FOR MONTHS, CONGRESSIONAL Democrats have been engaged in a spirited argument over whether or not to impeach President Trump.
So far the skeptics have been winning. But any doubts that Democrats still have should be put to rest after the testimony of former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski earlier this week before the House Judiciary Committee.
It’s not just that Lewandowski confirmed one of the most damning conclusions of the Mueller report — namely, that he’d been asked by President Trump to instruct Attorney General Jeff Sessions to end the part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation focused on interference in the 2016 election, i.e. obstruction of justice.
It’s that Lewandowski’s testimony — in its bluster, contempt, and disregard for a co-equal branch of government — demonstrated the extent to which Trumpism has dangerously infected our national politics and is eroding the foundations of our constitutional system piece-by-piece.
Media coverage of Lewandowski’s contentious appearance on Wednesday focused mainly on his brazen assertion that “I have no obligation to be honest to the media.”
But of far greater significance is the fact that Lewandowski either filibustered or refused to answer many of the congressional queries because, he said, the president had directed him not to cooperate.
Indeed, the House Judiciary Committee had subpoenaed two former administration officials, Rick Dearborn and Rob Porter, to appear at the same hearing as Lewandowski. They were blocked by the White House from even appearing, adding to a regular Trump administration pattern of preventing the testimony of former and current officials.
The president has no authority to do any of this.
Congress has clear constitutional standing to subpoena witnesses and demand they answer questions — even if they once worked in the White House and especially if, like Lewandowski, they did not. But the White House view appears to be that Congress has no right to investigate any aspect of the Trump administration. Period.
It’s hard to do justice to how insanely unconstitutional this position is. Even more insane: Republicans who serve in the institution that the president is ignoring and disrespecting apparently care not one whit.
No congressional Republicans pushed back on Lewandowski’s testimony. None were troubled by his corroboration that the president sought to obstruct justice.
And Lewandowski, sensing the political opportunity, used a break in the testimony to tweet a link to a website supporting his potential bid for a US Senate seat. While Lewandowski has yet to formally announce, Trump has offered his support and early polling shows him ahead of other potential Republican candidates in New Hampshire.
Let’s be honest: His preening insolence likely did more to help than harm him with Trump-besotted voters in the Granite State.
To be sure, it’s easy to dismiss Lewandowski as a buffoon. But his actions are an unmistakable by-product of Trump’s ongoing contempt for the Constitution. It also puts the impeachment debate in a different light.
There’s an obvious argument for Trump’s removal on legal grounds, i.e. the evidence of obstruction contained in the Mueller Report (among his other offenses). The even stronger argument is that Trump’s violation of the system of checks and balances that is the bedrock of American democracy is doing ongoing harm.
How long can Congress sit back and ignore not only Trump’s defiance, but the defiance of Trump lackeys like Lewandowski?
With Republicans controlling the Senate, a House impeachment of Trump would likely be little more than a performative act — a way to register congressional disapproval of the president’s conduct and hold him politically accountable for his actions.
But not impeaching Trump is a performative act too — a signal sent (and heard loud and clear by the White House and its supporters) that there are no consequences for behavior that goes against basic democratic principles.
For House Democrats to decide they will forgo the only constitutional tool at their disposal for holding a wayward president accountable is to say that none of this matters — that open defiance of Congress is OK as long as Democrats can force Trump out at the next election.
It’s not OK — and the United States Congress, of all institutions, should recognize this. Sometimes bold statements are what is needed when the political system goes so far off the rails.
Trumpism has infested the GOP and the nation’s politics. How can Democrats ultimately defeat this malignancy if they are so unwilling to directly confront it?
Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.