Impeachment Monday ReadsPosted: June 17, 2019
Good Morning Sky Dancers!
I guess now’s as good as any time to discuss the roadmap to impeachment. I don’t know about you but I’m more than ready to start the roadtrip. Let’s start with moving forward by looking back with The New Republic’s Matt Ford and his interview with an assistant to the Judge that decided that sitting presidents can’t be indicted while said Judge was writing the memo.
It’s a weird story that Rachel Maddow has covered because it links directly to Spiro Agnew. Her podcast, Bag Man, took on the legacy of Agnew and how his criminality impacted the approach to Nixon‘s removal. So, why can’t sitting presidents be indicted? Why can’t we just lock him up instead of letting him rot out here with unidicted co-conspirator status? Should we revisit the Dixon memo?
Robert Mueller made a surprising assertion last month about the limits of his power. In his report on Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and President Trump’s potential obstruction of the investigation, the special counsel explained that Justice Department policy effectively prevented him from charging Trump with a crime while in office. But in his surprise press conference in May, he went even further. “[The report] explains that under long-standing department policy, a president cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office,” he said. “That is unconstitutional. Even if the charge is kept under seal and hidden from public view—that too is prohibited.”
This remains an open legal question, despite Mueller’s unequivocal assertion. The Constitution itself is silent on the matter, and no court has ever ruled otherwise because no sitting president has ever been indicted. Mueller’s nod to “long-standing department policy” likely was a reference to the so-called Dixon memo, a 1973 Office of Legal Counsel opinion in which Assistant Attorney General Robert Dixon concluded that there were multiple practical and constitutional hurdles that made it effectively impossible. “The spectacle of an indicted president still trying to serve as chief president boggles the imagination,” Dixon wrote.
That memo’s primary purpose, however, was not to conclusively decide whether a president could be indicted while in office. While it’s commonly assumed that the memo came about during the Watergate scandal, it instead sprang from the Justice Department’s efforts to prosecute Vice President Spiro Agnew in a tax-evasion case. Agnew argued that he was only subject to impeachment by Congress, and Attorney General Elliot Richardson asked Dixon to write an opinion on the question.
To understand the Dixon memo’s unusual origins and its continuing impact, I spoke with J. T. Smith, an attorney who worked as Richardson’s executive assistant during the Watergate scandal. Smith was present at the creation, so to speak, of the Justice Department’s policy on indicting a sitting president. He told me that if Richardson “had the benefit or detriment we have of the behavior of this particular White House, he almost certainly would say it’s high time this whole matter get revisited.”
The Dixon memo was FOIA’d last year. Here’s a link to the memo itself along with the letter acknowledging the FOIA request. So here’s the Judge’s assistant’s direct response to if the Dixon Memo should be revisited.
Did you happen to see Mueller’s press conference the other day, where he said outright that it would be unconstitutional to indict a sitting president?
I saw that, and I’m not clear why he said it. It’s one thing to say that it is Justice Department policy, long standing, that a sitting president should not be subject to criminal process, but he sort of surprised me when he characterized it as being unconstitutional. Because the Dixon memo of 1973, I think, ends up on grounds that are policy-based more than Constitution-based, and indeed, the Dixon memo says that the Constitution doesn’t squarely address the topic.
This bit of wiggle has allowed Trump and his current AG to say, basically, nothing to see here when there is plenty to read there if any one would take the time to read the Mueller Report or listen to the folks that have.
As leader of the House of Representatives, she has quite a bit of sway. She is the top elected Democrat in Washington. And she decides what bills her chamber votes on. The lawmakers in the House and Senate actually running for president — 11 in all — just get to vote.
So it’s notable that under her leadership, the House hasn’t voted on any big-government policy package championed by the Bernie Sanderses and Elizabeth Warrens of the world.
In May, the House voted on seven health-care bills designed to bandage Obamacare now that the Trump administration is trying to kill it by a thousand cuts. Not a single one of those bills would establish universal health care, even though Medicare-for-all is a defining policy debate of the 2020 presidential primary. Five of the seven senators running for president support a Medicare-for-all bill.
She also hasn’t allowed a vote on the Green New Deal, a plan to tackle climate change with Roosevelt-era-style government-funded jobs, despite the fact that many 2020 candidates support some aspect of the plan. And she’s held off her party from taking the first steps to impeach President Trump even though 67 House Democrats — and a number of presidential candidates — want to.
