With Trump’s inauguration still weeks away, Robert Kuttner of the American Prospect is calling for progressives to begin building a public case for impeachment by “keep[ing] a running dossier [on Trump’s illegal actions] and forward[ing] updates at least weekly to the House Judiciary Committee.” Salon’s Heather “Digby” Parton is echoing Kuttner. It’s a terrible idea.
There is no chance it will succeed. The only way to remove a president is first for a majority of the House of Representatives to vote for impeachment and next for two thirds of the Senate to vote for conviction. Given the extant evidence, neither the Republican House nor the Republican Senate will accede to the wishes of those seeking Trump’s removal.
Success means failure. If the impeachment efforts did against all odds succeed, Mike Pence would take command. There is good reason to believe Pence would do even more harm to the body politic than Trump will.
Objectively, any prospective case against Trump is thin at best. Kuttner implicitly acknowledges this when he writes “[t]here will be no lack of evidence.” (Emphasis supplied.) Kuttner seems to feel surer footing when claiming “Trump has already committed grave misdeeds of the kind that the Constitutional founders described as high crimes and misdemeanors.” But his follow-up sentence undermines this claim with the presumption that “Trump will be in violation of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, which unambiguously prohibits any person holding public office from profiting from gifts or financial benefits from ‘any king, prince or Foreign state.’” (Emphasis supplied.)
It is true that Trump’s hotels and resorts will receive additional business due to spending by foreign governments. Whether this amounts to a violation of the Emoluments clause, much less rises to the level of a high crime or misdemeanor, is an open question and one that will not be answered in the affirmative by the sitting Republican Congress.
Making impeachment based on the Emoluments clause even less likely is the fact that Trump won a majority of the electoral college even though voters knew full well of his international business interests. Indeed, many cited the width and breath of Trump’s financial holdings (even if wildly exaggerated) as a reason for voting for him. They believed his wealth made him less likely to be seduced by gifts or financial benefits.
Kuttner also cites Trump’s relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin as possibly undergirding an impeachment claim based on treason. But again the specifics are unconvincing. Kuttner says that if Trump suppresses an investigation into Russian manipulation of the Presidential election he might be committing a “crime” giving aid or comfort to our “enemies.”
Note that the qualifiers Kuttner employs in support of his argument demonstrate its pusillanimity. Note too that Trump has not suppressed any investigation and almost certainly will not do so. His attorney general will simply opt not to pursue one against the Russians. Moreover, even if Trump directly suppressed such an inquiry, he would probably not be committing a crime and, in any event, Russia likely does not meet the definition of an “enemy.”
By pursuing impeachment before inauguration, progressives will cement in many minds the notion that we are not above partisan bickering and that our first loyalty is to the Democratic party rather than to the public’s well-being. We would also be wasting precious time and energy fiddling while Trump and the Republicans Congress are burning our house down.
We on the left should of course monitor Trump’s actions for evidence that he is contravening the interests of the American people or violating the law. We should publicize every word and deed that could hurt his standing with the electorate or create fissures within the Republican party. What we should not do is announce in advance our intention to push non-starter impeachment claims based on facts of which the public was aware when it elected him.