Is it an impeachment inquiry, an investigation or something else?

As the House Judiciary Committee pursues a case against Trump, Democratic leaders dodge the "I" word

Published September 20, 2019 7:30AM (EDT)

Donald Trump (Getty/Chip Somodevilla)
Donald Trump (Getty/Chip Somodevilla)

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There has been a gymnastic drama going on in the Capitol, where fans of impeaching Donald Trump and those who think that process is not the best way to confront the president are writhing in definitional arm-wrestling.

Weirdly, any value you might assign to the actual words used, you can expect a lot more confrontational congressional committees towards Trump’s White House in the next weeks. Those hearings may or may not add up to impeachment efforts, which has been true until now, of course.

The House Judiciary Committee, newly driven by the extraordinary efforts to land government meetings at Trump properties and to promise pardons for illegal acts to promote his agenda, has wanted to broaden the basis for impeachment, essentially to argue that profiting from the presidency is unconstitutional.

The committee, which has a majority of Democrats who favor impeachment proceedings, has voted to do so.

Even more, Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler is now underscoring that regardless of whatever anyone else calls it, he is exploring impeachment of the president.

Of course, we all know Nancy Pelosi, as House Speaker, really wants to avoid impeachment, and the endless punditry of television commentators keeps warning us that the time to move forward with impeachment is very limited. So, Pelosi avoids words like “impeachment inquiry” for more general labels like “investigations.”

Pelosi is trying to protect all sides of her Democratic majority, of course, in hopes of holding onto it. As well, she knows that any impeachment effort, however right, will be quashed in the Senate.

Nevertheless, hearings will go on, including yesterday’s absurd and horribly ineffective session with a stubborn former Trump campaign director Cory Lewandowski, who joined with others ordered by Trump to ignore congressional questions using a made-up immunity claim.

Beyond this, we all know that some of the other strands for impeachment are still pending. The House Financial Services Committee is trying to get its hands on Deutsche Bank records that include the Trump tax filings and loan documents that could open up huge new avenues for questioning. And the House Judiciary Committee is still awaiting court confirmation of their power to subpoena and publicly question those involved in the Mueller Report who were witnesses to what many see as obstructions of justice incidents.

But what has driven the new impeachment efforts has been actions by the president himself in trying to hustle the G-7 leaders to meet at his own Trump Doral resort property in Miami, followed by Vice President Mike Pence’s insane explanations of keeping a 200-member delegation 180 miles from a Dublin meeting site just to stay in a Trump hotel, among other such visits.

In total, The New York Times said that nearly $20 million has been spent at the Trump family hotels since 2015 by various, mostly Republican political groups, including Trump’s own political committees, according to a tally by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Trump also has promised pardons to federal employees he is asking to manipulate federal accounts to put more money aside for construction of his wall.

Greg Sargent at The Washington Post puts it this way: “House Democrats are dramatically expanding their inquiry into whether to bring articles of impeachment against President Trump. That inquiry, which is being run out of the Judiciary Committee, will now include not just an examination of the special counsel’s findings but also scrutiny of Trump’s corruption — his dangling of pardons and his latest shameless acts of self-dealing. . . It might include scrutiny of financial information obtained from Deutsche Bank, which is being sought to determine whether Trump engaged in money laundering or whether his foreign dealings left him subject to foreign influence” and the profiteering charges. “Trump has pushed his corruption to the forefront. He publicly confirmed that he wants to host the next Group of Seven meeting at his Doral resort in Florida, an extraordinarily blatant act of self-dealing,” said Sargent.

But the drama this week is because House leadership appears dug in against any such vote.

By Sargent’s argument, “the fact that members in moderate districts aren’t feeling constituent pressure on impeachment isn’t helping. But if that public case against Trump gets stronger and stronger — indeed, it’s already incredibly strong — that means not acting threatens to do serious political damage to Democrats, further dividing them and making them look feckless and unwilling to hold a corrupt president accountable.”

There is an amazingly futile feeling to all this. Trump does as he wants, with no limits, with no understanding of basic ethics – all because Senate Republicans are cowed by his political popularity among his base voters, voters who could be turned to primary them.

We have the Democrats having created a mess all by themselves, with the would-be sheriffs running around while the fox goes free. Rank and file Democrats don’t know exactly how to say whether we are actually on the impeachment path or not.

Let’s hope that we can get beyond a debate over labels and get some sane thinking about what represents our American values here.

By Terry H. Schwadron

MORE FROM Terry H. Schwadron

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