"I'm not a crook." Richard Nixon, February 26, 1973
"I don't do cover-ups." Donald Trump, May 21, 2019
The theatrics at the White House on the morning of May 22 were especially surreal as the president who doesn't do cover-ups stormed (by all accounts) out of a scheduled meeting to discuss national infrastructure and rushed to a pre-arranged press conference in the Rose Garden where he said he wouldn't work with Democrats on anything until they stop investigating him. Because he doesn't do cover-ups? Strictly speaking, that's kind of true. Withholding documents, preventing witnesses from testifying, refusing to testify himself Trump does all that openly, so it's not a cover-up so much as a stonewall. Either way, evidence gets withheld. Or as the president went on to tell the assembled press corps:
I think most of you would agree to this, I'm the most transparent president, probably, in the history of this country.
What was truly transparent was the falseness of the president's claim that he couldn't work with Congress at the same time House committees are investigating him. Is he subtly admitting a disability that could trigger his replacement under the 25th Amendment? Or is that being covered up? And will it be stonewalled? Ironically, the president's view of investigations is a mirror image of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's view of impeachment, that the House can't do two things at once, pursue impeachment and pass good legislation. Her view is as transparently false as the president's. How long has it been transparently obvious that the president will keep pushing Congress into a submissive corner until the Congress pushes back?
There are so many issues, large and small, where the Trump administration has demonstrated either limited transparency or none that listing them all would be daunting to impossible. Consider just a few areas involving war and peace where the American people are getting much more dishonesty than transparency -- Iran, Venezuela, Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan, central Africa, among others. Domestically there are the obvious black holes where the country expected disclosure on the president's tax returns, on his separation of private interests from government business, on his reckless handling of security clearances, or on his multiple failures faithfully to execute the laws of the United States as required by the Constitution. The suffering he causes ranges from children dying in US custody to the environment and the planet dying from US predation.
Later in the day, the White House continued the counter-attack, tweeting: "This week, Congress reminded Americans exactly why its public approval rating is 20%." The White House tweets go on a familiar attack against a do-nothing Congress of the bipartisan sort we've heard for self-serving, empty decades. Then the tweets get to specifics and the spectacle is absurd. "Not fixing our immigration system" by letting the administration kill children without consequence? "Not rebuilding our infrastructure" by letting the president leave the room without looking at a lengthy proposal? "Not lowering prescription drug prices" how are any of these Congressional failures when there is absolutely no administration proposal on the table?
The apparent trigger for Trump's pre-planned morning tantrum was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's commentary coming out of a Democratic Caucus meeting. She concluded by expressing her understanding of the caucus consensus:
We believe that it's important to follow the facts. And we believe that no one is above the law, including the president of the United States. And we believe that the President of the United States is engaged in a cover-up a cover-up.
Although the Democratic Caucus meeting was closed to media coverage, there's little question that it was devoted in part to questions of whether and when to initiate formal impeachment proceedings against President Trump. Pelosi and other Democratic leaders have been avoiding, evading, slow-walking the impeachment issue for years now, but increasing numbers of Democrats are saying both publicly and privately that time's up, the president is dictating the way the government runs, and this is fundamentally unconstitutional. The morning theatrics look like the president calling Democrats' bluff. And it could be a catalyst for the Democrats calling the president's bluff. No matter what, it's a long winding road ahead with an unknown destination.
Just before the Democratic Caucus meeting, Democratic congressman Al Green from Houston appeared on Democracy NOW to urge the principled case for initiating formal impeachment hearings now. In the fall of 2017, Rep. Green was the first member of Congress to introduce formal articles of impeachment against President Trump. At the time, the Republican majority voted in lockstep not to consider the question. A majority of Democrats, led by Pelosi, also voted against even discussing impeachment.
Almost surely what Al Green said on Democracy NOW is what he said at the Democratic Caucus meeting. He was careful not to make it an issue of Pelosi's leadership, but rather a test of constitutional principle:
... where the House itself is on trial in the court of public opinion. The question is: Will we allow the time-honored system of checks and balances to be destroyed by this president? Your news report has indicated that he has resisted. In fact, he's stonewalling. He doesn't allow subpoenas. He doesn't allow witnesses to testify. And the question is: Will he then amass this enormous amount of power that the Framers never intended him to have? This is the equivalent of becoming a monarch. We don't want a monarchy; we want democracy. And impeachment is the means by which we maintain the check on the president so as to keep the balance of power.
