Opinions Live with Eugene Robinson: We officially have articles of impeachment

Dec 10, 2019

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Hello, everyone, and welcome. Well, it's on. The House has released the two articles of impeachment that the Judiciary Committee and the full House will soon vote on, and Donald J. Trump will almost surely become the third president in U.S. history to be impeached and stand trial in the Senate. To say the least, this is a very big deal. The charges are Abuse of Power and Obstruction of Congress, and they stem from the Ukraine bribery scheme. So we might want to chat about that. On a different subject, today's column is about the 16-year-old Guatemalan migrant who died of influenza and neglect earlier this year in the custody of the U.S. Border Patrol. It's a tragic story, and a reminder that even as we focus on impeachment, the coming election is pretty important, too. Let's get started.

During the upcoming Senate trial of POTUS, Donald J. Trump, can you envision any potential evidence-derived from either corroborated fact witnesses or documents- that could engender the required two thirds majority of Senators to vote to convict?

One thing we should have learned over the past few years is that nothing is impossible. After all, Donald Trump is president. I don't know what would change the minds of Republican senators, but I also don't know (and neither does anyone) exactly how the trial is going to work. Will there be new witnesses? Will damning new information emerge? I know that Mitch McConnell doesn't want there to be surprises, but trials are unpredictable so stay tuned.

What's the timing rush for filing the articles of impeachment? The demonstration of our Rule of Law is much stronger when the courts, including the Supreme Court, rule that Congressional subpoenas must be honored. Once people like Bolton and Pompeo and McGahn and Mulvaney are required to testify under oath, they are not so likely to give Trump a pass. Won't this impeachment be successful only if the American people (overwhelmingly) support it? Bill Clinton hasn't suffered because of his failed impeachment.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff explained this morning that the House sees this as an urgent matter. He said (and I think he's right) that the president surely will try to run out the clock, that the courts will take months to give a definitive ruling, and that meanwhile the president will continue to seek foreign influence in the coming election. And if you ask Bill Clinton which he'd prefer, having been impeached or not having been impeached, I know he would choose the latter.

Shouldn't Trump's attempt to enrich himself in office be considered as an article of impeachment? He wanted to hold the G7 at his property in Florida and he has had the military and vice president stay at his properties overseas. To me, that's another violation of the Constitution that Americans can understand.

I agree that the self-dealing is impeachable, by my lights, and that it probable violates the Emoluments Clause. But the House leadership decided to go narrow and focus just on Ukraine. You could argue whether that's the right approach, but apparently they think that's the best way to keep all House Democrats on board.

Mr. Robinson, Will these people in the White House that have not obeyed these subpoenas, pay some kind of legal price at some point? Are they just above it all and do not have to abide by what they are supposed to do? An ordinary citizen would have to comply. Thank you.

I doubt they will pay a price. Sorry, because it shouldn't be that way, but I think they will skate.

What the heck was Trump talking about in his rambling incoherent talk on "10 or 15" flushes of toilets? A weary nation wonders what this is all about.

I don't think we really want to know.

Hi Gene -- thanks for taking questions on this historic day. So the Democrats unveiled their Articles of Impeachment today, followed by the usual Tuesday morning quarterbacking (they blew it by not going big!) and then pivoted pretty quickly to other business (trade). What do you think of their overall strategy -- first in terms of number of articles/charges, and whether it works to their advantage to try to appear that they are also engaged with the people's business (the good old walking and chewing gum at the same time analogy)?

As I said, I could argue both sides of that question. I guess I think that in this case, less may really be more. Trump's strategy is always to deflect and distract. The simpler and more direct the charges are, the harder it is to fuzz everything up.

During the hearings on Monday, I believe Stephen Castor was asked why the July 25 call was moved to a high security server. His answer was “To prevent leaks.” This begs the follow up question, if the call was “Perfect” as Trump has claimed, yelled, tweeted and perhaps chiseled in stone, why would it be moved to such a server. Is someone going to leak how perfect it is? Is the language too flowery and make Trump look bad? Was Trump toooooo nice? Nope, Trump was abusing his power again.

