When House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler and Speaker Nancy Pelosi claimed that the United States had been plunged into a “constitutional crisis” this week, a large swath of the media took to plying this fantasy for them.
“Ever wonder what a constitutional crisis looks like? Well, open your eyes,” CNN’s Don Lemon explained to his viewers. “The president of the United States is just blowing right through our system of checks and balances, the very thing that is supposed to keep our Congress, the judiciary, and the executive branch working, which means our country working. He is engaging in an ongoing cover-up by defying at every turn the representatives of you, the American people, the very people who are supposed to be investigating fact-finding on our behalf.”
None of this is remotely true. Our checks and balances are working exactly as they should. Congress is free to make perpetual demands for information and testimony, and threaten the White House with contempt charges and impeachment when it doesn’t get its way. The White House, in turn, is free to assert executive privilege and decline to hand over that information or give testimony.
Both the legislature and the executive branches have the option of asking the judiciary to weigh in on the matter. It’s not as if Donald Trump is blatantly ignoring the courts, as his predecessor often did. If voters disagree, they have the option of punishing elected officials by voting against them. If the legislature disagrees, it has an even more forceful solution available, and that’s impeachment.
History didn’t begin in 2016. Every modern president has asserted executive privilege. Attorneys general have been cited for contempt on much firmer grounds. Former attorney general Janet Reno was found in contempt in 1998 for refusing to turn over memos about Bill Clinton’s campaign finances.
In 2012, Eric Holder became the first U.S. attorney general in history to be held in both criminal and civil contempt after refusing to hand over memos detailing his knowledge about the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’s disastrous and bloody gunrunning scheme. Nadler knows this, because he joined a Democratic Party walkout protesting the Holder vote.
Yet no Obama administration official was arrested. There were no impeachments. TV anchors didn’t unsheathe melodramatic monologues about the corrosion of law and the end of democracy.
Moreover, contra Lemon, there’s no cover-up. After accurately describing the bottom line of the Mueller report, Barr released it, and now every American can read the results of a two-year, open-ended, independent investigation that, despite its best efforts, eviscerated the panic-stricken Russia collusion conspiracies of the left and political media.
The attorney general, in fact, has given Democrats access to all but two full and seven partial lines of Volume II (the op-ed section of the report)—or, as the Department of Justice put it, more than 98 percent of the entire 448-page report. Not one Democrat as of this writing thought it important enough to review the minimally redacted version of the report. It’s one of the surest signs that this is all political spectacle.
For two-plus years, Democrats and their allies took advantage of a cooked-up conspiracy theory, and used the subsequent investigation as cover to disparage their opponents as traitors and spineless enablers—not only crowding out useful debate of the Trump presidency but fueling an emotionalist argument that confuses “attacks on democracy” with “not getting my way.” Now, they’ve merely transferred those hysterics to another manufactured drama.
The same people who never met a constitutional amendment they didn’t want to weaken or destroy will now act as if a middling procedural showdown is the next Watergate. Mainstream media stories about Nadler’s fishing expeditions have already framed Democrats as stewards of law and order, forced into impeachment by inflexible Republicans.
It will never be enough. If Trump is a criminal who flirts with treason and threatens the very existence of the Constitution, don’t Democrats have a duty to impeach the president? When Lemon asked Nadler about this, the congressman answered, “[i]t may come to that if the president keeps up with this conduct, but we’ll see.” Why wait?
The intelligence committee’s Rep. Adam Schiff (D-California) has maintained for years that he has incontrovertible evidence of the administration colluding with Russia. Pelosi has claimed on numerous occasions that Trump engaged in criminal behavior. It’s so bad, she recently argued, that the president is “self-impeachable,” whatever that means.
It’s one thing for Congress to run forever investigations, which have become the norm in Washington. It’s another to spend two years—and possibly six, if Trump wins in 2020—using congressional power to create bogus “constitutional crises” that continue to corrode genuine checks and balances.
It’s difficult to believe anyone really thinks impeachment is a good idea after an independent investigation blew up the Russiagate conspiracy. But Democrats run the House. They have the votes to get it done. According to their own rhetoric, they have duty to impeach no matter what the Senate does. An impeachment proceeding that compels Democrats to lay out their case would be far preferable to this show trial—what the Wall Street Journal editorial page dubbed “The Pseudo-Impeachment.” Let’s do it already.