Limiting The Scope of Impeachment Makes No Sense When New Crimes Are Revealed Daily

Two weeks ago I argued that Democrats would be wiser to expand the impeachment probe to include all of Trump’s alleged crimes than to attempt to restrict the inquiry to the his phone call with Ukrainian president. That advice seemed unlikely to be heeded at the time, as leadership remained stubbornly insistent that frontline members would best be served by keeping the process simple and short, avoiding any possible negative political consequences from stretching the proceedings into an election year.

But circumstances have shifted rapidly in two significant ways. First, several new polls are showing majority support for an impeachment probe, including an eye-opening uptick in support among Republicans. There isn’t publicly available district-by-district data yet, but polling is also simply a snapshot in time: just as support for impeachment has markedly increased in the last few weeks, there is every reason to expect it will continue to increase as more evidence comes forward. We don’t know what the plateau will be, but it’s very unlikely that we have already reached it.

Second and more important, however, is the fact that new crimes are seemingly being revealed by the day if not by the hour. Just reading the news in the last 72 hours is like drinking from a firehose. The president’s own attorney, Rudy Giuliani, is under investigation has been conducting a shadow foreign policy with allegedly criminal accomplices, two of whom were nabbed trying to fly out of Dulles Airport with one-way tickets to Vienna, where Mr. Giuliani was allegedly also headed to meet them. There appears to have been a wide-ranging conspiracy to launder foreign money to Republican politicians in exchange for various shady favors–in addition to the central extortion of Ukrainian leadership by withholding Congressionally mandated aid in an attempt to fabricate dirt on one of Trump’s feared rivals for the presidency.

We still don’t know what inducements Turkish autocrat Erdogan offered Trump in exchange for being allowed free rein against our long-suffering allies the Kurds, including bombing U.S. forces without repercussions. There is a whole other scandal around Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, Saudi money and nuclear dealings, and Trump’s own publicly and proudly admitted use of our armed forces as paid mercenaries in the service of a journalist-murdering regime.

The scandals aren’t just embroiling Giuliani and the Trump family. Attorney General Barr is deeply implicated in much of the effort to illegally solicit foreign support in manufacturing a scandal against the president’s personal political opponents, as is Vice President Pence and Secretary of State Pompeo–all of whom are hemming, hawing and clamming up in response to questions.

All of this is coming out just in the last few days. It seems almost comical to set an arbitrary limit on the scope of high crimes and misdemeanors to include in an impeachment inquiry when additional wrongdoing is being revealed in a dizzying parabolic arc of scandal. The notion that the public will be able to understand the Ukraine affair because of its supposed simplicity is also falling apart: nothing about this affair is remaining simple as its layers begin to unsheathe like an onion.

At a broader level, though, it’s increasingly obvious that Trump is barreling toward an unprecedented constitutional crisis. Having already used specious legal reasoning to justify blockading all congressional subpoenas, he has threatened civil war and talked about his supposed loyal military support with all the subtlety of a gong. It seems only a matter of time before he begins to defy court orders as well.

In this context, curtailing an inquiry in an effort to possibly better protect a handful of Democrats in the most conservative districts is a form of cowardice. Republicans in the Senate will make the choices they will, but the gaze of history and the precedent set for future presidents lies with Democrats in the House. If they do not make clear that every one of these alleged crimes will carry a full accounting, a future president will be emboldened to commit them again.

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

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.