LICHTMAN: Mueller Is Done; It’s Time For Congress To Impeach

Doug Mills/The New York Times/Pool via REUTERS

Allan Lichtman Distinguished Professor of History, American University
Font Size:

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony proves what I have been saying for two years. A special counsel is not an impeachment investigator. A special counsel investigation is no substitute for an impeachment inquiry. Mueller is finished. It is now time for the House of Representatives to do its constitutional duty and begin an impeachment inquiry.

Only impeachment can hold President Donald Trump accountable with real consequences and serve as a check to abuses by future presidents.

Mueller’s mandate was limited to investigating violations of the federal criminal law stemming from Russia’s manipulation of the 2016 election and related crimes. An impeachment inquiry not limited in scope and substance but can probe any alleged transgressions that threaten our society. The framers of the Constitution agreed on broad standards for impeachment and assigned this absolute power not to the judiciary, but to elected members of the U.S. House. It is not the role of the House to consult a crystal ball to guess what the Senate might do if they vote articles of impeachment against a president.

The framers ensured that the fate of presidents would depend not on standards of law alone, but on the intertwined political, practical, moral, and legal judgment of elected officials. Alexander Hamilton explained that impeachment will “proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust,” and “they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself.”

Despite Mueller’s frequent stumbling and diffidence in answering questions from members of Congress his testimony presented two clear grounds for an impeachment inquiry. First, there were numerous actions by President that fit the three elements of obstruction of justice: an obstructive act, a connection to an official proceeding, and a corrupt intent. Such obstruction need not succeed and or relate to a proven underlying crime. The following are just two examples of 10 obstructive acts documented by the special counsel.

President Trump ordered White House Counsel Don McGahn to fire the special counsel, even though Justice Department regulations say that he can be fired only for cause. When McGahn balked, the president instructed him to lie and create a false record about the president’s directive. According to the special counsel’s report, “the president knew that he should not have directed Don McGahn to fire the special counsel.” 

Trump instructed his former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski to inform Attorney General Jeff Sessions that the president wanted him to “un-recuse” himself from the Russia investigation, and turn it away from transgressions in the 2016 campaign and Trump himself, and instead focus it only on the future. 

Second, Mueller said that there was insufficient evidence to charge the crime of conspiracy, because in part of lying witnesses, the lack of an in-person interview with the president, and the concealment of evidence. However, his testimony and report showed that Trump had jeopardized our democracy by welcoming Russian help and using the information that Russia had illegally obtained on his opponent.

In response to a question on Trump’s uses of WikiLeaks’ release of stolen material from Democrats, the usually reticent Mueller said, “Problematic is an understatement, in terms of giving some … hope or some boost to what is and should be illegal activity.”

The special counsel’s findings are not the only grounds for an impeachment inquiry. Material released from an investigation by the Southern District of New York implicated Trump in two felonies for his payment of hush money to women who alleged an affair with him. Trump lied about his knowledge of these payments to the  American people and his personal lawyer Michael Cohen is in jail partly for these felonies. 

There are other issues for Congress to probe. Trump may have violated the Constitution’s emoluments clause which says that a president cannot accept anything of value from a foreign government or their entities. He has shown contempt for Congress by stonewalling their oversight. This was one of the articles of impeachment that the House Judiciary Committee voted against President Richard Nixon. There are questions about financial crimes, which  the president may be concealing by his desperate efforts to prevent the release of his tax returns. And we still don’t know the results of other prosecutions that Mueller parceled out or the counter-intelligence investigation by the FBI.

Democratic House Speak Nancy Pelosi has said that Trump is such a criminal that he should be in jail. If so, it is congressional malpractice for her not to invoke the proper constitutional remedy of an impeachment inquiry. As Shakespeare reminds us, “There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries.”

Allan J. Lichtman (@AllanLichtman) is distinguished professor of history at American University in Washington, D.C.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.