Here are a few things we know about Donald Trump.
According to the Justice Department, he has committed multiple felonies.
Based on his public statements, he has sought to interfere and obstruct the special counsel’s investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign. In recent weeks he has dangled the possibility of pardons for former aides who could potentially incriminate him in wrongdoing. He’s publicly engaged in witness tampering, and has allegedly pushed the Justice Department to investigate and prosecute his political opponents.
He is personally profiting from holding the office of the presidency.
Considering the substantial evidence that he has committed high crimes and misdemeanors, why aren’t we talking about impeachment proceedings in Congress?
Ironically, it’s not just Republicans who are blocking such a step. Last weekend, Democratic Representative Jerry Nadler of New York, who will be the next chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, argued that if Trump did instruct his former lawyer, Michael Cohen (the other one), to make hush payments to women who alleged affairs with him, it would represent “impeachable offenses.” But “whether they’re important enough to justify an impeachment,” said Nadler, “is a different question.”
According to Nadler, several questions need to be asked. For example, “How important were they? Do they rise to the gravity where you should undertake an impeachment?”
In a vacuum, this argument might make sense, but it’s not as if we don’t have substantial evidence that Trump has committed multiple impeachable offenses. Indeed, the president’s involvement in a conspiracy to violate campaign finance laws might be the least of his criminal acts.
Democrats fear that moving forward with impeachment will upset voters who they believe are not interested in investigations of the president. Recent polling, which shows that a majority of Americans are opposed to impeachment, supports this view.
Also, if the Democratic-led House of Representatives were to impeach Trump, there’s very little chance that two-thirds of the Republican-controlled Senate would follow through with conviction. Why upset Trump’s most fervent supporters on something that is basically a lost cause?
The answer is actually rather straightforward:
If the president commits impeachable offenses, Congress has a responsibility to hold him accountable for his actions. If it doesn’t, it makes a mockery of the rule of law.
Democrats must act because we know that Republicans will not. Their collective response to the latest allegations against Trump is yet another case of see no evil and hear no evil.
“I don’t think he was involved in crimes,” Senator Orrin Hatch said when asked by reporters , “but even then, you know, you can make anything a crime under the current laws if you want to.” Hatch, who is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, tried to blame Democrats for wanting to “hurt this president.” But when it was pointed out that federal prosecutors were the ones to have implicated Trump in a crime, Hatch said the quiet part loud. “OK, but I don’t care. All I can say is he’s doing a good job as president.”
Other Republicans questioned whether Trump actually committed a crime. “If we’re going to prosecute people and put them in jail for campaign finance violations, we’re going to become a banana republic,” said Rand Paul.
Some suggested that the charges have no credibility because they rely on the word of Cohen. As if excusing a wayward child, Republicans have repeatedly found ways to rationalize Trump’s illegal actions.
In doing so, they have put their narrow political interests ahead of the most basic democratic norms. Democrats can’t take the same course.
The political pitfalls of impeachment are impossible to ignore, but if ever there was a moment that transcends short-term political imperatives, it is now. American democracy cannot long survive having an acknowledged law-breaker in the White House. The president is a credibly accused criminal, and a failure to act will encourage more bad behavior.
The Constitution provides a solitary remedy for holding a law-breaking president accountable for his actions. If Democrats don’t begin the process of impeachment — and make clear that the rule of law in America is sacrosanct — they will be complicit in Trump’s ongoing assault on democracy.Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.