The constitutional crisis has officially arrived. To the surprise of nobody with a cognitive intellect, Donald Trump has hauled us to this treacherous precipice. The good news is that the House Democrats, empowered by the midterm voters to hold Trump accountable, are eager to prevail in the historic showdown to come. And their strategy is a win-win.
Have you read the letter, authored by Trump’s legal eagles, which decrees that the White House will refuse to cooperate with the impeachment probe? As government documents go, it’s a doozy. The lawyers’ Trump armbands are wrapped so tight their brains have been starved of oxygen. The result is a smorgasbord of recycled MAGA catechisms.
My favorite claim is that the current impeachment inquiry is “constitutionally illegitimate,” despite the Constitution’s Article II provision that grants the House sole power to hold our highest officials accountable — a provision that traces it origins to 14th-century Britain.
The letter also claims that a House impeachment probe can’t be launched unless the full House votes to launch it, but the Constitution says no such thing, not one word. Remember when Republicans prided themselves on being “strict constructionists” who took the Founders’ words literally?
There’s also some whining in the letter that the impeachment inquiry seeks to “overturn” Trump’s election, when in truth the whole point of an impeachment inquiry is to examine presidential abuses of power after an election. If Trump’s lawyers (and Trump) were to enroll in a remedial history course, they’d learn that Richard Nixon was targeted for impeachment in 1974 despite the fact that he’d won the 1972 election in a 49-state landslide.
House Democratic leaders, having digested and spat out the letter’s various Orwellian tidbits (the impeachment probe “threatens grave and lasting damage to our democratic institutions”), are actually fine with the fact that the ultimate battle has been joined. Their win-win goes something like this:
Since they already have the goods on Trump’s most blatant impeachable act — he sought to extort Ukraine for domestic campaign dirt against Joe Biden — anything they get from new documents and Trump witnesses would be gravy. And if the Trump regime stonewalls on delivering documents and witnesses, then presto, that’s further grist for an article of impeachment detailing obstruction of justice. As suburban Philadelphia congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon, vice chair of the House Judiciary Committee, said on Tuesday, “the more obstruction there is, the more quickly this (inquiry) moves.”
Trump and his lawyers want to sucker the House Democrats into a long court fight over the documents and witnesses, hoping to run out the clock to 2020. But the Democrats don’t need to play that game, so they won’t. Trump wants to stiff the inquiry? Fine. Intelligence panel chairman Adam Schiff said that stonewalling would be “yet additional strong evidence of obstruction of the constitutional functions of Congress.”
Trump is so anxious to hide the damning truth about his Biden dirt-digging (as the documents and witnesses would reveal) that he clearly prefers to take the hit on obstruction of justice. That’s how badly he is cornered. And there’s zero evidence that stonewalling the inquiry will win over the electorate. A national poll, released Tuesday, says that 58 percent of Americans support the House inquiry, and only 38 percent oppose it. This past spring, those percentages were virtually reversed.
And another new poll, released Wednesday morning, is even more brutal for Trump: 50 percent of registered voters support Senate conviction and removal.
Granted, it strains credulity at the moment to believe that the Republican Senate would throw him out, since they hail disproportionately from red states overfilled with bitter-end MAGA fans. But it’s already highly plausible that a craven Senate exoneration would leave obstructionist Trump seriously or mortally wounded by the stink of his smoking gun.
So, it’s game on. As the poet Ralph Waldo Emerson penned, “Things are in the saddle / And ride mankind.” And for once, the Democrats are snapping the reins.
Dick Polman, a veteran national political columnist based in Philadelphia and a Writer in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania.