Gehrke: After Mueller spoke his mind, Congress was left with just one option  — impeaching the president

Robert Gehrke

After two years of silence, the now-retired special counsel Robert Mueller made his first and probably last public statement last week and made two things clear.

First, Russian intelligence “launched a concerted attack on our political system,” a fact that should concern every American.

Second, Mueller’s team did not make a determination as to whether Trump obstructed justice in his repeated efforts to impede the investigation.

“If we had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said that,” he said, echoing the conclusion of his report.

Justice Department policy, Mueller cited, “says that the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing.”

That constitutional process, of course, is impeachment, and Mueller’s comments reignited calls from some members of Congress to begin that process. Rep. Ben McAdams, Utah’s lone Democrat in Congress, was not among them.

“Congress,” McAdams said, “will continue its oversight role.”

However, from his perspective, impeachment proceedings “would require meeting a high bar and would have to be sufficiently bipartisan.”

McAdams is in a perilous position politically, having barely won his seat in 2018 and already having numerous Republicans lining up to challenge him in 2020. His political survival relies on not alienating moderate Republicans and unaffiliated voters, so “caution” is his default setting.

Personally, I’ve gone back and forth on this question and, frankly, resisted calling for impeachment because I remember the damage done during the impeachment of Bill Clinton. However, I’ve come to the conclusion that Congress has run out of options. It is time to begin formal impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump. Here’s why.

Impeaching a president is one of the most drastic actions Congress can take. It should not be done lightly and should not be used as a political weapon.

“To me it’s a dirty word, the word ‘impeach,’” Trump said last week. “It’s a dirty, filthy, disgusting word.”

He also said he “can’t imagine the courts allowing” him to be impeached, so clearly he doesn’t have a clue what it actually is.

Impeachment is, as Mueller called it, a process and that process begins with fact-finding. Often it’s compared to convening a grand jury, where evidence can be gathered and presented and weighed to determine if “high crimes or misdemeanors” were committed.

Theoretically, Congress already has, or should have, the power to conduct investigations, but the Trump administration is circling the wagons, ignoring or fighting every request and subpoena from the House Judiciary Committee for testimony or documents.

If Congress can’t compel officials to testify or the government to provide documents, it makes it impossible to conduct that fundamental “oversight role” that McAdams referred to.

The issues related to Trump’s stonewalling are now being litigated in court. But a subpoena issued as part of a formal impeachment inquiry would carry a lot more weight in the court’s eyes. A formal inquiry also would likely enable the Judiciary Committee to get access to grand jury testimony gathered by the Mueller investigation (a precedent set during the Nixon impeachment).

And where would all that get us?

That has always been my big reservation. Because no matter what the inquiry reveals, partisans like Rep. Chris Stewart will twist themselves in knots defending Trump to the bitter end. The partisans on the left, meanwhile, have already fashioned the noose.

And assuming a majority of the House does approve articles of impeachment, there still is almost no conceivable way that 67 senators (which would need to include 18 Republicans) would vote to convict Trump.

“I do not think impeachment is the right way to go,” Sen. Mitt Romney said last week on CNN. “I don’t think a prosecutor would actually look at this and say you have here all the elements to get this to a conviction.”

Asked during a town hall if he would consider impeaching Trump, Sen. Mike Lee put it this way: “I will vote against impeaching the president. I’m not aware of any impeachable offenses that he has committed, so no, heavens no. I’m not going to vote to remove someone who I don’t believe has done anything impeachable.”

Lee went on to say he thinks it would be a “huge mistake for [Democrats] politically” to pursue impeachment.

And he might be right. It could be a liability for Democrats — particularly those like McAdams — to go down this road.

But this shouldn’t be about politics (even though it probably will be).

Mueller and his investigation took the question of whether the president obstructed justice as far as he could, then handed it over to Congress. Now Congress has an obligation, right there in the Constitution, to exercise its power to determine if Trump committed “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

The public and the president deserve closure and, at this point, the only way to get there may be a dirty, filthy word to some, but it’s time to begin Trump’s impeachment.