WASHINGTON – That’s it?
After three years in which Democrats accused U.S. President Donald Trump of a host of criminal acts — from bribery and extortion to campaign finance violations, obstruction of justice, conspiracy and even treason — they have finally introduced articles of impeachment that allege none of those things. Not only have they dropped the charge of bribery, the words that gripped Washington — “quid pro quo” — don’t even appear in the document.
This is a major retreat by Democrats, who have effectively admitted the president did not commit any statutory crimes. Indeed, if these articles are approved, this will be the first presidential impeachment in history in which no statutory crimes are even alleged. In that alone, Trump can claim vindication.
Instead, Democrats settled on two noncriminal allegations: obstruction of Congress and abuse of power. Both charges are farcical.
Take obstruction. Democrats claim Trump engaged in “unprecedented” defiance of congressional subpoenas and “sought to arrogate to himself” the right to withhold documents and witnesses “as well as the unilateral prerogative to deny any and all information to the House of Representatives.” Please. If anyone is “arrogating” “unilateral” power to themselves, it is House Democrats.
Democrats seem not to understand that the legislative and the executive are equal branches of government. They do not get the last word when a president invokes executive privilege. When a dispute arises between the two branches, the president has a right to appeal to the third equal branch of government — the judiciary. Trump did that, as is his constitutional right. If he appealed to the courts and lost but still refused to cooperate, then Congress would have every right to charge him with obstruction of Congress.
But Democrats refused to wait for judicial review. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, actually said, “We cannot be at the mercy of the courts.” Excuse me? And Democrats are accusing Trump of being “a threat to the Constitution”? Democrats are doing exactly what they accuse Trump of doing. As professor Jonathan Turley told Democrats on the Judiciary Committee “We have three branches, not two. … If you impeach a president, if you make a high crime and misdemeanor out of going to the courts, it is an abuse of power. It’s your abuse of power.”
Democrats are also completely wrong when they declare Trump’s invocation of executive privilege “unprecedented.” In 2011, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform subpoenaed then-Attorney General Eric Holder to provide documents and witnesses related to the botched gun-running operation “Fast and Furious.” Holder refused to fully comply. When the committee threatened to hold him in contempt, President Barack Obama stepped in and invoked executive privilege. The administration argued that “compelled disclosure would be inconsistent with the separation of powers established in the Constitution.”
Guess what? The same Democrats now seeking to impeach Trump for obstruction of Congress backed Obama’s obstruction of Congress. Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, wrote, “The White House assertion is backed by decades of precedent that has recognized the need for the president and his senior advisers to receive candid advice and information from their top aides.” Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, said the effort to hold Holder in contempt for refusing to comply was “politically-motivated.” Pelosi called it — wait for it — worse than a “witch hunt.”
By the plain language of the Democrats’ articles of impeachment, Obama committed an impeachable offense. And yet today, Holder — the man at the center of Obama’s obstruction scheme — has the chutzpah to write that Attorney General William Barr is “unfit to lead the Justice Department.” What a disgrace.
As for abuse of power, this will be the first presidential impeachment in history in which no violations of the law are even alleged. The justification for impeaching Trump without a statutory crime is that impeachment is a political, not legal, proceeding. Fair enough. Democrats held weeks of hearings to convince the American people that Trump’s alleged abuse of power rises to the level of impeachment and removal. Instead, their slipshod inquiry convinced Americans of the opposite.
In October, before the hearings began, the Quinnipiac poll showed that a 48 to 46 percent plurality of Americans supported impeachment and removal; today, after the hearings, voters are opposed by a margin of 51 to 45 percent. In key swing states, a Firehouse/Optimus poll found that impeachment and removal is now opposed by 51 percent of voters in Michigan, 52 percent in Pennsylvania and 58 percent in Wisconsin.
This is the definition of failure. Earlier this year, Pelosi said she was “not for impeachment” because “unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path.” She was right then. Democrats should have listened.
Marc Thiessen writes a twice-weekly column for The Washington Post on foreign and domestic policy. He is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a Fox News contributor. © 2019, The Washington Post Writers Group