Not Fast Enough

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I’ve said a number of times that I think impeachment under the present circumstances is a mistake. There are two reasons. The lesser of them is the near impossibility of removing President Trump from office. The greater one is that moving quickly toward impeachment rather that holding it as a cudgel in the process of on-going investigation gets in the way of aggressive investigations. If people want to apply pressure, that’s where to apply it. Yesterday it was revealed that Chairman Cummings had agreed to delay the Oversight Committee’s subpoena deadline until after a court hearing on May 14th, when a court holds a hearing into President Trump’s suit against Cummings and the Trump’s accounting firm Mazars USA.

This is a mistake.

We shouldn’t ignore the rising and escalating series of subpoenas and testimony demands the House is making. Nor should we think that Cummings doesn’t have his heart in the fight. He’s been among the most aggressive. I think the reason for the delay is out of a generalized deference to a judicial process – something that isn’t a bad thing in itself or in general. But the President is throwing up a barrage of frivolous and baseless refusals to comply with lawful congressional inquiries with the clear goal of simply running out the clock or grinding all the committees to standstill.

In that context, any delays are a mistake.

To be clear on the frivolity of most of these claims: in most cases, the President isn’t even citing a relevant privilege to refuse to comply. He’s basically just saying it’s none of Congress’s business. In the case of the fight over Don McGahn’s testimony, normally there would be substantial executive privilege arguments about the President’s communications with his White House Counsel. But McGahn already discussed the conversations with the Special Counsel’s Office. They’re part of a public report. So at least for those discussions the ship has pretty clearly sailed.

As I noted below, there’s a good chance the Trump Supreme Court will uphold many of these frivolous claims simply out of loyalty to the President. But if that’s going to happen it should happen sooner than later. On all fronts Democrats need to be escalating these fights, bringing them to a head, even if they end with substantively bad outcomes.

The challenge here isn’t bad court rulings or extra-constitutional refusals but having the whole thing sink into a morass of muddled judicial paper-pushing that looks to be going nowhere and in practice is going nowhere. That is not just demoralizing to Democrats, which is a matter of great consequence in itself, it wastes time. You win battles by attacking, not by waiting. In this case, you win not simply by winning particular court fights or gaining specific testimony. You win by making it visually clear every day that one side is trying to investigate relevant, consequential issues and the other is covering up at every turn. Another way to put it that while these processes are judicial and procedural they are more than anything else political, which is to say public processes that are inextricably matters of public debate and over which the public should have the final say.

In the particular case of this delay, I’ve been trying to find out if there is some specific reason was this was really necessary. Was there some tactical advantage or legal necessity. I couldn’t find anything out on that front. So possibly there’s some. But I doubt it. I think it is more that people are accustomed to deferring to a judicial process, even when the political context no longer makes that appropriate.

The Democrats need to be escalating these fights. Because Trump is putting the country in danger and continues to cover up his criminal activities.

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