The Washington Post

Give Trump an ul­ti­ma­tum on his stonewalli­ng

- E.J. DIONNE JR. Twit­ter: @EJDionne U.S. News · US Politics · Politics · US Elections · Republican Party Politics · Donald Trump · Republican Party (United States) · Robert Mueller · Congress of the United States · Michigan · White House · Richard Nixon · Bill Clinton · United States Senate · Justin Amash

If you want to un­der­stand how fun­da­men­tally Pres­i­dent Trump and his Repub­li­can al­lies have dam­aged our ca­pac­ity for self­gov­ern­ment, look no fur­ther than the de­bate over whether he should be im­peached.

In a more vir­tu­ous po­lit­i­cal world, a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of Repub­li­cans would read Robert S. Mueller III’s re­port and de­cide: Yes, th­ese find­ings de­serve thor­ough in­ves­ti­ga­tion — if only to pre­vent a for­eign power from in­ter­fer­ing in our elec­tions again. Both par­ties would, to­gether, push the ad­min­is­tra­tion to honor Congress’s right to hear from ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials and get doc­u­ments. We would al­ready be mov­ing for­ward with a com­pre­hen­sive in­quest.

But Repub­li­cans (with the hon­or­able ex­cep­tion of Rep. Justin Amash of Michi­gan) are do­ing no such thing. So an en­tirely le­git­i­mate search for truth gets branded as a “par­ti­san” ex­er­cise.

And, in a func­tion­ing repub­lic, Congress and the White House would be deal­ing with ac­tual prob­lems the coun­try faces. Much use­ful work got done dur­ing the de­bates over whether to im­peach Richard M. Nixon and Bill Clin­ton. But the Trump pres­i­dency puts prob­lem-solv­ing on hold, ex­cept for deal­ing with the ar­ti­fi­cial crises he gins up. And Repub­li­cans in the Se­nate have lit­tle on their agenda ex­cept rail­road­ing through Trump’s judges and block­ing more than 150 bills the Demo­cratic House has sent their way. This feeds the false­hood that gov­ern­ing and in­ves­ti­gat­ing can’t hap­pen si­mul­ta­ne­ously. Of course they can.

This dysfunctio­n leads to the Im­peach Now/Im­peach Later/Don’t Im­peach de­bate that is driv­ing Democrats

crazy. And there are good moral ar­gu­ments on each side.

The moral ar­gu­ment for im­peach­ment is com­pelling: If what Trump has done is not im­peach­able, noth­ing is im­peach­able. The ev­i­dence of po­ten­tial ob­struc­tion of jus­tice out­lined in the Mueller re­port should be enough, but there is so much more: re­fus­ing to sep­a­rate him­self from con­flicts of in­ter­est with his busi­nesses; al­leged cam­paign fi­nance vi­o­la­tions in con­nec­tion with hush-money pay­ments; po­ten­tial vi­o­la­tions of the emol­u­ments clause of the Con­sti­tu­tion; lies, lies and more lies; and — well, you can fill in the rest, be­cause I don’t have room here.

But the moral case on the other side, rooted in a com­mit­ment to democ­racy, is also per­sua­sive: The best path for the coun­try in the long run is for Trump to face over­whelm­ing re­pu­di­a­tion at the polls in Novem­ber 2020. We will be so close to an elec­tion by the time im­peach­ment works it­self through that Democrats would be ac­cused, not en­tirely with­out rea­son, of try­ing to take out of the hands of vot­ers a de­ci­sion that is rightly theirs to make.

This ar­gu­ment quickly raises po­lit­i­cal ques­tions: Wouldn’t the im­peach­ment process it­self, even with­out a con­vic­tion in the Se­nate, al­low the House to lay out for vot­ers just how egre­gious Trump’s be­hav­ior has been and thus in­crease the like­li­hood of his de­feat? Wouldn’t it be an un­equiv­o­cal state­ment that the pres­i­dent is not above the law? Might an im­peach­ment in­quiry be the only way to guar­an­tee that the courts force wit­nesses to ap­pear and doc­u­ments to be de­liv­ered?

Fair enough. But wouldn’t Trump, whose only in­ter­est is self-in­ter­est, find other ways to re­sist, to keep the dis­tract­ing cir­cus go­ing and con­tinue to win sup­port from supine Repub­li­cans? And I don’t know about you, but I have lit­tle faith in how con­ser­va­tive judges would rule on th­ese mat­ters even if an im­peach­ment in­quiry were started.

By tear­ing one an­other up over the im­peach­ment ques­tion, Democrats only serve Trump’s in­ter­ests by di­vid­ing and dispir­it­ing the very peo­ple who most want him driven from of­fice.

Per­son­ally, I con­tinue to pre­fer a glo­ri­ous elec­tion night in which Amer­i­cans tell the world that we are not Trump­ists and Trump is not us. The best way to get there is to fo­cus pub­lic at­ten­tion not on the im­peach­ment de­bate it­self but on the hor­ror of Trump’s ac­tions — and on the Repub­li­can Party’s flight from prob­lem­solv­ing.

Thus, a modest pro­posal that is im­per­fect but may be the only prac­ti­cal way for­ward: Democrats should publicly time-limit their for­bear­ance. Give the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion a set amount of time — say, 60 days — to re­spond to sub­poe­nas for wit­nesses and doc­u­ments and end the block­ade on tes­ti­mony from cur­rent and former of­fi­cials. Make clear that if the stonewalli­ng con­tin­ues, an im­peach­ment in­quiry will start.

In the end, there should be one over­rid­ing im­per­a­tive: The Trump pres­i­dency must end, at the lat­est, on Jan. 20, 2021. Given the Repub­li­cans’ com­plic­ity with Trump, it’s a nearcer­tainty that only the vot­ers can make this hap­pen. All think­ing about im­peach­ment must keep this goal in mind.

 ?? JABIN BOTSFORD/THE WASH­ING­TON POST ?? Pres­i­dent Trump on the South Lawn at the White House on Fri­day.
JABIN BOTSFORD/THE WASH­ING­TON POST Pres­i­dent Trump on the South Lawn at the White House on Fri­day.

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