As we all devour the two-volume, 448-page redacted Mueller report, we’d do well to keep in mind a political reality. In a more stable and responsible political climate, impeachment proceedings would have begun months ago when it became abundantly clear that President Trump was trying to influence the investigation into himself, his inner circle and his campaign.
That was an unmistakable attempt to abuse power to try to protect the president’s own interests, and it should not have been tolerated.
But we don’t live in that environment. And as damning as the report is, particularly the details about Trump’s willingness to accept the benefits of Russian hacking of emails and his efforts to obstruct special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, moving to impeach Trump now would only make him stronger.
Why? Because even if the House votes to impeach, the Republican-controlled Senate almost certainly would not convict him, which means the run up to the 2020 election would be framed by the perception of Democrats seeking impeachment for political reasons, not over Trump’s efforts to thwart the investigation, making him a sympathetic figure to non-partisans.
So yes, a political system that should have impeached Trump long ago on the merits of his actions — but would not even consider it, because of the House Republican majority’s loyalty to Trump — now should accede to political exigencies and not pursue impeachment, even though Volume Two of Mueller’s report offers House Democrats a menu of misdeeds to choose from, from firing FBI Director James Comey (maybe not illegal, but a clear abuse of power) to his efforts to protect Michael Flynn to machinations hoping to have Mueller himself fired.
Bear in mind that impeachment is a political process, not a criminal one; it’s up to Congress to decide what constitutes “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
Those and other egregiously self-serving acts by a sitting president to stymie a federal investigation cross every line of acceptable behavior.
It’s true that Mueller determined there was no collusion among Trump and his campaign and Russian actors, but Mueller’s investigation did lead to indictments of 34 people, and convictions or guilty pleas from seven people.
Trump supporters ought to read it closely.
Trump was certainly trying to influence investigations into crimes that posed a threat to him, if not legally then at least politically.
So why should Democrats let him off the hook?
Because the best and surest way to hold him accountable over his efforts to obstruct justice is to oust him in 2020. And Trump’s likely survival of an impeachment trial — Senate Republicans have made it clear they’re happy to give him cover for just about anything for the sake of the party — would give him a gift.
Scott Martelle is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times.
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