“Both Sides” Of Betrayal
In October, 2016, the congressional “gang of eight” was briefed by senior intelligence officials in the Obama administration. The thrust of the briefing, similar to ones provided over the prior month, was that the Russian government, under the instructions of Vladimir Putin, was interfering in the 2016 election with the purpose of helping elect Donald Trump. The goal of the series of briefings was to agree on a bipartisan statement that would outline this threat to the American people. At that critical moment, according to the Washington Post, Mitch McConnell decided to put party over country, “raised doubts about the underlying intelligence and made clear to the administration that he would consider any effort by the White House to challenge the Russians publicly an act of partisan politics”.
Since that moment, if not before, McConnell, Senate Republicans, and Republicans in general have protected Trump as he has openly and consistently violated the law and the Constitution, lining his own pockets, those of his family, and others who abet his criminality. Under the protection of congressional Republicans, Trump has run roughshod over the constraints provided by the separation of powers, engaged in extraordinary and precedent-setting abuses of presidential power, corrupted the executive branch in furtherance of his crimes, and generally subverted our democracy.
With that as background, the news that Trump is using the powers of his office to essentially extort a foreign government into investigating his political opponent should hardly be surprising. The contours of the attempts to get Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden’s son and tar Biden himself has been clear for months. Giuliani’s efforts in this regard have been well documented. What is new now is that Trump himself has repeatedly pressured the Ukrainian president to begin such an investigation and withheld congressionally authorized aid to that country in order to achieve that result. In addition, after reaching an agreement with the Ukrainians that presumably included such an investigation, Trump apparently promised an additional $140 million in aid that was never authorized by Congress. The fact that Trump administration is again breaking the law by refusing to pass the whistleblower report to Congress that exposed this extortion, again enlisting the help of the now thoroughly corrupted Justice Department to do so, is simply an additional example of Trump ‘s lawless behavior.
In November, 2018, Democrats regained control of the House in a substantial electoral victory driven by policies designed to protect Americans from the destructive policies of the Trump administration, especially with regard to health care. Accompanying those Democratic policies were explicit promises and an implicit assumption that House Democrats would use their inherent Constitutional powers of oversight and investigation to expose and constrain a lawless administration.
There was nothing to prevent House committees from hitting the ground running in January 2019 with investigations of the broad range of corruption that permeated the Trump administration but was clearly beyond the scope of the Mueller investigation. Instead Democrats moved at a snail’s pace and have largely been thwarted by Trump’s defiance of valid subpoenas and his illegal and unconstitutional abuse of executive privilege. Even when it comes to the investigation into the interference in the 2016 election, Democrats have managed to only have three public hearings of any real substance, with Cohen, Mueller, and now Lewandowski, and all three witnesses testified to crimes committed by Trump.
The reluctance to aggressively pursue the crimes of the Trump administration was made clear early on by Speaker Nancy Pelosi as she instead focused on passing promised legislation that would never see the light of day in the Senate. Even as she acknowledged Trumps’s abuses and unfairness for office, she declared the process of impeachment as “too divisive” for the country, essentially claiming it was simply “just not worth it”. Her approach and that of House Democratic leadership seemed to rely on others, either Mueller or the legal system or the press, to be the ones actually holding Trump to account. She even floated the idea that Trump would do that on his own, espousing the bizarre concept that he would “self impeach”.
Pelosi has clung to this position even as the majority of her caucus is now demanding impeachment, having seen that simply starting the process would speed their investigations and perhaps curtail new abuses from the administration. Her reluctance is now reportedly actually doing the opposite, further emboldening the administration, encouraging Trump’s stonewalling congressional investigations, and perhaps resulting in Trump believing he can actually get away with extorting and bribing a foreign government to interfere in the US electoral process on his behalf, much as he has gotten away with illicit and criminal activity in 2016 and his entire private and public career.
Remarkably, Trump’s analysis may actually be correct. Even in the face of this clearly impeachable effort with Ukraine, Pelosi exudes weakness, saying “If the President has done what has been alleged then he is stepping into a dangerous minefield with serious repercussions for his Administration and our democracy” yet still insisting she has not changed her mind about impeachment.
From the beginning, Pelosi has made the cynical political decision to protect her majority and shield her vulnerable members representing red-leaning and purple districts. That political calculation has come at their expense of defending the rule of law and our democracy. Rather than leading and fulfilling the constitutional duty to defend the Constitution and perform the duty under a representative democracy to represent the voters, Pelosi and recalcitrant House Democrats are abdicating those responsibilities, instead relying on voters to do their job for them in 2020. They are relying on an election where our dysfunctional electoral system already favors Trump and the GOP, Trump has already indicated he will take extreme measures to ensure his re-election, and there is no guarantee the process will be free and fair.
It saddens me to say it as a committed Democrat, but Pelosi is betraying our democracy in the same way that McConnell did in 2016. And Democrats who now refuse to support impeachment are just as complicit as Congressional Republicans in allowing Trump to continue to commit crimes as President. As Elizabeth Warren wrote yesterday, “After the Mueller report, Congress had a duty to begin impeachment. By failing to act, Congress is complicit in Trump’s latest attempt to solicit foreign interference to aid him in US elections. Do your constitutional duty and impeach the president”.
Perhaps I was naive in believing that Democratic leaders would make the same cynical political calculation as Republicans when it comes to defending our democracy. And there are surely more Democrats fighting to defend that democracy than there are in the Republican caucus. But it’s hard not to fear for our future when both sides put party over country when confronted with an aspiring autocrat and one of the gravest threats Americans have dealt with in decades.