While Democratic members of Congress are still debating whether to begin the impeachment process, people watching the questioning of former special counsel Robert Mueller yesterday could easily have thought they were viewing an impeachment proceeding.
Today’s New York Times reports that another member of Congress, Katie Porter (D-CA), has called for impeachment, citing the “constitutional crisis” provoked by President Donald Trump. According to Porter, echoing statements made by Jerry Nadler (D-NY) and other members of Congress, we have a crisis because of Trump’s misconduct, especially his failure to comply with congressional requests for documents and other information.
At some point, Trump’s disregard of the law may amount to a constitutional crisis, but we’re not there yet. In fact, with respect to the requests for information, the President is acting in many ways as the Founding Fathers expected.
How does Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s public statement change the impeachment question? Not very much. He confirmed what we already knew from his report:
- If he had been confident that President Trump did not commit the crime of obstructing justice, he would have said so.
- He didn’t consider bringing charges against Trump because under longstanding Department of Justice policy, it is unconstitutional to file criminal charges against a sitting President.
- The proper way to hold the Trump accountable for his conduct is either through criminal charges after he leaves office or the impeachment process while he still holds office.
Does the Mueller Report justify impeachment?
According to a federal district court, the subpoena power of Congress gives it access to President Trump’s personal financial records. While this is an important decision, it’s only a prelude to a decision on appeal. As we’ve seen before, the President sometimes prevails in the end after losing initially. And there are good arguments that the President’s lawyers can make to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, and possibly the U.S. Supreme Court, to try to limit the scope of the subpoena.
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.…
Did President Trump obstruct justice? While not all of the conduct that Special Counsel Robert Mueller considered would justify obstruction charges, some easily could. Trump did many things to try to impede investigations by the FBI and Mueller into his activities and those of his campaign. It is not surprising that Mueller declined to exonerate the president. But the more important question is how to hold Trump accountable.
Attorney General William Barr was right to reject obstruction charges, even if not all of his reasons for doing so were persuasive. According to long-standing Department of Justice guidelines, it would be unconstitutional to indict or criminally prosecute a sitting president, and there are strong arguments for that position. The remedies for misconduct by presidents include impeachment, denying them reelection, and prosecution after they leave office.
In other words, as long as Trump is president, the remedies are not legal but political–impeachment or voting him out of office next year. …