Now that the House of Representatives is onboard the impeachment train, everyone is asking just where that train is going. Because Nancy Pelosi indicated that six existing committees, rather than a special impeachment committee, would be responsible for dealing with impeachment of the president, I initially assumed that the case to be made against President Donald Trump would be comprehensive. It seemed reasonable that the Ukraine affair (Ukrainegate?) was, to the Speaker of the House, the last straw, rather than the first incontrovertible high crime committed by the incumbent president. It will make a difference, however, whether the impeachment train leaves the station with a full complement of coaches or departs carrying a single railcar.
Democrats believe that Mr. Trump’s attempt to induce Ukraine to assist in his re-election campaign is egregious and unmistakably so. That this is not so clear to Republican politicians, however, suggests that the outrage felt by Democrats might not be universally appreciated by the electorate. If the House votes impeachment on the basis of Ukrainegate only—some have suggested this should be the case, and Ms. Pelosi has not been entirely clear about how the House should proceed—the case for removing the president may be unconvincing to the American people and to the Senate. The effort, in that case, would be a disaster and might well improve the chances of having to endure a second Trump term.
Since Mr. Trump seems to engage in treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors during most of his waking hours, it seems prudent to draw up articles of impeachment that convincingly portray a president out of control and more concerned with his own welfare than that of the nation. Such a comprehensive indictment is more likely to sway public opinion in its favor. Conviction by the Senate needs only a single infraction found to be a constitutional violation, so the House can improve the odds of conviction by giving the Senate more options to choose from. Besides, to limit impeachment to Ukrainegate might suggest that all the other insults to the Constitution committed by the president are unimportant. That would allow Republicans to suggest that Ukrainegate was merely an aberration, inconsistent with the president’s overall performance.
As much as my sense of justice is bouyed by Nancy Pelosi’s decision to set the impeachment train in motion, I find the development worrisome. I expressed my greatest fear in an earlier essay (Don’t Impeach Trump, July 25, 2019). Were Mr. Trump actually removed from office, Mike Pence would become president and, undoubtedly, would pardon Donald Trump for all past and future offenses, thereby depriving the Republic of the opportunity to indict the ex-president, convict him, and send him to prison.
There is another contingency that could prevent Mr. Trump from getting his just rewards, namely, resignation from office. The House of Representatives might build such a strong case for impeachment that Donald Trump, like Richard Nixon before him, might resign rather than face likely conviction by the Senate. (Admittedly, this would take much change-of-heart among GOP Senators.) Again, in this scenario, President Pence could pardon Mr. Trump and preserve his undeserved freedom.
Ukrainegate revelations are coming out uncomfortably fast. Some people believe this will allow a single-issue bill of impeachment to be drawn up rather quickly and approved by the House of Representatives. Either conviction or exoneration on such a bill would have a bad outcome. It will, in fact, take some time to fully investigate Ukrainegate, though it won’t take forever. It would be better for the house patiently to develop articles of impeachment involving all the incumbent's misdeeds without actually completing the process in time to send the impeachment train to the Senate before, one hopes, a new Democratic president is inaugurated. Slowly building the case against Donald Trump may strengthen public opinion against his presidency without either calling upon the Senate to act or alarming the president so much that he takes the Richard Nixon option.