“I am announcing the House of Representatives is moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry.” With those words yesterday evening, House speaker Nancy Pelosi knocked down the first domino in a long line.
That last word in that sentence matters; on paper, nothing changed with Pelosi’s words. The House Judiciary Committee had already started an “impeachment inquiry,” but Democrats insist that this effort is different, because it is simple.
We will get the — likely non-verbatim — transcript of Trump’s call to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky soon, but at this point, it’s almost moot. If Trump’s conversation includes an explicit quid pro quo, despite his denials, it will create a Category Five political hurricane, but if it doesn’t, many will insist the quid pro quo is implied strongly enough, and it will be “only” a Category Four political hurricane. Democrats have already gone out onto the limb, placed their bets, burned their ships like Cortés. There’s no way they can say, “Oh, wait, this call transcript doesn’t look as bad as we thought it would, never mind.”
At this point, there are far too many national-security officials who are confirming the ugly implications of Trump’s own statements — that the issue he was most interested in discussing with Ukrainian officials was why they hadn’t uncovered and investigated what he believed was obvious, glaring, and far-reaching evidence of the Bidens’ corruption. Notice this paragraph in today’s Post, discussing how White House officials felt about Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, suddenly taking such a large role in discussions with the Ukrainian government:
Then-national security adviser John Bolton was outraged by the outsourcing of a relationship with a country struggling to survive Russian aggression, officials said. But by then his standing with Trump was strained, and neither he nor his senior aides could get straight answers about Giuliani’s agenda or authority, officials said. Bolton declined to comment.
Officials whose job was to worry about U.S.–Ukraine relations and the security and stability in Eastern Europe did not find Hunter Biden’s membership and actions on the Burisma board from April 2014 to 2019 to be particularly interesting, troubling, or relevant.
If Hunter Biden or Burisma were involved in something indictable, or at least easily indictable, then prosecutors in Ukraine probably would have moved on it — if not before 2017 then afterward, because hey, what better way to win over the new American president than by nailing the son of one of his potential rivals. That Ukrainian legal authorities still didn’t move on it even after Trump brought it up suggests that there wasn’t enough there to justify even a “we’re reviewing the contracts and decisions from that time period to see if there was anything inappropriate” non-investigation investigation. Foreign leaders attempt to placate one another by going through the motions all the time, and for Trump’s political purposes, any report of an investigation would put a cloud of suspicion over Biden.
Now that the “inquiry” is started, there’s almost no way that the House Democrats can avoid drafting articles of impeachment, and once they’re drafted, the House will have to vote on them. You know that every Democratic presidential candidate except for Tulsi Gabbard will call for impeachment.
According to the New York Times count, 204 House Democrats now support impeachment. After yesterday’s announcement, Pelosi cannot let it fall short of 218 on the final vote. A House vote that falls short would be like the Mueller report all over again; Trump would be twerking on the White House lawn, and the progressive grassroots would be at the throats of the Democratic holdouts. There are 235 House Democrats; all but a handful will end up voting for impeachment.
What do House Republicans do? Some may vote yes, gambling that Trump is damaged goods and there’s no point in defending the indefensible. Many will insist that Trump’s questions to Zelensky were legitimate anti-corruption efforts, that this is no different than the British Government Communications Headquarters contacting their U.S. counterparts when they observed contacts between Trump’s team and Russians. Some will discuss yesterday’s option of concluding that as much as they’re troubled by Trump’s actions, impeachment is silly with a reelection decision approaching in November. The Twitter Left is convinced “let the people decide” is a terrible stance for Republicans. We will see; they also believed that the Senate GOP’s treatment of Merrick Garland was one of the greatest injustices in American history, but for some weird reason, not a single Democrat mentioned Garland at all during their 2016 convention.
Do the Democrats think impeachment polls badly because the American people think Trump is an all-around good guy with a sterling character? Or is it because the American people know they’ll have their own chance to render a judgment on Trump in November 2020, and they don’t want lawmakers attempting to interrupt that choice and make it for them?
