Democrats like the latest polls on impeaching President Donald Trump, some of which show rising support. But in the long term, it is a losing issue. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) made it so when she launched an “impeachment inquiry” without waiting for the evidence.
By the time Pelosi convened a fateful meeting with House Democrats on Sep. 24, Trump had already announced he would release the transcript the next day. Pelosi went ahead, anyway.
After years of claiming that Democrats would wait to see where the facts would lead, hoping that Special Counsel Robert Mueller would deliver the goods on Russia “collusion,” Pelosi decided that she could not wait 24 hours for the facts to emerge.
She had lost control: behind closed doors, she faced a caucus that already backed impeachment: a majority of House Democrats had majority it since August 1, a week after Mueller’s testimony produced a dud.
Regardless of her reasons, the decision was a serious political mistake. The rush to impeachment showed that Pelosi was willing to put politics ahead of facts — and ahead of all the other promises she had made to voters in 2018. The fact that she marched ahead of the evidence — which contradicted the whistleblower’s claims — gave Republicans a reason to rally behind the president. It will also put an asterisk next to the 2020 election, in the event Trump loses.
Pelosi repeated her error on Tuesday. The White House sent her an eight-page letter, citing the Constitution, the law, and judicial precedent, explaining why it would not cooperate with an “impeachment inquiry” that the House had not yet voted to authorize. Such a vote would trigger impeachment rules and procedures designed to ensure fairness.
Pelosi’s response failed to address the White House arguments, and accused Trump of trying “to hide the facts.”
The idea that the target of an investigation cannot insist on a fair procedure, and will be further implicated for trying to assert his or her rights — as Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) stated explicitly last week with Pelosi by his side — is reminiscent of “justice” in totalitarian dictatorships. It is, as Breitbart News noted last week, an echo of the horrors of the “Star Chamber,” which the Framers who wrote the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights were eager to prevent.
Pelosi insists that the Constitution does not require the House to obey a set of rules or procedures for impeachment. She is right. But the Constitution also does not require the White House to comply with an “impeachment inquiry.” If the matter is brought to federal court, the judiciary would likely decline to intervene, citing the political question doctrine. Pelosi will have to hold an impeachment vote without the public ever seeing the evidence — or the defense.
There is another weakness in Pelosi’s approach. She is defending her “impeachment inquiry” based on the argument that she and her party are retraining a lawless president: “Mr. President, you are not above the law,” she declared on Tuesday.
But Pelosi herself is casting aside any set of rules. If the president’s alleged abuse of power is the problem, Pelosi and the Democrats are not providing an alternative. They are simply imposing their own arbitrary reign.
It is worth exploring President Trump’s alleged misconduct in further detail. He is accused of doing what Democrats have said for years that President Barack Obama’s administration had a duty to do: namely, to investigate possible foreign corruption by a presidential candidate. It was a matter of national security, they said, because Russia could use “kompromat” to control the president. (Many continue to claim Trump is doing Vladimir Putin’s bidding.)
The difference in the two cases is that Trump took personal responsibility for asking that Ukraine investigate former Vice President Joe Biden. Obama made a habit of avoiding any personal responsibility for anything controversial in his administration: he left that to underlings, then professed outrage when their misconduct was exposed. Trump not only made the request himself, but also repeated it publicly. He believes he has a duty to do so and is right to do so.
That is a matter for oversight, not impeachment.
It is telling that no one can name a single law that Trump has broken. After the so-called “whistleblower” raised his or her concerns, the Department of Justice (DOJ) investigated the president for allegedly violating campaign finance laws. It is illegal to accept foreign contributions, as two of Rudy Giuliani’s associates found out on Thursday. But the DOJ closed the case on Trump: he did not break the law.
As Democrats told us for years, while their party might have benefited politically from investigating the Trump campaign, that did not matter because there was a legitimate public interest in finding out whether Russian influence extended to a GOP candidate. (Never mind that Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee arguably broke campaign finance laws themselves by disguising payments to dig up dirt on Trump through foreign sources.)
Trump can cite a similar public interest in finding out what the Bidens were up to in Ukraine — all the more so because Joe Biden has admitted to quashing an investigation into a company on which his son, Hunter, was a board member.
Even if the Bidens did not actually do anything wrong, as the suddenly incurious media are rushing to tell us, there is no doubt that Joe Biden had a conflict of interest. The fact that he did not recuse himself was unethical.
But if what Trump did was in the public interest, what about the way he did it? Though there is no evidence of any quid pro quo — which would probably not be illegal anyway — the idea that Trump used a personal call to request that the new Ukrainian president examine both the 2016 election shenanigans and the Bidens’ activities strikes some observers as odd. It suggests that Trump has supposedly erased boundaries between the personal and the national.
Democrats interpret that as evidence of authoritarianism — as they have done with almost everything else Trump has done. If Trump lowers taxes that benefits American businesses as a whole, Democrats and their media allies rush to calculate how much the president’s own business interests might save as a result. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has campaigned for months on the idea that President Trump is benefiting personally from such alleged “corruption.”
Democrats and journalists showed considerable less interest in figuring out why President Obama made a sudden, albeit unsuccessful, pitch for Chicago to host the 2016 Olympics when he flew to Copenhagen in his first year as president. Hosting the Olympics often costs cities more than it is worth. But several of Obama’s Chicago friends — including, supposedly, White House adviser Valerie Jarrett — stood to benefit from an Olympic-sized windfall.
Trump does not operate that way. Indeed, the appeal for his voters was that unlike the Obamas, he had already made a fortune before going into politics (and risked a fortune by doing so). Rather than pursuing his personal interests as if they were the national interest, Trump has made the national interest his personal interest. As he said repeatedly in the 2016 race: “My whole life I’ve been greedy … Now I want to be greedy for the United States.” He is delivering.
His style bothers some constitutional conservatives, whose ideal would be a president who operates more at arm’s length. But Trump may be incapable of functioning any other way. Recall that he made his fortune as the head of a private, family business. He has never had to please shareholders — and may not have succeeded if he needed to do so. For him, personal success and company success are the same. He has brought that approach to the presidency.
That is why Trump often speaks off-the-cuff, even at ostensibly non-political or public events, about how his own performance is supposedly better than those of his predecessors. There is more than ordinary presidential narcissism at work (and Obama, unlike Trump, seemed unable to deliver even a prepared speech without using the first person pronoun incessantly). It is the way a family businessman thinks. It works — but it rubs some people the wrong way.
Democrats have an opportunity to provide an alternative to Trump by advocating a return to a more rules-based way of running the government. Instead, they are doing the opposite.
Pelosi has made it clear that she will not be bound by House precedent and will not follow the basic rules of fairness in the impeachment inquiry. Much of the inquiry thus far has been held behind doors in intelligence hearings, which allows Democrats to leak out-of-context details.
What Pelosi and the Democrats seem to be saying is that the normal rules and rights — which Republicans, even in their own impeachment frenzy, afforded to President Bill Clinton — must be suspended for this particular president. They argue no president is above the law. But no president is beneath it, either. And by protecting leakers like the so-called “whistleblower,” Democrats may even be condoning law-breaking for the “just” cause of ousting Trump.
That approach is not only legally and morally wrong: it is also politically disastrous. Before Pelosi ordered the impeachment inquiry, Trump was largely running against the “socialism” proposed by most Democrat presidential candidates. (In that vein, William Galston — the liberal on the Wall Street Journal op-ed page — warned Democrats this week that Warren, the new frontrunner, is too left-wing for voters in states Democrats must win in 2020.)
Now, Trump is running to defend democracy. Democrats, he argues, want to undo the last election and steal the next one. They cannot be bothered to wait for the voters to deliver their own verdict, mere months from now: they want to usurp the power of the people.
It is an argument for which Democrats have no answer. And if they manage to win in 2020 by using a partisan impeachment to tarnish the president, many Americans will lose faith in our democracy.
There are probably Democrats who think they are doing what is right for the country — just like there were FBI agents, starting with then-Director James Comey, who understood they were bending the rules in 2016 to help Hillary Clinton and hurt Donald Trump, but believed they were protecting the country. They acted as they did because they lacked faith in our constitutional checks and balances, and the wisdom of the American electorate.
Pelosi lacks that same faith — and the proof is that she refuses to authorize the impeachment inquiry with a vote. If she believed the case against Trump were strong, she would not oppose a fair process based on rules and precedent.
She told fellow Democrats that she was undertaking impeachment “prayerfully.” If so, there has never been a more faithless prayer. The Democrats are opposing democracy because they do not believe in it, or the American people.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He earned an A.B. in Social Studies and Environmental Science and Public Policy from Harvard College, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.