The mo­ral im­per­a­tive of impeachmen­t

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - EJ Dionne Colum­nist E.J. Dionne is on Twit­ter: @ EJDionne.

“Let’s be se­ri­ous.” It was not French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron’s pur­pose to pro­vide a slo­gan for the impeachmen­t ef­fort against Pres­i­dent Trump, which en­tered a new phase Wed­nes­day with the open­ing of the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee hear­ings. In of­fer­ing those ex­plo­sive words at a news con­fer­ence with Trump the day be­fore, Macron re­minded us of the stakes in this bat­tle. It re­ally is a deadly se­ri­ous busi­ness.

The pres­i­dent’s par­ti­sans on the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee tried hard to make it oth­er­wise. “This impeachmen­t is not re­ally about the facts,” de­clared Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the Trump hard­liner who is the rank­ing Repub­li­can on the com­mit­tee.

But it most cer­tainly is about the facts. There are the facts in the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee’s com­pre­hen­sive re­port re­leased Tues­day. And there are the of­ten-em­bar­rass­ing events vis­i­ble for all to see dur­ing this week’s NATO sum­mit. Collins’ state­ment makes sense only for those con­sciously choos­ing to avoid the facts — or, worse, to put for­ward lies, as Repub­li­cans do when they weaponize Rus­sian dic­ta­tor Vladimir Putin’s pro­pa­ganda to claim falsely that Ukraine tried to in­flu­ence our last elec­tion.

The most im­por­tant charge in the In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee’s re­port is this one: that “the Pres­i­dent placed his per­sonal po­lit­i­cal in­ter­ests above the na­tional in­ter­ests of the United States.”

Trump’s other of­fenses flow from this one. That is es­pe­cially true of his will­ing­ness to press for­eign gov­ern­ments to med­dle in our elec­tions, as he did with Ukraine’s pres­i­dent, or to is­sue an open in­vi­ta­tion to a for­eign gov­ern­ment to jump right in. That’s what he did with his in­fa­mous “Rus­sia, if you’re lis­ten­ing” com­ment dur­ing the 2016 campaign.

Trump’s nar­row, ob­ses­sive fo­cus on him­self and him­self alone is now so widely ac­cepted that it is taken for granted. Thus, the pro­found threat that this poses to our in­ter­ests as a na­tion is rou­tinely ig­nored or down­played.

“Trump be­ing Trump” — or what Repub­li­can Reps. Devin Nunes of Cal­i­for­nia, Jim Jordan of Ohio and Michael McCaul of Texas tried to glo­rify as his “‘out­side the Beltway’ ap­proach to diplomacy” — can no longer be an ex­cuse for over­look­ing how much weaker the United States is to­day than it was 1,048 days ago.

The NATO sum­mit is a prime ex­am­ple of how nar­cis­sism-as-for­eign-pol­icy is com­pro­mis­ing our na­tion’s role in the world and sow­ing tur­moil and divi­sion among our al­lies. As The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake noted Tues­day, the pres­i­dent had “thrown NATO into a state of chaos, con­tra­dicted his own ad­min­is­tra­tion on mul­ti­ple oc­ca­sions and caused a plunge in the stock mar­ket.”

Just another day on the job for Trump.

Nor­mally we re­move a bad pres­i­dent through elec­tions. But all three law pro­fes­sors called be­fore the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee by the Democrats — Noah Feld­man, Pamela Kar­lan and Michael Ger­hardt — cited Wil­liam Richard­son Davie’s 1787 argument for in­clud­ing an impeachmen­t pro­vi­sion in the Constituti­on by way of un­der­scor­ing the ur­gency of act­ing now.

Davie, Feld­man said, “was point­ing out that impeachmen­t was nec­es­sary to ad­dress the sit­u­a­tion where a pres­i­dent tried to cor­rupt elec­tions.” If a pres­i­dent could not be re­moved, as Davie put it, “he will spare no ef­forts or means what­ever to get him­self re­elected.”

The over­rid­ing case for im­peach­ing the pres­i­dent is just that: Af­ter one elec­tion in which Trump wel­comed Rus­sia’s in­ter­ven­tion, he plainly in­vited — in­deed, “de­manded,” as Kar­lan noted — for­eign in­ter­ven­tion again, this time from Ukraine.

“Our elec­tions be­come less free when they are dis­torted by for­eign in­ter­fer­ence,” Kar­lan said. “But that dis­tor­tion is mag­ni­fied if a sit­ting pres­i­dent abuses the pow­ers of his of­fice ac­tu­ally to in­vite for­eign in­ter­ven­tion.” Ex­actly.

There is a sec­ond rea­son for the House to vote for impeachmen­t: It is time to put Se­nate Repub­li­cans, par­tic­u­larly those who have claimed some independen­ce from Trump, to the Macron test: Are they se­ri­ous?

Repub­li­cans have al­ways said they were tough-minded and se­ri­ous about Amer­ica’s in­ter­ests in the world. They have given count­less speeches about “the rule of law,” be­ing “tough on crime” and op­pos­ing abuses of presidenti­al author­ity. Yet my Post col­league (and for­mer Repub­li­can) Max Boot ex­pressed an un­var­nished view this week of the path Repub­li­cans are now pur­su­ing by go­ing all-in for Trump.

“By turn­ing into apol­o­gists and ad­vo­cates for a Rus­sian dic­ta­tor,” he wrote, “the Repub­li­can Party has be­come all that it once de­spised.”

Does the party want this to be its epi­taph? Is it as un­se­ri­ous about the na­tion’s in­ter­ests as Trump is? Sen­a­tors claim­ing to be above this sort of thing should not be al­lowed to take the path of eva­sion.

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