The goals of impeachment: Education or quick trial on Ukraine abuses?


Mehdi Hasan, “Democrats, Please Don’t Mess This Up. Impeach Trump for All His Crimes, Not Just for Ukraine,” The Intercept, September 26 2019 (10:35 a.m.).

Nancy Pelosi announced on September 24, 2019 that the House was conducting an Impeachment Inquiry.

For once, the Democrats in the House seemed to have overcome their fear of Donald Trump, with the help of a “smoking gun” in the form of the Whistle-blower complaint, the Inspector General’s report, and the transcript of Trump’s July 25 telephone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Now the Democrats, having experienced some of the power the House is invested with by the Constitution, are torn between their fear of Trump and losing their own election, on the one hand,  and their desire to impeach him for all of the main impeachable offenses he has committed, on the other.  These cover a broad range of subjects including his contacts with and cooperation with the Russians and the obstruction of justice reported, with detailed evidence, in the Mueller Report, as well as other offenses such as his violation of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution.

The choice appears to be between a swift impeachment inquiry into the Ukraine affair and vote on articles of impeachment, on the one hand, and a more methodical and time-consuming examination of the broader range of “high crimes and misdemeanors” the president has committed, on the other.  The first looks easy, and the second more difficult.

It seems that the same fear of Trump which kept the Democrats from launching an impeachment inquiry, before the Ukraine affair made support for such an inquiry possible, is operating again.  Should they pursue a narrow strategy aimed at a quick impeachment based on the Ukraine affair, or proceed now–finally–with a broader impeachment inquiry under that rubric?

Fear may lead representatives in districts where Trump is strong to want to avoid a broader inquiry, while going for a quick and clean victory on grounds which Republicans will find hard to defend against.

Some may favor the latter approach based on a belief they can win the votes in the Senate to remove him from office.

If the goal is simply to impeach the president and go for an early trial in the Senate, this narrow approach may seem appealing.

The risks, however, are great.

Republicans and Trump would undoubtedly seize on the fact that the offenses outlined in the Mueller Report and others were not deemed to be impeachable offenses by the House Democrats, as a vindication of Trump’s narrative that he committed no wrongs.

Indeed,  the Democrats could, however unwittingly, end up legitimizing Trump’s other “high crimes and misdemeanors”. With no educational impact on the electorate from the impeachment inquiry, the Democrats will have failed to puncture Trump’s propaganda bubble, bolstered his argument that he has been the victim of a “witch hunt”, and done little to reshape the playing field in a way which might help them win the 2020 elections.

Moreover, it is quite possible that with Democrats’ eschewing the goal of educating the American people through the impeachment inquiry, Republicans in the Senate, while conceding the impropriety of Trump’s actions relating to the Ukraine, may simply vote against conviction on the grounds that the offenses are not serious enough to warrant removal from office.

If, on the other hand, the goal of educating the American people and electorate as to Trump’s “high crimes and misdemeanors” is pursued in a more methodical manner, over a longer period of time, the impeachment inquiry could reshape the playing field for the 2020 elections.

See “The Impeachment Inquiry as a tool for educating the American people and electorate,” The Trenchant Observer, September 24, 2019. In this article, we wrote:

The immediate goal of the Impeachment Inquiry should be to educate the American people and electorate. Should the Democrats skip this step in a race to getting out articles of impeachment, they may lose the only opportunity they will have to break through the bubble of lies and distortions which engulf Trump supporters.

Breaking through that bubble may represent the only chance they have to win the 2020 elections, against an incumbent president in a prospering economy when the incumbent is one of the greatest demagogues we have seen since the leader of the Germans in the 1930’s.

Here, the Democrats themselves need to understand that Trump’s support is a product of mass propaganda, which has much more to do with the kind of mass psychology found in Germany in the 1930’s than with their own highly refined arguments.

They need to smash Trump’s bubble. Only then will those who might otherwise vote for Trump be able to hear their arguments. The Impeachment Inquiry represents their best shot at piercing that bubble of propaganda, lies and distortions.

Ultimately, the issue boils down to whether the Democrats want to challenge Trump while pulling their punches because of their fear of him and the voters, or to mount an all-out challenge to Trump and his enablers, and their corruption and abuse of power, with a view to winning the 2020 elections. To achieve the latter, they will have to overcome their fears, and take risks regarding their ability to get though to the voters with rational arguments.

If they choose to fully use the great powers which the Constitution grants the House and the Senate, they may be surprised at how powerful and effective they can be.

The biggest question for the Democrats, as for the Republicans, is whether they can overcome their fear of Trump.

The Trenchant Observer

About the Author

James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, Dr. Rowles has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. Dr. Rowles speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.=LL.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, Dr. Rowles has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.