Pelosi’s logic is simple. She’s not thinking about the Democratic primary.
She believes the battle for her House and the White House next November will be waged in communities that voted for President Trump in 2016 such as in Rep. Elise Slotkin’s Lansing, Mich., district or in Georgia where Rep. Lucy McBath got narrowly elected last year or in Iowa, where Rep. Abby Finkenauer is campaigning to stay elected after knocking off a Republican member of Congress. All three represent districts that voted for Trump in 2016 in states Trump won. None of them support impeachment of Trump.
You can tell all of this talk of impeachment is getting to Trump. His tweets over the weekend were some of his most unhinged screeds to date. He also spoke to the many reporters questioning him on the topic.
The ABC interview with Stephanopolous was shown in Full on Sunday and Trump’s state of mind was on full display. His usual “no collusion, witchhunt” rant seemed particularly hollow this weekend. He’s fired a group of his pollsters and is undoubtedly flipping out about the latest poll showing the public’s move Impeachment Inquiry Curious. This is from The Hill.
The report cited more than 100 contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia but said there was insufficient evidence to conclude there was a conspiracy. Investigators also did not make a determination on whether Trump obstructed justice, with Mueller saying it was because a sitting president cannot be prosecuted.
In the same interview, Trump waved off a letter in which more than 1,000 federal prosecutors said he would have been indicted for obstruction were he not a sitting president, saying the signatories were “politicians” and “Trump haters.”
His interview was broadcast as a poll from NBC News and The Wall Street Journal found that support for impeachment hearings had increased 10 points since May, to 27 percent. The increase was largely driven by Democrats, 48 percent of whom now favor impeachment, up 18 points from last month.
The new poll found that the number of Americans who believe Congress should continue to investigate whether there is sufficient evidence to hold impeachment hearings fell 8 points to 24 percent.
A Fox News poll released Sunday, meanwhile, found that that 50 percent of respondents said they believe the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia, up 6 points from March. Forty-four percent of respondents said they don’t believe there was collusion.
Half of that poll’s respondents favored impeachment, with 43 percent supporting impeaching and removing Trump — a 1-point increase from March — and 7 percent endorsing impeachment but not removal, compared to 48 percent who opposed impeachment. The same survey found that 56 percent of respondents said it was “not at all” likely that Trump will eventually be impeached.
The surveys come amid increasing chagrin from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party over Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) hard line against impeachment proceedings.
Heather Cox Richardson–writing for The Guardian–makes “The historical argument for impeaching Trump.” It’s a run down of all the times Republic Presidents pushed the envelope on the imperial presidency.
The question of impeaching Donald Trump is about replacing the toxic partisanship of today’s Republican party with America’s traditional rule of law. It has become a constitutional imperative.
Since Richard Nixon, Republican presidents have pushed the envelope of acceptable behavior under the guise of patriotism, and Democrats have permitted their encroaching lawlessness on the grounds of civility, constantly convincing themselves that Republicans have reached a limit beyond which they won’t go. Each time they’ve been proven wrong.
Nixon resigned in 1974 because his attempts to cover up his involvement in the Watergate burglary made his obstruction of justice clear. Republican leaders warned Nixon that if the House of Representatives impeached him, the Senate would convict. Republican congressmen of the time believed in the rule of law.
Gerald Ford’s subsequent pardon of Nixon was perhaps given in that spirit: when the law rules, it permits mercy. But the absence of a humiliating public exposure of Nixon’s participation in Watergate, and the lack of a permanent bipartisan condemnation, gave Nixon loyalists cover to argue that he wasn’t guilty of crimes. Instead they claimed Nixon had been hounded out of office by outlandish liberals determined to undermine him and the country.
Ever since, Republican extremists have employed this rhetoric whenever they break the law or erode constitutional norms.
When Ronald Reagan’s administration was exposed for having illegally sold arms to Iran to raise money covertly for the Contra rebels fighting the Nicaraguan government, Reagan acknowledged that the evidence was damning – yet defended the principle behind the scheme. Reagan’s successor, George HW Bush, pardoned the six leading figures of the Iran-Contra affair because, he said, “whether their actions were right or wrong”, they were motivated by “patriotism”. The investigation into their actions was “a criminalization of party differences”.
Quite a rundown, isn’t it? Well, put that in light of the Trumpian window.
