Byron York: Impeachment advocates have thin case so far
BY BYRON YORK
Thursday, January 10, 2019
Newly sworn Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib electrified progressives with her passionate declaration that she and her colleagues will "impeach the motherf---er" — the "motherf---er," of course, being President Trump.
Democratic leaders were embarrassed that a high-profile freshman would speak so frankly in public. But hours before Tlaib spoke, on the first day of Democratic control of the House, another Democrat, Rep. Brad Sherman, filed a resolution of impeachment. Sherman's resolution was later co-sponsored by another colleague, Democratic Rep. Al Green.
The efforts by Sherman and Green, who filed his own articles in 2017, and another House Democrat, Rep. Steve Cohen, who also introduced articles in Trump's first months in office, are nothing new. Nor are those efforts a lonely quest. In an early 2018 procedural vote, 66 Democrats voted in favor of moving an impeachment measure forward.
But on what grounds, specifically, do the pro-impeachment Democrats intend to remove the president? The new Sherman/Green resolution, and Green's and Cohen's resolutions from last year, are not exactly a comprehensive recounting of Trump's alleged offenses.
Sherman's is based entirely on the president's firing of FBI Director James Comey and the Comey memos, while Green's articles seek to remove Trump for "sowing discord among the people of the United States" with his comments on Charlottesville, transgender troops and Muslim immigration.
Cohen's articles rehashed much of Sherman's obstruction allegation, while adding a charge that Trump violated the Constitution's emoluments clause, plus articles seeking to remove Trump for tweeting about federal judges and calling some press organizations "fake news."
Judging by the articles currently on the table, Democrats will have to raise their impeachment game if they choose to go forward with an attempt to remove the president.
Sherman's single article of impeachment, originally filed on July 12, 2017, and re-filed last week, said Trump violated his constitutional oath to take care that the laws be faithfully executed because he "prevented, obstructed and impeded the administration of justice during a federal investigation." Specifically, Trump violated his oath by "threatening, and then terminating, James Comey."
As evidence, Sherman cited a "pattern of behavior" in which Trump asked Comey to lay off Michael Flynn; decided to fire Comey before asking the Justice Department for a rationale for the move; gave varying reasons for the firing; and said sacking Comey had reduced the pressure on him from the Russia investigation.
Green's resolution of impeachment did not really accuse Trump of committing high crimes and misdemeanors as president. It was, instead, an argument that Trump should be removed from office because his "bigoted statements" have "harmed American society."
Cohen's articles, introduced in the House on Nov. 15, 2017, were the most extensive of the lot. They overlapped with Sherman's on the Comey obstruction charge, but also included an extensive list of alleged violations of the emoluments clause by Trump's various businesses.
Trump's decision to retain links to his business, the articles said, "undermined the integrity of his office, brought disrepute on the presidency, and betrayed his trust as president in a manner subversive of constitutional government, against the cause of law and justice and to the manifest injury of the people of the United States."
Of the three measures, only Green's has received a vote. It came on Jan. 19, 2018, when the House voted on a motion to table the measure. Sixty-six Democrats voted to move forward with the articles, while 121 Democrats voted to table the measure and three voted present. All Republicans voted to table the measure.
There's little doubt the new Democratic majority leans farther left than last year's Democratic minority. Were they put to a vote today, Green's resolution, or Sherman's, or Cohen's, might receive more than the 66 votes.
On the other hand, even put together, the Green, Sherman and Cohen articles are pretty thin gruel. Yes, the Comey matter would likely be part of any Democratic impeachment articles, but Democrats would certainly want to throw in additional reasons why Trump should be removed. They would certainly want to include, for example, the allegation made by federal prosecutors in New York that Trump violated campaign finance law by not reporting a hush money payment to Stormy Daniels.
It's a difficult legal argument, but House Democrats don't need to convict the president in a court of law; they just need to give senators a reason to vote for removal. Beyond that, it seems unlikely that Democrats would try to remove Trump for tweeting about judges and bashing the press.
Green, Sherman, Cohen, et al are on the fringes of the Democratic caucus. But at some point, the big Democratic guns will take over the impeachment effort, and the public will see how serious they are about removing the president.
Byron York is chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner.