What, pre­cisely, do Democrats want to im­peach Trump for?

The Star Democrat - - OPINION - BY­RON YORK By­ron York is chief po­lit­i­cal cor­re­spon­dent for The Wash­ing­ton Ex­am­iner.

Newly sworn-in Demo­cratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib elec­tri­fied pro­gres­sives with her pas­sion­ate dec­la­ra­tion that she and her col­leagues will “im­peach the moth­erf---er” — the “moth­erf---er,” of course, be­ing Pres­i­dent Trump.

Demo­cratic lead­ers were em­bar­rassed that a high-pro­file fresh­man would speak so frankly in pub­lic. But hours be­fore Tlaib spoke, on the first day of Demo­cratic con­trol of the House, an­other Demo­crat, Rep. Brad Sher­man, filed a res­o­lu­tion of im­peach­ment. Sher­man’s res­o­lu­tion was later co-spon­sored by an­other col- league, Demo­cratic Rep. Al Green.

The ef­forts by Sher­man and Green, who filed his own ar­ti­cles in 2017, and an­other House Demo­crat, Rep. Steve Cohen, who also in­tro­duced ar­ti­cles in Trump’s first months in of­fice, are noth­ing new. Nor are those ef­forts a lonely quest. In an early 2018 pro­ce­dural vote, 66 Democrats voted in fa­vor of mov­ing an im­peach­ment mea­sure for­ward.

But on what grounds, specif­i­cally, do the pro-im­peach­ment Democrats in­tend to re­move the pres­i­dent? The new Sher­man/Green res­o­lu­tion, and Green’s and Cohen’s res­o­lu­tions from last year, are not ex­actly a com­pre­hen­sive re­count­ing of Trump’s al­leged of­fenses.

Sher­man’s is based en­tirely on the pres­i­dent’s fir­ing of FBI Direc­tor James Comey and the Comey memos, while Green’s ar­ti­cles seek to re­move Trump for “sow­ing dis­cord among the peo­ple of the United States” with his com­ments on Char­lottesville, trans­gen­der troops and Mus­lim im­mi­gra­tion. (In an ear­lier ver­sion, Green also sought to im­peach Trump for state­ments about Rep. Fred­er­ica Wil­son and NFL play­ers who do not stand for the na­tional an­them.)

Cohen’s ar­ti­cles re­hashed much of Sher­man’s ob­struc­tion al­le­ga­tion, while adding a charge that Trump vi­o­lated the Con­sti­tu­tion’s emol­u­ments clause, plus ar­ti­cles seek­ing to re­move Trump for tweet­ing about fed­eral judges and call­ing some press or­ga­ni­za­tions “fake news.”

Judg­ing by the ar­ti­cles cur­rently on the ta­ble, Democrats will have to raise their im­peach­ment game if they choose to go for­ward with an at­tempt to re­move the pres­i­dent.

Sher­man’s sin­gle ar­ti­cle of im­peach­ment, orig­i­nally filed on July 12, 2017 and re-filed last week, said Trump vi­o­lated his con­sti­tu­tional oath to take care that the laws be faith­fully ex­e­cuted be­cause he “pre­vented, ob­structed and im­peded the ad­min­is­tra­tion of jus­tice dur­ing a fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion.” Specif­i­cally, Trump vi­o­lated his oath by “threat­en­ing, and then ter­mi­nat­ing, James Comey.”

As ev­i­dence, Sher­man cited a “pat­tern of be­hav­ior” in which Trump asked Comey to lay off Michael Flynn; de­cided to fire Comey be­fore ask­ing the Jus­tice De­part­ment for a ra­tio­nale for the move; gave vary­ing rea­sons for the fir­ing; and said sack­ing Comey had re­duced the pres­sure on him from the Russia in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Green’s res­o­lu­tion of im­peach­ment did not re­ally ac­cuse Trump of com­mit­ting high crimes and mis­de­meanors as pres­i­dent. It was, in­stead, an ar­gu­ment that Trump should be re­moved from of­fice be­cause his “big­oted state­ments” have “harmed Amer­i­can so­ci­ety.”

Cohen’s ar­ti­cles, in­tro­duced in the House on Nov. 15, 2017, were the most ex­ten­sive of the lot. They over­lapped with Sher­man’s on the Comey ob­struc­tion charge, but also in­cluded an ex­ten­sive list of al­leged vi­o­la­tions of the emol­u­ments clause by Trump’s var­i­ous busi­nesses. Trump’s de­ci­sion to re­tain links to his busi­ness, the ar­ti­cles said, “un­der­mined the in­tegrity of his of­fice, brought dis­re­pute on the pres­i­dency, and be­trayed his trust as pres­i­dent in a man­ner sub­ver­sive of con­sti­tu­tional govern­ment, against the cause of law and jus­tice and to the man­i­fest in­jury of the peo­ple of the United States.”

Of the three mea­sures, only Green’s has re­ceived a vote. It came on Jan. 19, 2018, when the House voted on a mo­tion to ta­ble the mea­sure. Sixty-six Democrats voted against the mo­tion, mean­ing they fa­vored mov­ing for­ward with the ar­ti­cles, while 121 Democrats voted to ta­ble the mea­sure and three voted present. All Repub­li­cans voted to ta­ble the mea­sure.

There’s lit­tle doubt the new Demo­cratic ma­jor­ity leans far­ther left than last year’s Demo­cratic mi­nor­ity. Were they put to a vote to­day, Green’s res­o­lu­tion, or Sher­man’s, or Cohen’s, might re­ceive more than the 66 votes a year ago.

On the other hand, even put to­gether, the Green, Sher­man and Cohen ar­ti­cles are pretty thin gruel. Yes, the Comey mat­ter would likely be part of any Demo­cratic im­peach­ment ar­ti­cles, but Democrats would cer­tainly want to throw in ad­di­tional rea­sons why Trump should be re­moved. They would cer­tainly want to in­clude, for ex­am­ple, the al­le­ga­tion made by fed­eral prose­cu­tors in New York that Trump vi­o­lated cam­paign fi­nance law by not re­port­ing a hush money pay­ment to Stormy Daniels.

It’s a difficult le­gal ar­gu­ment, but House Democrats don’t need to con­vict the pres­i­dent in a court of law; they just need to give sen­a­tors a rea­son to vote for re­moval. Be­yond that, it seems un­likely — al­though there’s no way to say for sure at this point — that Democrats would try to re­move Trump for tweet­ing about judges and bash­ing the press.

Part of the Demo­cratic lead­er­ship’s dis­may at Rep. Tlaib’s re­mark is that it might di­rect at­ten­tion to the law­mak­ers who are cur­rently ad­vo­cat­ing im­peach­ment, and the ac­tual con­tent of the ar­ti­cles they have filed. Is that what the party wants? Green, Sher­man, Cohen, et al are on the fringes of the Demo­cratic cau­cus. But at some point, the big Demo­cratic guns will take over the im­peach­ment ef­fort, and the pub­lic will see how se­ri­ous they are about re­mov­ing the pres­i­dent.

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