise crimes that Clinton committed: 18USC§1505 Obstruction of Justice. 18USC§1519 Tampering with Evidence, 18USC§161 Perjury, 18USC§1519 Tampering with Evidence. So far there has not been any statute that democrats have stated that President Trump violated. Schiff ran a Star Chamber could not come up/manufacture a crime.

    • Lying under oath about sex with an intern doesn’t equate to an impeachable crime, acts that affect how a president betrays his or her oath of office. Also, as has been pointed out many times in recent months, impeachment is not a judicial proceeding, so actual commission of a crime isn’t the standard in impeachment.

  2. I have a few comments.
    First, what forced Nixon to resign was the discovery that he had erased or ordered his secretary to erase 15 minutes of tape relevant to the coverup investigation. This was the “smoking gun”- incontrovertible evidence that the president destroyed evidence to cover up a crime committed by his staff for his political benefit. Obviously, nothing Trump is even accused of is remotely like this.
    Second, it is likely that Democratic Senators Jones (Alabama ) and Machin (W. Virginia) will vote to acquit. Either that or prepare to retire.
    Third, Sen. Murkowski is the only GOP senator like to vote to acquit. Sen. Collins would vote to convict if the evidence were strong and the claimed offense was clearly wrong, but that’s not this case, so she’ll vote to acquit. Ditto for Romney.
    Fourth, not everyone agrees with you that investigating the $3 million paid to Hunter Biden by a corrupt Ukraine oligarch for access to the Obama administration in which Joe Biden had the Ukraine portfolio is off limits. To a lot of people that sounds like exactly the kind of thing that ought to be investigated and exposed.

    • And that question of “favor to us” was to investigate the gas and energy company. president Zelensky had already assured Donald Trump that he has used what he learned from Donald’s campaign to be elected in 2016, to campaign and win election in Ukraine. And he was following Donald’s actions, to do same in Ukraine. Also Sen. Joe Biden was the supporting Senator, who advised President Barack Obama’s offer of treaty in 1998, which was signed in 1999, approved by USA Congress (Senate). Government of Ukraine received signed copies later, and approved.
      —–Then the resulting government in Ukraine, became corrupted , being over-run by business and government officials from many countries, all getting part of the action, taking funds from Ukraine. Including USA lobbyists, business, and others taking advantage of that country, which was free of Russian control, and trying hard to avoid being taken back by Putin (Russia0.
      ——-I don’t believe the Democrat House went soft They had no case, and they ran out of witnesses they could coach, to say stud, the way Schiff want it said, or that Nadler wanted. Both are little men in body type, and mind, not known for much before, and this was way for them to get into History of USA, in a negative endeavor. As long as their names are spelled correctly, they know they will be mentioned every time USA has impeachment case, for what ever office. We remember that type, rather then the good guys, don’t you know?
      BY THE WAY: THAT TREATY CALLED FOR BOTH USA AND UKRAINE, TO DO EXACTLY WHAT WAS DONE. WHAT DOES OUR CONGRESS (HOUSE AND SENATE) THINK THAT FOREIGN AID IS FOR????????? THAT IS QUIT PRO QUO WHEN TREATY IS SIGNED AND ACCEPTED. *Or in business, Offer made, Offer accepted”.. I understand that, and I am not a lawyer or politicization. Where are the political staff to keep boss straight and informed?

  3. Whatever the reasoning, I’m pretty confident options were carefully considered by Pelosi, House Committee Chairs, and their staffs. Near immediate Congressional reaction and slightly longer term public reaction (now and up to the 2020 election) may well have entered into the calculus. I think the longer term “verdict of history” and the impact on a sense of the Constitution and its principles may also have had a role.

    Whatever the rationale — Trump will likely be the 20th impeachment in all the years of our national history. the 7th of my lifetime. An inevitable line for his obituary. A starting point for learning about his term in office — unless some greater calamity emerges in the remaining 320-odd days until the eleciton.

  4. Why aren’t there more charges…yet?

    Obstruction.

    As in many cases involving obstruction, additional charges are extremely likely to follow once said obstruction is forced to cease.

    Now the investigators get to go down the list and impeach Barr, Pompeo, Mulvaney, etc…and subpoena Kelly, McMaster, Bolton, Rex and all the other folks dying to throw Comrade Chump under the bus.

    This is just the start. Wait until all those subpoenaed documents start landing.

    Reality is trending. Finally.

    Moscow Mitch (while suffocating all legislative progress) has to pull some real strategery from his southern orifice to justify not indicting on obstruction, let alone the behavior already known and yet to come out (again….due to obstruction).

    Therefore he and the rest of the Republicans in the Senate still have to decide how Complicit they’re going to appear in the history books.

    It’s been extremely entertaining listening to our local right wing radio Pravda spout Putinesque propaganda in an effort to try to spin treason as patriotism (you know who you are Chuck and Julie, Dan C). If that’s a hint of what’s going to be required of Conservatives in a Senate trial, my prediction remains that Baby Huey gets the midnight chat so the Party can try to stop the hemorrhaging.

    Ain’t going to go over well in Fox Fantasyland.

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