The answer, of course, is that the call was far from perfect, and that's why they sought to hide it from view. Nothing in that conversation needs to be protected from leaking except Trump's impeachable abuse of power.

Now that the democrats have revealed only 2 articles of impeachment and they say that they are continuing to investigate, can they add to these later?

Sure, if they want.

I noticed during the hearing yesterday that many of the Republicans just told outright lies. One of the most egregious was the lie about how the media (Politico) had reported that Ukraine was the real culprit in the 2016 election interference. Also, the Republicans turned the hearing into a yelling fest. Doesn't Nadler have any other tools to use against them than just banging his gavel and telling the to suspend?

Not really. But Nadler doesn't have that much more gavel-banging to do, at this point. There will probably be a Republican tantrum when he puts the articles of impeachment up for a committee vote, and then it becomes Speaker Pelosi's job to get them passed by the full House.

I realize that there is a principle involved but that notwithstanding isn't this impeachment merely an exercise in giving Trump a talking point since it seems the Senate remains adamant in it's intention to let him go?

I know that a lot of people think impeachment-followed-by-acquittal would be a political plus for President Trump, but I genuinely don't see why. He's going to inflame his base one way or the other, no matter what. And we have no data points to tell us what impact impeachment-slash-acquittal has on an incumbent president's chances of reelection. I just find it hard to see how "Impeached But, Hey, Not Removed" is a great bumper sticker.

I cannot express the horror I felt when I read your piece on Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez not only for him but for the United States which has sunk to such a low. Thank you for writing this and for continuing to bring these crimes - because that's what they are - to the attention of the public. Turning to a question, do you feel that the Republicans will be able to use what has been a successful strategy of distortion to get away with convincing the public to believe that Trump is not guilty and that he should not be removed from office? I say this knowing the votes aren't there in the Senate. What I am wondering about is public perception.

Thank you for reading the column. What happened to Carlos Hernandez is tragic and appalling, and it is outrageous that this atrocity was performed by agents of the U.S. government, acting in your name and mine.

On your question about impeachment, the truth is that nobody knows how public perception may change. We'll have to wait and see.

I live in Utah, a conservative state. I write to my Congressman, frequently, about Trump, asking him to show some courage and say something, anything, about Trump's daily lies, Trump's Twitter attacks, and more. I never get a response. Am I wasting my time? You say to "work like hell" to get Trump voted out of office. How can I best do that living in red state?

Keep writing and calling your member of Congress. And you can volunteer or donate money to candidates who share your views, even if they are running in a more purple jurisdiction.

I remain baffled by how much hatred exists in our politics today. There are obviously differences of opinion on many issues, but there is no issue, such as slavery, that seems so potent it can explain our national divide. I have come to the conclusion our polarization is the result of fantasies we hold about the other side (whoever that is) fueled by social media. We do not know how to use the technology now ubiquitous in our lives. Your thoughts?

Social media may to some extent exacerbate the divisions, but I think they run deeper. As a country, we have a lot of issues to work through. It's going to be a bumpy ride for the next few elections.

He may be FBI director for the moment, but what are the chances he stays on having refuted the main talking points of his two bosses?

Wray did something we should expect the director of the FBI to do, which is to tell the truth. Trump is now attacking him on Twitter. I don't know if the president is manic enough to fire yet another FBI chief, but he might be.

Do you think that the Trump presidency will in someways strengthen our democracy and institution in the future against someone similar being elected or have we lost our way?

This is the most optimistic take on what's happening that I've seen. I'm going to try to keep it in mind, and I sure hope you're right.

Who will hold the most power in the coming Senate impeachment trial? Will Roberts really let his court legacy be trashed?

The answer to your question about Chief Justice Roberts is: I hope not. I hope he takes his role seriously and asserts his authority. That said, McConnell has more power in shaping the process.

What happened to Senator Vote Your Conscience? He just won reelection, so it can't be that McConnell is threatening to withhold campaign money?