The progressive grassroots are also convinced this will all come to a vote soon, which I guess depends upon your definition of “soon.” Back in 1998, the Starr report was released to the public on September 11, and the House Judiciary Committee votes to launch a congressional impeachment inquiry against President Clinton on October 5. Starr testified on November 19. The House Judiciary Committee approves three articles of impeachment on a party-line vote December 11, a fourth one the following day, and the full House vote occurred on December 19.
If the House operates on a similar timetable, they’ll be voting to impeach Trump around Christmas again. The Senate began the impeachment trial January 7, they heard testimony for about a month, and deliberations began February 9. The acquittal vote occurred February 12.
Pelosi knocking over that first domino yesterday means that we will probably spend the next six months talking about this. On the merits, Trump’s behavior is inexcusable, a sadly typical demonstration of his inability to separate his personal and political interests from the national interest. The president’s personal lawyer has no proper role in investigating criminal activity. We have law-enforcement agencies whose duty is to investigate these sorts of things, and the claim that the FBI and Department of Justice are just too partisan to investigate the Bidens is nonsense. Who appointed the FBI director? Who appointed the attorney general? Who appointed the deputy attorney general? The argument that American law-enforcement agencies can’t be trusted, which is allegedly a defense of Trump’s actions, is actually an indictment of him, if Christopher Wray, William Barr, and Jeffrey Rosen really have so little ability to control the institutions they direct and manage.
If a Democratic president ever did this, the reaction from Republicans and conservative grassroots would be comparable to a sun going supernova. For those who insist that the Obama administration’s actions investigating Trump before the election are parallel, the reaction from Republicans and conservative grassroots was comparable to a sun going supernova! But a whole lot of folks on the right have decided that emulating the Obama administration’s blurred lines between political interest and national interests is no longer wrong and that “justice” can only be served when their preferred figures have committed the same acts those folks previously denounced. There is no longer objective right and wrong, only turnabout, under the theory that someday if our side acts badly enough, the other side will suddenly see the light and behave better.
But this isn’t happening in a vacuum. The Democratic party spent the better part of two years claiming that Trump’s election was illegitimate; that the election had been hacked, rigged, and stolen; and in many, many cases, that Trump was a Russian agent. It was a festival of implausible paranoia that approached quasi-religious status, complete with prayer candles. The Democrats and their media allies didn’t just cry “wolf,” they made their cries more ubiquitous and omnipresent than Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road.” And when the wolf didn’t show up in the Mueller report as expected, a lot of people decided to tune them out.
There’s one other aspect that isn’t going to get nearly as much attention as it deserves. The judgment by both Bidens and the Obama administration surrounding that March 2016 trip to Ukraine was terrible. Secretary of State John Kerry could have carried that “fire Viktor Shokin or you’re not getting the loan guarantee” message, or the ambassador, or anybody else in the State Department, or the U.S. trade representative, or maybe even the military attaché. Anybody who didn’t have a son on the board of a natural-gas company who may or may not have been in the crosshairs of this prosecutor would have been a better choice that would have avoided any allegation of a conflict of interest. The fact that Biden is still telling the story with pride indicates he still can’t see why anyone would object. In his mind, he’s a good guy, his son’s a good guy, and thus no one could possibly have any problem.
Hunter Biden is a familiar figure in American politics — the frequently troubled son of the famous man, who never quite figured out how to carve out his own identity, frequently offered lucrative opportunities by those with an interest in government policies to be a backdoor conduit to his father, and who blindly assumes that everyone who’s being so nice to him (ooh, a 2.8 karat diamond gift, why thank you!) — is on the up and up.
ADDENDA: As noted yesterday, Nancy Pelosi spent much of this past year resisting her own caucus on impeachment and antagonizing traditional allies, making compelling arguments to her own party that impeachment involved considerable political risks . . . only to find herself in the exact spot she spent all that time and effort trying to avoid.
If impeachment took human form, it would be Thanos from the Marvel movies: “You could not live with your own failure. Where did that bring you? Back to me.”