It seems clear that most people have forgotten the denouement of the Watergate scandal, which was mostly over on the day that Richard Nixon, the reason for the scandal, resigned as President of the United States, August 9, 1974. The evidence that caused Nixon to resign emerged only shortly before he chose to do so. This is why the House should begin impeachment proceedings against Trump.
Richard Nixon was very different from Donald Trump. Nixon was smart and thoughtful and had spent eight years as vice president under Dwight Eisenhower, the last responsible Republican president. He understood the federal government and how it is supposed to work.
Trump is stupid and thoughtless, had zero experience in government before becoming president, does not understand what a constitution is nor anything about what ours contains or the government it defines.
It seems unlikely that he will be smart enough to resign.
All the more reason why the House of Representatives should impeach him.
Nixon resigned shortly after the House Judiciary Committee voted out an article of impeachment against him. But the event that precipitated his decision to resign was a visit to the Oval Office by Republican Senator Barry Goldwater, himself a former presidential candidate and possibly the most famous Republican in the United States after Nixon himself, in the company of two other Republicans, to tell Nixon that he would certainly suffer conviction and removal in the Senate if the impeachment went to a trial there, as the Constitution provides.
Trump likely will not resign partly because he is too stupid, but also because no sitting Republican Senator has the integrity or nerve to vote to remove him at the moment, much less go tell him that he will likely suffer removal if impeachment gets to the Senate.
As of this writing.
But all the more reason why the House Judiciary Committee should immediately begin public impeachment hearings. The specific event that prompted the vote to impeach by that Committee in 1974 was the release of transcripts from tapes of conversations between Nixon and his chief of staff about getting the CIA to stop the FBI’s investigation into the break in at the Watergate hotel that started the whole mess and gave the scandal its name. The tapes and their contents had been a matter of controversy between Nixon and both special prosecutors, Archibald Cox, whom Nixon fired, and his replacement, Leon Jaworski, since the disclosure of their existence in testimony before the Senate on July 16, 1973, fully a year before Nixon would finally release full transcripts of the operative recordings.
Jaworski issued a subpoena for the tapes, which Nixon resisted, claiming “executive privilege,” and that no federal judge could address the question because, as a dispute between the president and a special prosecutor, it was solely a matter within the executive branch of government. The Supreme Court rejected these arguments and unanimously ordered Nixon to release the material Jaworski demanded in his subpoena.
And here is where the importance of the House explicitly beginning impeachment proceedings becomes obvious. We may already have teed up a legally similar dispute over material the House wants in order to continue its investigation of Trump.
Jerry Nadler (D-NY), Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, has issued a subpoena to the Department of Justice for the complete report by special counsel Robert Mueller, and Trump is resisting.
The facts are different, but the facts are always different. The target of the subpoena is not the president himself, but the Attorney General, as the official in charge of the Department of Justice, but, after General Barr’s embarrassing performance trying to spin the Mueller report, we can regard him and Trump as one entity for present purposes.
It looks as if this may soon end up before the Supreme Court. Trump’s two appointees should recuse themselves, but being good “conservatives” and Trump toadies, they may well not. Chief Justice Roberts is on record as worrying about the public perception of partisanship by the Court.
At the moment, nothing could be more nakedly partisan than for the Court to allow Trump to defy Nadler’s subpoena.
It is possible that Trump’s lawyers could dream up some argument that Nixon’s did not, but Nixon pretty much covered the waterfront when the same basic legal question — whether the president has to comply with a subpoena — came up before, so it’s hard to imagine how the unanimous opinion in the Nixon case will not be a very important, not to say controlling, precedent for the Court in deciding Trump’s decision to resist a subpoena.
But, if the House is explicitly operating under the rubric of possible impeachment, the legal argument gets substantially stronger. The Constitution gives to the House “the sole power of impeachment.” The decision in the Nixon case contains discussion of the point that the Supreme Court remains the final arbiter of the meaning of the U.S. Constitution, including in disputes with the other two branches. It is not impossible for the House Judiciary Committee to violate the Constitution as part of an impeachment investigation. But it is very difficult to see how the Court could refuse to uphold the use by the House of a very common, otherwise entirely uncontroversial legal mechanism that law enforcement officials use routinely as part of an investigation that it has “sole” power to pursue.
It is entirely possible, of course, that Trump and his toadies would refuse even to comply with an order from the Supreme Court. Trump likely does not know this, but one previous president he claims to admire, Andrew Jackson, also defied a Supreme Court order when he forced the removal of thousands of Native Americans to make way for invading Christians.
But the Court was literally powerless to intervene in Jackson’s use of the military to force Natives to walk west to what is now Oklahoma. Much of the public may not even have known what Jackson did.
If Trump defies a Supreme Court order, it will be all anyone can talk about for days. The talking heads will yammer it to death.
What would happen then is anyone’s guess. As when Nixon fired the first Watergate special prosecutor, public pressure might force Trump to comply with the order of the Supreme Court. Presumably, Mueller himself still has a copy of his entire report somewhere and so might become a target of subpoena that he would feel compelled to accede to.
Trump’s defiance of the Supreme Court itself could become the basis for impeachment. Certainly the courts routinely put people in jail for defying their orders. The idea of the Supreme Court ordering the president to jail is too bizarre to consider, but defiance of a court order does constitute a clear violation of law by a public official that must qualify as an offense worthy of impeachment.
The reasons to impeach Trump are very clear: impeachment proceedings would provide the House with a legally impeccable platform from which to continue its investigation, which it presumably intends to do anyway, given the subpoena it has issued for the complete report. Although there is no reason to believe that Republicans in the Senate are prepared, at the moment, to vote to remove Trump, further investigation may produce more evidence of criminal conduct that will cause them to change their minds. We will never know unless they try.
Proceed with impeachment. It is the best option.