No Republican wants to stick his or her head above the parapet and risk getting it blown off with a high-caliber tweet. That's the case for now, certainly, and will be unless and until the political calculus changes. We'll see if it changes during the trial. It would be interesting to see what would happen if senators were able to hold a secret vote...

How does AG Barr get away with continuing his search for something to say Trump was spied on unfairly, when in actuality it has been proven that Russia interfered and the campaign helped them along. Shouldn't he be saying that's a good thing that the FBI went on a whim to investigate (even tho it's clearly not a whim)?

Barr is beclowning himself almost hourly, at this point. The IG spent nearly two years investigating all of this and issued a 400-page report that clearly says there was no "spying" or anything like that. Barr disagrees, on the basis of... what? Instinct? Opinion? This has to be the most disgraceful performance by an attorney general at least since John Mitchell.

I hope not, because that would flout the protection of the whistleblower laws. Plus, it's not germane to the Articles of Impeachment. But I do want Congressional subpoenas to be enforceable, such as for White House employees as witnesses. Do you think the Whistleblower will be forced to testify?

I don't think McConnell wants that kind of circus. But Trump, apparently, does. So I believe the president will try to push senators to call the whistleblower, and we'll see if they accede to his demand.

Hi Gene, hi all. While it seems unlikely at present that the Republicans in the Senate will vote to convict the president, leading to his removal from office, one must assume for argument's sake that it could eventually happen. Alright, let's say that over the next few weeks and during the Senate trial a small tide begins to turn, for whatever reason, and President Trump is convicted by exactly the number of votes required, not even with one to spare. He and his base will probably not accept the results. Then what? No president has ever been removed from office in our nation's history so there is no precedent. How do you think that the removal process will actually work--especially if the president and his supporters are not willing to go quietly (i.e., à la Richard Nixon)?

Okay, we're in Fantasy Land right now. But if Trump is convicted and removed, at that point he will no longer be president and the executive branch will begin taking its orders from Mike Pence. I assume the Secret Service would immediately begin moving Trump and his family out of the White House. I assume Marine One would show up on the South Lawn, whether Trump summons it or not, and he would be escorted aboard.

Trump and the GOP complained about the Steele dossier, now it comes out he and Ivanka were friends and he was predisposed to be favorable for Trump. Seems like that should be HUGE. An Ivanka buddy finds Trump is dangerous and it seems to be getting shrugs. Can anyone explain?

Every day, it seems, there are four or five stories that in normal times would have been, like, Story of the Week. That one slipped under the radar. I did mention it on Morning Joe today, though.

Let's assume for the sake of argument, that in spite of his continued election interference (Rudy is still doing it now, as we chat here), Donald Trump loses the 2020 election. What's the plan for when he scream "Fake Election" and "Voter Fraud" and refuses to leave? The Congress doesn't even seem up to enforcing lawful subpoenas. What then?

If he loses, then on Inauguration Day he will no longer be president. I assume the new president will order that former president Trump be escorted from the building.

Assuming impeachment does not lead to removal, the choice of Democratic presidential candidate becomes even more important. I find Elizabeth Warren most compelling, but i can't help but notice polling that suggests Biden could have an advantage, probably for sexist and/or racist reasons. How do I decide if voting for Biden would be cowardly or pragmatic?

I can't help you there. Balancing passion vs. pragmatism is something every voter has to do. My hope is that Democrats, independents and non-Trumpist Republicans unite behind the Democratic candidate, whoever he or she might be.


That's it for this historic day, folks. Thanks, as always, for participating. See you next week!

In This Chat
Eugene Robinson
Eugene Robinson is an Associate Editor and twice-weekly columnist for The Washington Post. His column appears on Tuesdays and Fridays. In a 25-year career at The Post, Robinson has been city hall reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires and London, foreign editor, and assistant managing editor in charge of the paper's award-winning Style section. In 2009, he received the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for his columns on the 2008 presidential campaign that focus on the election of the first African-American president. In 2005, he started writing a column for the Op-Ed page. He is the author of "Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America" (2010), "Coal to Cream: A Black Man's Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race" (1999) and "Last Dance in Havana" (2004). Robinson lives with his wife and two sons in Arlington.
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