The House Should Begin an Impeachment Investigation

On Monday afternoon, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will conduct a conference call with Democrats to discuss what to do next now that the Mueller report has been released. Appearing on ABC’s This Week, Representative Adam Schiff laid out the conversation that is likely to ensue.

As much of the media is doing, Martha Raddatz posed the question to elicit a reaction from Schiff to Senator Elizabeth Warren’s call for impeachment. That frames the debate as happening entirely within the ranks of Democrats. But Schiff is right to redirect all of that and point out that it is the GOP leadership that is “willing to carry the president’s water, no matter how corrupt or unethical or dishonest the president’s conduct may be.” That is the message Democrats should be focusing on at this point.

But as we’ve often seen with Warren, she jumped into the debate with a heavy-handed prescription too soon. During her conversation with Rachel Maddow, she not only limited impeachment to criminal offenses (which is inaccurate), she also implied that the only reason a Democrat would hesitate to call for impeachment right now would be because of political concerns. That’s one of those statements that goes to motivation, which is always divisive.

There was, however, one important point made by Warren, as Susan Hennessey and Quinta Jurecic discuss.

The problem is that impeachment isn’t a purely political matter—though certainly it is political in part. It’s a constitutional expression of the separation of powers, of Congress’s ability to check a chief executive overrunning the bounds of his power…

There is a danger to this mode of thinking, which is that Democrats should tolerate the institutional harms that would come from not initiating a serious impeachment inquiry because what really matters is winning the 2020 election. When you convince yourself that the best way to safeguard the republic is for your side to win, it gets tempting to tolerate all kinds of intolerable things. It is the precise calculus many congressional Republicans have made in supporting Trump despite his degradations of his office.

During a time when Trump and Republicans are posing such a serious threat to our democratic institutions, it is critical that the opposition not join them in that process by giving the president a pass on his degradations of the office.

So if it is too soon to call for Trump to be impeached, but it is necessary for Democrats to respond to the serious allegations contained in the Mueller report, what is the appropriate response? Hennessey and Jurecic provide the answer.

Though hard questions remain about whether President Trump should be impeached and whether the evidence would be sufficient for the Senate to convict him, these are not questions that need to be answered at this stage. Congress’s responsibility at this point is to begin an impeachment inquiry as a means of finding an answer to them. And Mueller has provided more than enough information to justify initiating an inquiry…

In the face of this evidence, for Congress to not even consider impeachment as a matter of serious inquiry is to declare that the legislature is not interested in its carrying out its institutional obligations as a coordinate branch of government.

In other words, what the House must do is begin an impeachment investigation (or inquiry). That is exactly what happened in response to Watergate in February 1974 with H.Res.803 titled, “Resolution providing appropriate power to the Committee on the Judiciary to conduct an investigation of whether sufficient grounds exist to impeach Richard M. Nixon, President of the United States.”

An impeachment investigation would not need to repeat the one just conducted by Mueller’s team. Instead, it could highlight how the standards for impeachment are different from the ones used by the special counsel and then go on to determine whether the president’s behavior violated those standards. It would also have the benefit of including investigations of other potentially impeachable offenses—such as telling border agents to break the law and promising them presidential pardons in return.

There are three messages that Democrats must use to combat the lies coming from Trump and his enablers, which are already beginning to shape the media narrative.

  1. An impeachable offense need not be a crime.
  2. Republicans are attempting to cover up not only this president’s potential crimes, but also his corrupt, unethical, and dishonest conduct.
  3. Democrats are prepared to launch an impeachment investigation as part of their Constitutional obligations.

Echoing how Schiff framed the question on Sunday, that is what it means to do what’s best for the country.

Washington Monthly - Donate today and your gift will be doubled!

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.