A shopper holds out a U.S. President Elect Donald Trump presidential inauguration memorabilia button for a photograph in the White House gift store in Washington, D.C.. (Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg)

The Evidence Is Tipping Toward Impeachment

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Ever since Donald Trump fired James Comey, I’ve thought that there was already enough evidence to justify impeaching and removing the president — but we were well short of the evidence demanding impeachment. We’re no longer “well short.” The evidence may not be demanding Trump be removed from office … but it’s at least requesting it. Maybe firmly requesting it.

It’s not just that we now also know that the president surrounded himself with criminals (some of whom, remember, were also undeclared foreign agents). Nor is it just that Michael Cohen says that Trump directed him to commit a felony. Indeed, if all that Trump had done was to have affairs and illegally pay hush money to cover it up, I’d argue that it wasn’t really even close to enough for impeachment. Worse than what Bill Clinton did, perhaps, in that Clinton merely lied about an affair, but Clinton never should have been impeached. 

No, what has really moved the needle on this is Trump’s constant cheap gangster rhetoric and flat-out unwillingness to support the rule of law. For example, it was utterly inappropriate for the president of the United States to comment during Paul Manafort’s trial, including while the jury was out. It undermines the rule of law for the president to constantly run down the Department of Justice, buying into wild and discredited conspiracy theories about how everyone in the government is out to get him and his associates.

It was outrageous for any president, much less one under investigation, to publicly go out of his way to call John Dean a “rat” for testifying accurately about Richard Nixon’s crimes. Trump’s pardons to date, given to political allies or based on personal connections outside of the normal procedures other presidents have used, were already an abuse of power. Discussing a pardon for Manafort with his personal attorneys, and then making sure that conversation wound up in the media, is an abuse as well, not to mention a form of obstruction of justice (because the way to get someone with damaging information about the president to stay silent is to offer or hint at future clemency, not to give one now). 

Or take his constant complaint about Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself from the Russia investigation. Trump’s nonsensical claim is that Sessions should have warned the president that he would recuse himself if nominated and confirmed, in which case Trump wouldn’t have offered him the job. But there was no investigation to recuse himself from when Trump offered the job. And recusing merely puts a different Trump nominee, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, in charge of the investigation. If Trump doesn’t like Rosenstein, fine. But it was Trump’s decision for Rosenstein to be there at all.

But to get to the heart of it: Sessions didn’t recuse himself for some random reason. He did it because he was part of the campaign that is being investigated. Trump mentioned that in his Fox News interview that aired Thursday, saying: “He was on the campaign. He knows there was no collusion.” What Trump is trying to do here is to turn the principle behind recusal upside down. For him, Sessions is especially qualified to take charge of the investigation because he has a personal connection to it.

I don’t even want to get into Trump whining about how the FBI treated Manafort and Cohen like crooks by raiding them to seize evidence. Trump is hardly alone in thinking that his (rich) friends shouldn’t be treated as real criminals (see Adam Serwer on that point), but again presidents are supposed to uphold equal justice under the law, not special favors for the well-connected.

All of this on top of "enemy of the people" and "lock her up" and more.

Perhaps it seems odd to say that those things — some crazy tweet about John Dean, really? — are the stuff of a case for impeachment. I disagree. Donald Trump is president. He has responsibilities that comes with the job — for example to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” He is responsible for upholding democracy and the rule of law in the United States, and he is simply not up to the task. 

And that’s really what it comes down to — beyond the abuses of power, beyond the obstruction of justice, beyond whatever petty or grand specific crimes we already know about and whatever we have yet to learn. Trump took an oath to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States,” and he is proving utterly unwilling to do so. 

For this, he deserves to be impeached and removed from office. I still don’t quite accept that it makes removal absolutely necessary — so that it would be equally irresponsible for Congress to fail to act. But we’re getting closer and closer to that point. 

1. At the Monkey Cage, John Sides has a new poll showing Democratic advantages heading into the fall campaign season.

2 . Melissa Deckman and Shauna Shames at Mischiefs of Faction on where the energy is among Democrats.

3. Perry Bacon Jr., reports that Republicans are running on impeachment this year, but Democrats are not. 

4. My Bloomberg Opinion colleague Ramesh Ponnuru on Trump and perjury traps.

5. And Madi Alexander at Bloomberg Government on the villain of Republican 2018 campaign commercials

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering politics and policy. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.

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