The same Republicans who had threatened to impeach Hillary Clinton remained silent when, immediately after his surprise victory, Trump refused to abide by laws about emoluments or nepotism, openly profiting from the presidency and filling the White House with personal relatives. They continued to remain silent when Trump fired the FBI director, James Comey, who was investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, then pointedly pardoned Scooter Libby, saying he was “treated unfairly”. They did not protest in February 2019 when the Trump administration openly defied the law by refusing to give Congress a required report on Saudi involvement in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
By May of this year the White House was refusing to honor any congressional subpoenas on the grounds that “it’s very partisan – obviously very partisan”, as Trump told the Washington Post.
When the House committee on ways and means demanded Trump’s tax returns under a law that leaves no wiggle room, Steven Mnuchin, the treasury secretary, nonetheless refused to deliver them, saying he saw no “legitimate legislative purpose” for such a request. An attempt by the executive branch to dictate to the legislative branch, the only branch of the American government that has the unilateral power to make law, is shocking, but Republicans stayed quiet. They also stayed quiet when Trump used declarations of national emergency to override laws passed by Congress, and on Monday the Trump White House asserted in court that Congress had no authority to determine whether the president has committed crimes.
Yet only one congressional Republican – Michigan’s Justin Amash – has called for impeachment.
Special counsel Robert Mueller, investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, provided ample evidence that the president should be investigated for obstruction of justice in his attempt to quell the Russia investigation by firing Comey and urging aides to lie. At the same time, Mueller reminded Americans that the constitution charges Congress with presidential oversight. Indeed, under current Department of Justice policy, a sitting president cannot be indicted; congressional oversight is the only way to rein in a lawless president.
It’s a long, thoughtful essay. You should read it all. Yes, one Republican has called for impeachment still and yes, there’s that pesky Dixon Memo again.
But back home in Michigan, many people who know Amash say they’re not surprised at all by his willingness to go against his own party — even if that decision costs him his seat in Congress.
“Five-year-old Justin Amash was a lot like 39-year-old Justin Amash is like,” says Jordan Bush, who first met Amash when they were in kindergarten.
Bush says Amash is diligent and intentional. Someone who doesn’t bend his principles.
Other longtime friends echo similar sentiments. In high school, Amash became known for always finishing his homework, even if it meant his friends had to wait to hang out. Amash eventually went on to become valedictorian.
Amash’s parents are both immigrants. His mother is originally from Syria. His father, Attallah, came to the United States in 1956 as a Christian refugee from Palestine.
“Justin just always had a keen sense of what was at stake in terms of what governments do or don’t do, how much they interfere, how much they limit themselves,” says Jessica Bratt Carle, who got to know Amash in high school.
By the time Bratt Carle and Bush got to know the Amash family, they had built a successful family business, which they still own.
“I think a lot of that work ethic,” Bush says, “largely comes from his father.”
When Justin Amash got elected to Congress, Bush served in his district office. He says he saw the same person there that he did in kindergarten.
“Justin is the least surprising representative in Congress once you have an understanding of how he views his role,” Bush says.
That role, according to Bush, is to uphold the Constitution and protect individual liberty.
Amash is known as one of the more libertarian members of Congress. Some have speculated Amash could even dump the Republican Party to run as the presidential candidate for the Libertarian Party. Amash has not ruled out that move.
But for now, he remains in the Republican Party, despite his many disagreements with party leadership.
When the 448-page report by former special counsel Robert Mueller was released to the public in April, Amash initially gave no comment. He posted on Twitter that he would read the report “carefully and completely” before saying anything.
And for nearly a month, Amash said nothing.
Then, in a string of tweets posted on May 18, Amash gave his conclusions from the report.
He said the report showed President Trump engaged in impeachable conduct and that Attorney General William Barr intentionally misled people about what’s in the report.
So, if you’d like cunning political commentary and a laugh to cheer you up then you should watch John Oliver whose commentary includes that impeachment talk is “effective hospice care” when a family with a father who died peacefully once they told him he Trump was impeached. But, there’s more than that … watch the clever comedian talk about Nancy Pelosi too.
With a national conversation underway about the possibility of impeachment, John Oliver discusses whether the benefits outweigh the potential risks.
And believe me, we all could use a good laugh at Trump’s expense in these times.
Impeachment in no way Guarantees the removal of a President.
With that, I’ll leave you to think on it and discuss. What’s on your reading and blogging list today?