One of the most insidious canards mouthed hourly by President Trump’s defenders is that impeachment should not be a substitute for elections. Or —as self-described “Sometimes Trumper” Hugh Hewitt put it in the Washington Post Tuesday “an illegitimate attempt at a coup dressed in constitutional clothing.” The reasoning goes that President Trump won the election in 2016 and he is about to face voters again, so why not just let the people decide? Not surprisingly, Trump himself has aped Hewitt’s argument and taken it further, complaining that the investigation is an attack not just on him but voters and their “God-given rights.”
Thankfully our Founding Fathers recognized that elections alone do not a democracy make. Ever mindful of human frailty, they knew that men are corruptible. Even a duly elected president might violate the oath of office—and should be removed if impeached by a majority of the House and convicted by two-thirds of the Senate for committing high crimes and misdemeanors, which Congress alone is charged with defining.
Every presidential impeachment, if followed by conviction in the Senate, would overturn the result of the election that preceded it. Richard Nixon was re-elected in 1972 in what was then the largest landslide in American history, winning 520 electoral votes to George McGovern’s 17 and nearly 47 million votes to McGovern’s less than 29 million. Nonetheless, a year and a half later, the House Judiciary Committee approved three articles of impeachment against Nixon, who resigned before the House could vote on formal impeachment. Was this an attempted coup because it overturned an election of a president whose removal from office was favored by less than one-quarter of Americans in July 1973, two months into televised hearings into his misdeeds? Clearly not. Nor, I would argue, was the attempt to remove Bill Clinton purely partisan, despite the lopsided vote that acquitted Clinton of perjury and obstruction. Clinton, after all, lied under oath—which was enough for Arkansas to suspend his license to practice law for five years and for Clinton to face permanent disbarment from the Supreme Court (though he resigned from the Supreme Court bar before disbarment could be considered and has never sought reinstatement). A more honorable man than Clinton would have resigned—which might even have helped elect Al Gore in 2000 (not a salutary outcome, granted).
As I and countless other conservative Never Trumpers have argued since Trump became the Republican nominee in 2016, character matters. The voters gambled that despite his low character, Trump might even grow into his office. That has not happened. Instead, Trump has corrupted virtually everyone around him. Those who resisted full corruption (even if succumbing at some level) are gone: H.R. McMaster, Rex Tillerson, John Kelly, Jeff Session, John Bolton, Don McGahn, to name just a few. Sycophants on the Hill—chief among them Sen. Lindsey Graham—defend Trump’s every lawless, norm-shattering move from withholding authorized U.S. military aid to Ukraine (which is fighting Russian aggression in Eastern Ukraine after having its territory in Crimea seized by Russia in 2014) in order to secure dirt on a political opponent, to looking the other way when the president raids the Defense Department budget to build his border wall, to “suggesting” his vice president stay in a Trump property in Ireland even though official meetings were on the other side of the country and required the vice president to travel by helicopter.
Honorable public servants should not remain silent in the face of the president’s corruption, much less take to spouting White House disinformation in order to defend clearly unethical self-dealing and abuse of power. Instead we have this: Acting Chief of Staff Mike Mulvaney ordered the withholding of Ukraine aid on the president’s orders. Attorney General Bill Barr traveled to Italy and spoke with intelligence officials in the United Kingdom in an effort to obtain evidence he hopes will confirm a debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine and perhaps other allies, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 election to help Hillary Clinton. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo listened as the president strong-armed the Ukrainian president, without saying a word to object, and now says he will not allow State Department employees to testify before House Committees investigating the incident.
Despite these examples I remain an optimist. I believe it won’t take many to break the dam of silence. Already, the inspector general for the intelligence community has been willing to contradict the president, his minions, and mouthpieces in GOP ranks by confirming that the whistleblower who revealed the latest grave presidential misdeeds did so according to long-established rules and the law itself, based on first-hand knowledge, subject-matter expertise, and the accounts of other, named individuals who witnessed the actions. Sen. Chuck Grassley, too, rebuked the false story spread by other senators and the president that the rules covering second-hand information had been changed to accommodate the current complaint; they had not. Kurt Volker, the former special envoy to Ukraine, resigned his post when the transcript of the president’s call was released and will now testify before the House Intelligence Committee, as will, apparently, Masha Yovanovitch the Trump-maligned former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. I have confidence others will follow. When a president is as reckless and lawless as Donald Trump, true patriots have no choice but to speak out.