There are people for whom the very fact that President Trump breathes in oxygen and breathes out carbon dioxide constitutes an impeachable offense. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, who is running the impeachment inquiry that got approved by the House Thursday, is one of these people.
Is he going to run a fair inquiry? What are you, crazy? As the “impeach-him-for- breathing” crowd would reply, where in the Constitution does it say Schiff has to be fair?
Meanwhile, there are those for whom the only thing that would constitute a high crime and misdemeanor justifying Trump’s removal from office would be if he switched parties and joined the Democrats — if that! The president was on to something when he said he could shoot a guy on Fifth Avenue and not lose supporters.
For both of these camps, any factoid that seems to cast White House behavior in a problematic light is now fed through a filter — and either automatically added to the impeach file by the impeachers or to the witch-hunt pile by the defenders.
It might be worthwhile to try to tease out what actually belongs where.
Here’s how I separate out the two.
First, the foreign policy Trump chooses to advance shouldn’t be involved in any discussion of impeachment. He is the president. Executive-branch policy is his and his alone to decide, even if you think it’s just terrible — or if it contradicts decades of ideas on which both Republicans and Democrats have agreed.
If he wants to change policy on Ukraine, even though that policy seems set in stone, he is allowed to do so. It’s the job of his rivals and those who disagree to make the case that by doing so he is doing something wrong and should either change his ways or be voted out of office.
Ditto for the way in which that policy is made and carried out.
The idea that there is something impeachable in using back-channel figures to implement foreign-policy changes is ridiculous. Presidents have used back channels featuring friends and cronies practically since the nation was founded. To describe what is going on as a “shadow foreign policy” is moronic.
The president’s foreign policy is the foreign policy. Nothing in the Constitution says the foreign policy of the United States is created by a bureaucracy that stands independently of the president. It seems clear that the president wants there to be a certain level of chaos in the making of his foreign policy, which unnerves the conventional policy makers and implementers.
They have every right to be concerned. They also have every right to let the world know about their concerns. But even if you think this is a lousy way to do business, nothing about it justifies even the whispered utterance of the word “impeachment.”
But we live in an Instant Pot political culture, so everything gets tossed in and is set to cook slowly to allow the impeachment stew to thicken, and to keep the outrage meter set at the hottest possible temperature — just not so hot that the Instant Pot explodes on those Democratic politicians to whom it is intended to provide succor.
It will blow up if policy is confused with misbehavior. But efforts to excuse the misbehavior by Trump and the White House on the grounds that any investigation is illegitimate will blow up on the “it’s-all-a-witch-hunt” crowd.
The key, maybe the only, question that rises to the level of even a discussion of impeachment is simple. Did Trump use the powers of the presidency in an illicit fashion to compel the president of an allied country to use his powers to go after a political opponent of Trump’s?
That’s it. Not “Rudy Giuliani was conducting a shadow foreign policy.” Not “It’s mean to fire a foreign-service officer from her job as ambassador.” Not “it’s not OK for people to put transcripts of phone calls into a special safe.”
To the extent that the witch-hunt crowd criticizes Democrats for making it appear that the way the president exercises his constitutional powers is unacceptable, they are making a strong point.
But to promote the idea that we don’t deserve an answer to the question of his behavior with Ukraine on matters involving Joe Biden and our congressionally mandated military aid is to say that it would be illegitimate to investigate the president at all — either because he is to be given the benefit of the doubt in all cases or because his investigators are his partisan rivals and therefore have no standing to look into him.
That’s absurd. Just as the president has constitutional arguments on his side, so does the House of Representatives. It is given the power to consider whether the president has committed high crimes and misdemeanors and to impeach him.
And to suffer the consequences in the form of disgruntled public opinion if it does so in a manner that seems inappropriate and untoward.
Which is a real risk Democrats face, even though they are certain they are in the right — especially with Adam Schiff, a man who combines the charm of Voldemort with the unctuousness of Uriah Heep, at the helm.