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John Nichols: Impeachment will be on the table in 2019

John Nichols: Impeachment will be on the table in 2019

Editorial cartoon (12/15/2018)

Congresswoman Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee, has for more than a year argued that President Trump needs to be impeached. Initially, Moore’s was something of a voice in the wilderness, as most top Democrats persisted in arguing that the constitutional response to a lawless presidency was “off the table.”

But the president’s many year-end meltdowns, as well as revelations regarding his past wrongdoing, have turned the conversation toward precisely the accountability issues that Moore has been raising.

Indeed, if Americans take seriously the impeachment process that led to the end of Richard Nixon’s presidency in 1974, then we can no longer neglect the arguments for Trump’s impeachment.

The first article of impeachment against Nixon stemmed from illegal activity during the 1972 presidential campaign and specifically indicted the sitting president for: “Making or causing to be made false or misleading public statements for the purpose of deceiving the people of the United States into believing that a thorough and complete investigation had been conducted with respect to allegations of misconduct on the part of personnel of the executive branch of the United States and personnel of the Committee for the Re-election of the President, and that there was no involvement of such personnel in such misconduct.”

As 2018 closed, Trump stood accused of engaging in illegal activity during the 2016 presidential campaign and of making false and misleading statements about those activities. That was the essential takeaway from statements by Michael Cohen, the president’s longtime lawyer and associate who revealed that candidate Trump directed him to make illegal payments in order to prevent revelations of Trump’s personal wrongdoing before the 2016 election.

A clear-eyed consideration of what we now know with regard to the president’s actions reopens and extends the impeachment discussion that Moore and others began more than a year ago. To deny this fact is to deny the reality and the intent of the Constitution to which members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate will swear their fealty when the 116th Congress is constituted in January.

The incoming chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, New York Congressman Jerry Nadler, effectively acknowledged this truth following the release of a sentencing memo in which prosecutors with the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office explained: “In particular, and as Cohen himself has now admitted, with respect to both payments, he acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual-1.”

“Individual-1” is the sitting president of the United States.

The coordination of illegal activities is no small matter. As Nadler says, “Certainly, they’re impeachable offenses, because, even though they were committed before the president became president, they were committed in the service of fraudulently obtaining the office.”

Nadler’s observation of this fact does not mean that an impeachment inquiry will come quickly, or proceed easily. There are no guarantees as to where the ongoing inquiry by special counsel Robert Mueller will lead. Nor are there guarantees regarding the path that will be taken by the Judiciary Committee or the Congress. But the days of dismissing discussions about impeachment as a possible and practical response to this president’s wrongdoing have ended.

Impeachment is going to be “on the table” in 2019.

John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times. jnichols@madison.com and @NicholsUprising. 

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