The scope of impeachment: Elizabeth Drew supports a broad inquiry

Elizabeth Drew, whose accounts of the Watergate scandal are legendary, has stressed a critical point made by the Observer in earlier articles, that it would be a huge gamble and big mistake for the House to adopt Articles of Impeachment that focus narrowly on the Ukraine affair, while ignoring the broader dimensions and salient episodes of Donald Trump’s broad-scale abuses of power and other high crimes and misdemeanors.


(1) Elizabeth Drew, “Trump Demeaned Bureaucrats. This Is Their Revenge; Honesty is the best foreign policy,” New York Times, November 16, 2019.

(2) “House Democrats, stampeding like buffaloes, are heading toward a cliff,” The Trenchant Observer, November 15, 2019.

(3) “The goals of impeachment: Education or quick trial on Ukraine abuses?” The Trenchant Observer, September 27, 2019

Ms. Drew, drawing on her Watergate experience and her extraordinary career as a political journalist, writes

My major concern about the current impeachment process is that the target is too small. While the president’s constitutional misbehavior in the Ukraine scandal stands as a metaphor for his attitude toward government, it doesn’t provide an adequate picture of his long list of abuses of power during his first three years in office. If the Republicans can confuse enough people by saying that the president is being impeached for “a phone call,” then the argument for removing him will be like a house on stilts, with the stilts being removed one by one.

The argument of Ms. Pelosi and her allies that the target should be limited in the interest of time and clarity has its merits. But the great danger is that the legacy of this period will be that Mr. Trump got caught doing one bad thing rather than that he abused power across the board and wantonly violated the Constitution. The public is more than capable of understanding, among other things, that the president may have exploited his office to enrich himself, blatantly flouting the Constitution’s emoluments clause.

…And I worry about the precedent set by focusing solely on Ukraine, an implicit view that other behavior — constant lying, redirecting government funds against Congress’s wishes (such as building a phantasmagorical wall), sloppiness with government secrets, using the military for political purposes, encouraging violence against the press, and still more — was acceptable.

All because of the schedule? History is unlikely to remember the schedule.

It is not too late for the House Democrats to broaden the scope of the impeachment inquiry, and to start building the overall case, brick by brick, for the impeachment and removal from office of President Donald J. Trump.

To do so, they must look beyond convenience and the desire for a quick victory, and get on with the hard work that will be required to even have a shot at removing a president who is overseeing a prosperous economy, who retains the support of up to 50% of likely voters (see Rasmussen Daily Tracking Poll), and who enjoys the powers of an incumbent to shape the outcome of the 2020 election.

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.