The release of the Mueller Report has spurred much discussion about impeaching President Trump. U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren and U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton have called on the House to launch the impeachment process; U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi support further investigation but think impeachment talk is premature.
As the discussion continues, it is important that further action or inaction be based on sound arguments. Otherwise, perceptions of partisanship may unfairly discredit efforts to hold Trump accountable for his conduct. Here are some not so good arguments that are being made:
Impeaching Trump might be the right thing to do, but it would be politically unwise for Democrats to pursue. While the goal of impeachment is to remove Trump from office, the Senate is unlikely to convict, and a failed impeachment might energize Trump’s supporters, paving the way for his reelection. This argument assumes that we can make fairly reliable predictions about politics. If that were true, Donald Trump would not be president. Because the political implications of impeachment or other actions are so uncertain, it makes most sense to do what is morally or legally correct.
President Trump has engaged in criminal conduct. The Mueller Report identifies several ways in which Trump tried to interfere with investigations of his aides or himself, and it would not be difficult to fashion obstruction of justice charges. In addition, Trump was intimately involved with the “hush money” payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal which led to a conviction for Michael Cohen on campaign finance charges.
But impeachment must be based on “high” crimes, not any crimes. While further investigation may identify sufficient evidence of high crimes, we’re not there yet. As I’ve written elsewhere, the campaign finance charges against Cohen were misguided. It’s not clear that the payments to Daniels and McDougal should be considered a crime at all. As for the efforts to obstruct, some were serious, but they were accompanied by significant efforts to facilitate the Mueller investigation, as when Trump turned over requested documents and made aides available for interviews, without invoking executive privilege. This is an important distinction with the Nixon impeachment. Overall, there was more desire to obstruct than actual obstruction.
There’s no need to rush to judgment on the impeachment question. Members of Congress can continue their efforts to learn more about Trump’s conduct and see whether the case for impeachment can be made persuasively.