Rep. Green is asked the standard journalistic cliche' question, so what's the point of impeaching the president in the House when the Senate will never convict him? It's not as though that prediction is a fact. At best it's a current likelihood. But the process of impeachment is long and illuminating as it winds through investigation, examination, and passage of the articles of impeachment, and then a full trial in the Senate presided over by the Chief Justice. To predict now what the Senate will do after a year or more of all that is presumptuous. It is to assume that evidence will not matter. And the cliche' question dismisses any question of principle, justice, constitutionality. Green answers the question directly:
Nowhere in Article 2, Section 4 of the Constitution does it say that the House must have a Senate that will agree with it. What it says is, if the president commits impeachable acts, then we must move forward. That's what it gives us the prerogative to do. It does not require that Republicans agree with us. It does not require that the public agree with us. What it requires is that we act on principle, not politics, that we put the people above our political party. It requires that we decide that we will not allow the moral imperative to be trumped by political expediency. This is really not about people in the House of Representatives. It's about the people in this country and whether we are going to allow this president, who has demonstrated that he's ruthless, lawless and reckless -- whether we are going to allow him to destroy the system of checks and balances.
As to particular impeachable offenses, Rep. Green first cites obstruction of justice. In the case of Richard Nixon, the first article of impeachment voted by the House Judiciary Committee in 1973, was for obstruction of justice. The charges against Nixon included making false or misleading statements, influencing witnesses, withholding evidence, interfering with investigations, approving payments to witnesses, and hinting at pardons. Any of that sound familiar? The Mueller Report lists numerous instances of presidential behavior that could be construed as obstruction of justice. More than 800 former federal prosecutors have indicated that if anyone but the president had committed the same acts, that person would have been prosecuted. Mueller left the question to the House. Rep. Green argues: "That obstruction of justice is something we cannot allow to go unchecked."
He makes no effort to provide a comprehensive list of Trump's impeachable offenses, but he emphasizes one area that is the epitome of "high crimes and misdemeanors" as contemplated in the Constitution:
But I also have contended, and still contend, that the president has infused his bigotry into policy. I think this is impeachable, as well. I have indelibly imprinted in my brain that baby standing at the border crying while she is being separated from parents. This is not what a great country does. We cannot allow a president to talk about African country as "shole countries" and then engage in the process of developing an immigration plan. We can't have a president who is going to say that there are very fine people among the bigots, the racists, the xenophobes, the homophobes, who were in Charlottesville, where a woman lost her life protesting against bigotry, and do nothing about it. His bigotry is worthy of his being impeached.
Rep. Green dismissed the president's claim that Congress couldn't work with him and investigate him at the same time. He framed his answer in the context of the reality of presidential behavior:
We can work with the president and still fulfill our constitutional responsibility. We must do so. Now, working with the president is not easy. He will give you an answer today, and then he will negate the answer tomorrow or later today or perhaps in the same sentence that he gives you the answer. So, I am all for working with the president, but I'm not for allowing the constitutional mandate that has been accorded the House of Representatives to be obliterated because we want to try to appease a president, who clearly has demonstrated that he's not in the business of making reconciliation with us in any way. He doesn't want to negotiate; he wants to dictate.
Rep. Green rejected another journalistic cliche' question: well, what if Trump welcomes impeachment proceedings, what if you're playing into his hand politically and not getting important legislation like the Green New Deal done? This is a muddled question, hobbled by prediction based on no evidence. The House has already passed important legislation (such as H.R.1, election reform) that the Senate may never consider. The Senate cannot avoid an impeachment trial. There is no reason to suppose the House won't continue to pass important legislation (maybe even a Green New Deal, if it's ever rendered in the form of a bill). The question is rooted in ill-considered assumptions that are most likely false (depending on House leadership oh, that again). As far as one can tell, the Democratic strategy for 2020 includes the creation of a host of desirable health, economic, justice and other bills that Republicans can either pass or run against.