Earlier today, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) ended further speculation of what might become of the House’s impeachment inquiry. Rather, she declared of President Donald Trump, “The president’s actions are a profound violation of the public trust. His wrongdoing strikes at the very heart of our Constitution.” Then, Pelosi announced, “Today, I am asking our chairmen to proceed with articles of impeachment.”
Why did Pelosi announce this today? And where does impeachment go from here? Let’s review the past week to understand how this came about.
Where’s the intelligence in this report?
As we explained back in October, the House Intelligence Committee was tasked to spearhead the investigation period of the House’s impeachment inquiry. The Intelligence Committee was to draft a report to deliver to the Judiciary Committee upon completing its investigation, and the Judiciary Committee would subsequently decide whether and how to draft articles of impeachment.
As promised, the House Intelligence Committee recently submitted its final report. The report adds plenty more details to the story we’ve gradually come to know about Trump’s attempt to coerce the Ukrainian government into providing “dirt” on former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter. The phone records cited in the report make for even more damning evidence pointing to Trump and his associates misusing the federal government as their own personal playground to subjugate personal enemies and utilize public resources for private gain.
Or as the Intelligence Committee report summarizes, “[T]he impeachment inquiry has found that President Trump, personally and acting through agents within and outside of the U.S. government, solicited the interference of a foreign government, Ukraine, to benefit his reelection.”
What’s happening at Judiciary, and why should we care?
KARLAN: "Imagine living in a part of Texas that's prone to devastating flooding. What would you think if your governor asked for a meeting w/POTUS to discuss getting disaster aid that Congress has provided for [and POTUS] said, 'I would like you to do us a favor?'" pic.twitter.com/JGcXFQHUBO
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) December 4, 2019
Now, it’s up to the House Judiciary Committee to move the needle on impeachment. As has been the case elsewhere, the Republicans there have honed in on political campaign strategy to obfuscate Trump’s many legal problems. And as per usual, at the heart of their strategy are a whole lot of smoke and mirrors.
During yesterday’s Judiciary Committee hearing, Stanford law professor and appellate attorney Pamela Karlan found a way to cut through the smoke and mirrors by using a hypothetical Gulf Coast hurricane and a hypothetical scheme to force “favors” in exchange for disaster relief aid as an extended metaphor to explain why Trump’s threats against Ukraine are illegal. As Karlan explained, “Wouldn’t you know in your gut that such a president has abused his office? That he’d betrayed the national interest, and that he was trying to corrupt the electoral process? I believe the evidentiary record shows wrongful acts on those scale here.”
Remember all the times Trump has played games with Puerto Rico over hurricane disaster relief? Remember all the times Trump has played games with California simply because he’s incredibly unpopular there? Basically, Karlan is pointing out that Trump has not only lumped Ukraine in with California and Puerto Rico on his list of least favorite places, but he took it to the next level by acting to deny Ukraine the military aid they desperately need to counter Russian aggression unless and until Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky did Trump “favors”.
Why are Trump and his allies investigating the investigators?
I believe this man is calling a square dance. https://t.co/9s157vcbqc
— Charles P. Pierce (@CharlesPPierce) December 5, 2019
As I noted earlier, Trump and his army of Republican Party apparatchiks aren’t even really trying to argue the law or the nature of the crimes any more. Rather, they’re increasingly relying on circus-style theatrics that are light on facts and heavy on smoke and mirrors. And for some time, Attorney General Bill Barr has been the ringmaster of Trump’s smoke and mirror heavy circus.
Barr was hoping to put on quite the fireworks show with the Justice Department’s report on their investigation of Robert Mueller’s investigation. Yet thus far, Barr’s hand-picked prosecutor is refusing to entertain any further the QAnon-esque “deep state” conspiracy theories Barr wants to legitimize in order to delegitimize Trump’s impeachment. Beyond identifying a few isolated incidents of inappropriate conduct, Barr’s hand-picked prosecutor looks set to debunk the conspiracy theories at the heart of Barr’s delegitimization campaign.
Kellyanne effectively admitting that The President Has No Defense.
No one has yet offered a real defense of the President's extortion. https://t.co/L1YMo45oE1
— emptywheel (@emptywheel) December 5, 2019
Still, don’t expect Barr and other top Trump lieutenants to let go of the conspiracy theories or other weapons in their arsenal of smoke and mirrors any time soon. There’s a reason why House Republicans attacked Pamela Karlan and the other constitutional law experts testifying at the Judiciary Committee hearing just for being constitutional law experts. And of course, there’s a reason why Senate Republicans are already plotting to turn Trump’s impeachment trial in that chamber into a fishing expedition on Joe Biden and his family.
They want us to probe into the Biden family’s personal lives. They want us to salivate over FBI agents’ personal lives. They want us to debate whether all lawyers should go to hell for chasing ambulances. They want us to argue over whether constitutional law matters at all because an all-white panel of Trump voters in roadside diners say it doesn’t. They want us to indulge in the most meme-worthy Jeffrey Epstein conspiracy theories instead of focusing on the impeachable offenses at hand (or, for that matter, examining why Epstein, Trump, and other serial abusers get away with their crimes). The last thing they want us to do is focus on the facts of this matter, because the facts at the heart of this impeachment inquiry make for a compelling case against Trump and his henchmen.
From inquiry to articles, where impeachment goes from here
PELOSI: "In America no one is above the law … the facts are uncontested: POTUS abused his power for his own political benefit, at the expense of our natl security … [his] actions have seriously violated the Constitution … POTUS leaves us no choice but to act." pic.twitter.com/96AAGBdANw
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) December 5, 2019
Earlier today, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi formally announced what nearly all of us have been expecting for the last two months: “Sadly, but with confidence and humility, with allegiance to our Founders and a heart full of love for America, today I am asking our [Judiciary and Intelligence Committee] chairmen to proceed with articles of impeachment.”
From what Pelosi announced earlier, it’s looking like the House Judiciary Committee will draft articles of impeachment addressing Trump’s extortion efforts in Ukraine, his abuse of power in misusing federal government resources to assist his campaign by demanding “dirt” on the Bidens, obstruction of justice for his refusal to cooperate with Congress’ or Mueller’s investigations, and possibly the crimes identified in Mueller’s report.
As mentioned earlier, it’s uncertain at best what the process will look like should impeachment move to the Republican-run Senate in the new year. But for the time being, the Democratic-run House will probably vote on the two to four articles of impeachment that the Judiciary Committee will present the full body later this month. So long as the full House approves at least one of those articles, the Senate must hold a trial for Chief Justice John Roberts to preside over.
As Pelosi declared this morning, “If we allow a president to be above the law, we do so surely at the peril of our republic. In America, no one is above the law.” Today Pelosi is putting this American principle to the ultimate test, and it’s now up to the rest of Congress to decide whether this principle still rings true. And ultimately, it’s up to all of us to decide whether this American republic will survive the Trump presidency.