Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

at Old Post Office on July 23, 2014 in Washington, DC.
Paul Morigi/WireImage

I’ve seen a number of headlines today saying the Mueller Report puts Democrats on the spot. What are they going to do about? Are they duty bound to impeach? I remain in the same place on impeachment – more an indulgence than a step forward as long as there’s so much that needs investigating and Republicans remain in lockstep support of the President’s criminal behavior. I stress what should be obvious: impeachment is no more than inviting the Republican Senate to remove Trump from office. Claiming that the Report puts Democrats on the spot is akin to those miserable homes where no one has the power to take on the abusive raging father so they start abusing the dog because they need someone to lash out at. The simple fact is that the only reason we’re seeing even one word of Mueller’s Report is because Democrats won a House majority in November.

I think we can see, going on 24 hours out, that some of the details of the Report are beginning to sink in: a thoroughly lawless, criminal, persistently ridiculous administration and one supported in power, consistently protected by an entire political party. One of the striking things to me about the Report is how little in it is actually surprising. It’s hard to think of a single part that is genuinely new. Indeed, it’s difficult to find any major portion that hasn’t been reported in some fashion, in general if not specific terms. We know a lot more about the President’s obstruction. But the gist is the same.

It’s not that Democrats couldn’t be handling this better. There’s actually a key mistake I think they are making. When people believe deeply in something, when they’re outraged or highly motivated in some way, they often want more than conventional politics can easily give them, at least more than it can give them quickly. When it comes to oversight and investigations I’m usually that person saying that huffing and puffing more won’t change things. There’s a process, a legal process or an investigative one. This is as much a characterological tendency as an investigative one, and if you’re a longtime reader you likely recognize it in me. But there’s one key thing I fear the House investigators are getting very wrong, one way that they’re not catching up with the Trump era and Trump era rules. They are treating the oversight litigation and related legal processes as essentially legitimate. They’re not.

White House’s always have some tug of war with investigative committees over document production. Some level of that is a normal part of the process. That’s not what’s happening here. The President is refusing every request, subpoena and, notably, blocking cases where the Congress has the explicit statutory right to receive and review documents with no questions asked. In oversight terms, it’s an open declaration of war. As a process matter, with a lawless White House, the main recourse is to the courts. But treating these as ordinary legal processes is a big, big mistake. It creates the impression these are just standard legal processes that take time and must run their course. That creates a facade of legitimacy that must be torn down in the political realm.

In every portion of this Democratic leaders in the House need to be vocally and consistently making clear that what we’re dealing with is not a legal process but an on-going coverup, an unconstitutional refusal to obey the Congress’s lawful, constitutional mandate. That doesn’t force the President’s hands in itself of course. But it prevents lying to the public, pretending that what is happening now is a legitimate judicial process as opposed to a war on the constitution itself.

The President is a chronic lawbreaker. The Democrats have power in one half of one branch of government. The Democratic victory in the House in November is only reason we are seeing even one page of the Mueller Report. Ending Trump’s lawlessness won’t be easy as long as Republicans are committed to supporting his law breaking and the Courts are corrupted with Republican appointees committed to keeping him in office rather than enforcing the law. The demand is that the President must follow the law and his supporters who are keeping him in power, abetting his lawbreaking, must be held accountable.

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