White House

Tawdriness Is Not a High Crime

White House counsel Don McGahn sits behind President Donald Trump during a meeting at the White House, June 21, 2018. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
The 2020 election, not impeachment, is the appropriate place to litigate Mueller’s findings.

Impeachment? Nah. Not gonna happen. What possible basis for impeachment could there be?

“Well, you see, the president ordered Don McGahn to fire Robert Mueller.”

“Did McGahn actually fire Mueller?”

“Well, no . . .”

“Did anyone else fire Mueller?”

“Well, no . . .”

“So you’re charging him with what, exactly?”

“Thinking about firing Mueller!”

One of the most hilarious aspects of President Trump’s personality is that Mr. “You’re Fired” hates to actually tell people, “You’re fired.” He can’t do it. Maybe he’s a big ol’ softie underneath it all. Maybe he just can’t bear to bring the hammer down on someone who’s sitting across the desk from him. He always has to find an intermediary, and though Washington is full of intermediaries, most of them are lawyers. A half-decent lawyer’s Geiger counter starts rattling like a loose tailpipe on a 1975 Dodge Dart when he’s told to do something that’s illegal or unethical or will severely limit his future prospects. McGahn was ready to resign rather than execute Trump’s order, and so Trump didn’t press the matter, which means the “order” was really more like a strongly worded suggestion, which means that (at worst) Trump contemplated doing something (ousting Mueller) that could maaaaaaybe be construed as obstruction of justice.

But not really: Mueller ultimately works for Trump. As a constitutional matter Trump can have Mueller or anyone else in the executive branch fired except the only other elected official in it: Mike Pence. As a political matter, of course, firing Mueller would have looked bad. But, again, “thought about doing something that would have looked bad” doesn’t cut it, high-crimes-and-misdemeanors-wise.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wants impeachment. But AOC has always wanted impeachment. Just the other day she claimed she wanted impeachment because of Trump’s supposed violations of the emoluments clause. Or maybe it was tax fraud. Whatever, the details don’t matter; all that matters is that the she and millions of Cortezites know Trump shouldn’t be president. AOC is trying to take out Trump by grasping at straws and feverishly tying them together. This leaves her with a bundle of straws. A bundle of straws isn’t much of a weapon.

AOC will not be getting her impeachment, because for the Democratic party that would be stupid. AOC may be stupid, but her boss isn’t. Nancy Pelosi may make noises to placate the youngest and most naive members of her caucus, but she knows that as the days and weeks go by everyone will calm down about the stink bomb that just detonated in D.C. and that it will soon be time to return to hard-nosed political calculations.

Which are:

  • The Mueller Report does not provide evidence that Trump committed any crime.
  • You don’t impeach a president on a charge of “He’s a bad dude.”
  • The Mueller Report does, however, provide lots of exceedingly juicy political points that can be used against Trump in 2020.
  • So let’s use them and #MoveOn to 2020.

That’s what Pelosi is thinking, and that’s how she will act. Even if impeachment did happen, it would obviously lead nowhere in the Senate, and meanwhile Trump’s approval ratings would tick upward as Bill Clinton’s did, and for the same reason: In each case, tawdry behavior was revealed, and in each case the acts did not merit removal from office. Besides, do Democrats seriously want to put themselves in a position where bland, inoffensive Mike Pence is the incumbent president they have to run against in a time of peace and prosperity? The party of fear would of course try to horrify the public about Pence, but good luck convincing people that Mr. Rogers is secretly Freddy Krueger. If Trump could transplant Pence’s personality into his body for the next 18 months he’d dominate the Upper Midwest like Big Ten football.

AOC has a very special gift for not thinking things through, but Pelosi has not been bestowed with such a faculty. What she does have is the ability to keep AOC in her place, which is in front of the cameras, not actually making decisions for the party. Trump’s angry ranting on Twitter today indicates that he’s not loving how the Mueller Report was received, but his first tweeted remark on yesterday’s events was the correct one: Game Over. He has won the Mueller wars, at least in Washington. What the voters will make of it remains to be seen, but that’s what elections are for.

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