The road to impeachment runs through Russia

Congress and the Kremlin
Committee photo (left) by Donna Burton (Public Domain)
Kremlin (right) by A. Savin via Wikimedia Commons

There is no question most of us have wanted Donald Trump out of our political discourse since his scathing, xenophobic scree after he came down the escalator at Trump Tower four years ago this month.

Since Robert Mueller delivered his public statement on Russian election interference and the 2016 Trump campaign, Wednesday, the count of Congressional Democrats coming around to beginning at least an impeachment Inquiry has swelled from thirty-something to fifty-something. The pundits are saying it comes down to that one sentence from the report, restated so flatly by Mueller. We all know it by now:

“[I]f we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.”

While the growing congressional awakening to their Constitutional responsibilities is encouraging, Mueller saying that he could not exonerate Trump was only one of the two major points the now retired Special Counsel brought up. The other one was Russia.

Mueller opened his statement citing how his office established that the meddling occurred, which Russian agencies were involved and the indictments against Russian operatives:

“As alleged by the grand jury in an indictment, Russian intelligence officers… used sophisticated cyber-techniques to hack into computers and networks used by the Clinton campaign. They stole private information and then released that information through fake online identities and through the organization WikiLeaks. The releases were designed and timed to interfere with our election and to damage a presidential candidate. And at the same time as the grand jury alleged in a separate indictment, a private Russian entity engaged in a social media operation where Russian citizens posed as Americans in order to influence an election.”

Toward the end of his description of Volume 1 of the report, he reiterated that the investigation chartered by the United States Department of Justice, the highest prosecutorial government entity in our country, was important and warranted. “The indictments allege and the other activities in our report describe efforts to interfere in our political system,” he affirmed, adding, “They needed to be investigated and understood.”

Let’s highlight that last line again:

“They needed to be investigated and understood.”

If you believe, as many do, that Volume 2 is a so-called roadmap for Congress to follow on impeachment, then the evidence of Russian interference presented in Volume 1 must also be read as a roadmap of steps for Congress to take to guard against interference by any foreign adversary in the future.

More on that in a moment, but as Rachel Maddow might say, first a brief impeachment history. Since, fortunately, these congressional adjudications are rare events in our republic, let’s go where we usually go for our example – Watergate and the impeachment of the 37th President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon.

From the time of the break-in at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee during the 1972 election, until the establishing of Senate Watergate Committee, in May, 1973, was eleven months. This was not the impeachment inquiry, yet. It was the U.S. Senate investigating the Nixon campaign’s involvement in the crime after several campaign and White House aides had been indicted in the course of the FBI’s continuing investigation of the break-in. The Special Prosecutor was not appointed until the next day.

We are two-and-a-half years past the election of Donald J. Trump. Robert Mueller has come and gone and there has yet to be a special committee with a similarly relevant portfolio put together in Congress. We know that Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell (R-KY) did not authorize such a committee to investigate Russian interference in 2017, even after the intelligence he was given as part of the Gang of Eight in the months after the 2016 election. Unsurprisingly, he still seems unlikely to do the responsible thing.

As Vox reported, last month, despite action by GOP led Senate committees, McConnell remains deliberately aloof, to the detriment of the country:

“Although several Republican-controlled Senate committees are still trying to address potential meddling by foreign adversaries — the Judiciary Committee approved two election security bills last week — the Senate majority leader now says he won’t even bring election security bills up for a vote. It’s a position McConnell took last year, and one he’s standing by as pressure has ramped up to consider reinforcing US defenses ahead of 2020.”

We also are painfully aware of Democrats’ (and Lady Justice’s) frustration with the then chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Trump sycophant Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), who not only refused to call all necessary witnesses, he ran to tell the White House what the earliest testimony about the FBI’s investigation had revealed about surveillance of some members of Trump’s campaign.

That means it now falls on Speaker Pelosi to establish, as quickly and publicly as possible, a Special Committee on Russian Interference in the 2016 Election. Frankly, it should have been the very first thing they did. Just as Nixon’s impeachment grew out of the Senate’s investigation, the path to exposing the alleged malfeasance of the Trump campaign runs through wall-to-wall television coverage of witness testimony to Congress.

There is no political downside to the Speaker of the House encouraging public hearings investigating Russian interference in 2016. The Republicans refused to deal with it when they had the majority, so Democrats must, especially if they intend to follow through on their stated commitment to creating legislation to deal with protecting – as much as possible – the integrity of our national elections.

I don’t know if such a committee will lead to a clamor for impeachment, but if Congress can produce a report on election interference that creates strong legislation to protect future elections, before next year’s national conventions, then even without impeachment, it will be worth it.


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