Thursday’s release of the 400-plus-page Mueller report detailing a 22-month investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election creates a stark choice for congressional Democrats: Do they, or do they not, pursue impeachment proceedings built around the evidence unearthed in the report that suggests President Donald Trump repeatedly sought to meddle in the investigation?
This is no easy choice.
On the one hand, special counsel Robert Mueller concluded there was no conspiracy between Trump or anyone in his campaign orbit and the Russian government. And Mueller offered no recommendation as to whether Trump should be charged with obstructing the investigation.
On the other hand, Mueller unearthed a slew of examples of Trump trying to put his thumb on the scales of the investigation – from ordering White House counsel Donald McGahn to fire Mueller (McGahn refused) to telling Attorney General Jeff Sessions to un-recuse himself in the Russia probe (Sessions refused).
But I do think there is a clear right answer here – and it’s that Democrats should not seek to impeach Trump between now and November 2020. Here’s why:
1) Mueller found no smoking gun that, when presented to the public, would be definitive proof that Trump needs to go.
2) Even if Democrats were able to pass articles of impeachment through the House, the Senate remains in Republican hands and it’s extremely unlikely impeachment would go anywhere there.
Then there’s the fact that Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been, from the start, very skeptical about the prospect of impeachment. “I’m not for impeachment,” Pelosi said in an interview with The Washington Post last month. “Impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path, because it divides the country. And he’s just not worth it.”
Following that logic, there’s no chance that Pelosi will OK impeachment proceedings. There’s plenty in the Mueller report to keep Republicans, who have stood behind Trump ever more solidly over the past two-plus years, in line. There will be no broad-scale abandonment of Trump by the GOP. In fact, there may well be a rallying behind him – and a call for Democrats to move beyond the Mueller report.
On Thursday, after the release of the Mueller report, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told CNN’s Dana Bash this: “Based on what we have seen to date, going forward on impeachment is not worthwhile at this point. Very frankly, there is an election in 18 months and the American people will make a judgment.”
That’s the correct assessment.
The Point: Short of a clear and present crime, elections – not impeachments – are the way to decide whether the chief executive deserves to remain in that job.