The Washington Post
Americansâ€™ heightened aversion to impeachment - 29 percent favor impeachment in the latest Quinnipiac poll, while 66 percent do not - seems unrelated to a belief in President Donald Trumpâ€™s innocence or approval of his performance. In the same poll in which 66 percent oppose impeachment, including 38 percent of Democrats, 55 percent (96 percent of Democrats) disapprove of his performance, 57 percent (91 percent of Democrats) think Trump committed crimes before being elected and 46 percent (92 percent of Democrats) think he committed crimes while in office. Interestingly, when asked if they would support hearings to investigate whether to pursue impeachment, 47 percent say yes, and 51 percent say no.
Trump and his sycophantic spinners would like us to believe that the aversion to impeachment means Americans believe Robert Muellerâ€™s report exonerated the president (51 percent say it did not) or that he didnâ€™t interfere in the investigation (54 percent say he did). It does not. Likewise, it does not mean that Americans distrust the Mueller report (72 percent say he conducted a fair investigation).
So why the reluctance to impeach? There is no definitive answer to the question, but perhaps Trump critics fear Congress wonâ€™t be able to do other things if it is enmeshed in impeachment (53 percent say they have this concern). Others might recognize that Republicans are so devoted to Trump that impeachment will be fruitless, and perhaps spur him to behave even more outrageously once he â€świnsâ€ť in the Senate trial. Still others might worry that it will backfire in the presidentâ€™s favor, as they believe it did during President Bill Clintonâ€™s impeachment. (Republicans did lose House seats in the 1998 midterms, but nevertheless won back the presidency in 2000.)
Voters (especially the majority who say theyâ€™ll never vote for him) in essence might be telling us that Democrats should just beat him in 2020. Thatâ€™s unsatisfactory to those who sincerely believe (as I do) that Trump committed impeachable acts (e.g., in the 10 episodes of obstruction Mueller outlined, in his refusal to acknowledge the Russian threat, in his lying to the American people about his pursuit of the Trump Tower deal in 2016). What then can the House do?
Certainly, the House should demand to hear from key witnesses as well as Attorney General William Barr and Mueller. That means enforcing subpoenas for documents and for testimony as well as holding noncomplying witnesses in contempt. If Trump is seen directly threatening witnesses or ordering them to disregard a subpoena, Congress can make the case to the public that we cannot leave him in office until 2020.
As for Barr, the House can conduct impeachment hearings of Cabinet members who lie or withhold evidence or refuse to appear. It can cut funding for the attorney generalâ€™s executive office (depriving him of salary and staff). The House can also pass legislation criminalizing (going forward) failure to report foreign contacts with a campaign and for directing individuals to interfere with a witness subject to a lawful subpoena. It can pass legislation requiring presidents to release tax returns and to divest themselves of any business. The Senate will not take up any of this, but its participation in stonewalling then becomes an election issue.
Finally, the House should be patient. We still donâ€™t have the entire unredacted Mueller report. We have yet to hear Muellerâ€™s testimony. We have not yet seen the results of New York state attorney generalâ€™s investigations or of the 14 investigations spun off from Muellerâ€™s investigation.
Perhaps the American people -fearing tumult, recriminations and a Trumpian surge of support - will never come around to the idea of impeachment. At that point, censure becomes a possibility. In the meantime, House investigators should press on, educating the public about the severity of Trumpâ€™s wrongdoing.