/It’s Decision Time on Trump’s Impeachment: Narrow or Broad?

It’s Decision Time on Trump’s Impeachment: Narrow or Broad?

Pelosi may have to tell Nadler to cool his jets on some potential articles of impeachment.
Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

With the U.S. House barreling toward the drafting and adoption of articles of impeachment, perhaps as early as the week after next, a fateful decision that’s been brewing for months will finally have to be made. Will there be one, two, or many articles? And will the scope of offenses with which Trump is charged be narrow or broad?

As the Washington Post’s Rachael Bade reports, House Democrats remain divided on these questions:

Members of the House Judiciary Committee and other more liberal-minded lawmakers and congressional aides have been privately discussing the possibility of drafting articles that include obstruction of justice or other “high crimes” they believe are clearly outlined in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report — or allegations that Trump has used his office to benefit his bottom line.

The idea, however, is running into resistance from some moderate Democrats wary of impeachment blowback in their GOP-leaning districts, as well as Democratic leaders who sought to keep impeachment narrowly focused on allegations that Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate his political rivals, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk freely.

This has been the progressive-moderate split on scope of impeachment all along. A lot of progressives favored impeachment long before the Ukraine scandal broke, and naturally think the grounds that justified it earlier still do. That sentiment is understandably even stronger in the Judiciary Committee, which doesn’t want simply to become the Intelligence Committee’s enforcement arm with respect to the Ukraine-related misconduct it has documented, and isn’t inclined to abandon the Mueller Report’s findings that it worked on earlier this year:

The Intelligence Committee is scheduled to vote Tuesday night on its final report on Ukraine, allowing Judiciary to then work on writing articles of impeachment based on that document.

But the Judiciary Committee also has asked other investigative panels to send any findings of Trump-related misdeeds that they believe are impeachable. And many of the committee members are hoping articles will refer to and cite their own months-long investigation into the Mueller report, which described 10 possible instances of obstruction by the president.

Ultimately Nancy Pelosi and her leadership team will likely make the call on the scope of impeachment, but at a time when Republicans are in lockstep with the White House, she will not be able to afford much public dissension. So some compromises are likely, and when in doubt, Pelosi’s reported desire to wrap up impeachment by Christmas may be the tie-breaker. Adam Schiff’s Intelligence Committee is very likely to recommend at least one article of impeachment reflecting the White House’s obstruction of Congress in fighting subpoenas and generally seeking to delay if not stop a lawful impeachment inquiry. That will be easy for Judiciary to accommodate without adding any time to the process; the obstruction has been in plain view all along, and won’t require any hearings to document. The same could be true of one of more obstruction of justice articles flowing from the Mueller Report, which has been out there for many months.

Additional articles expanding the scope of impeachment beyond Ukraine and Mueller will certainly be demanded by those who argue that failing to include them will implicitly condone Trump’s misconduct. But it’s hard to see how the House could find time this year to fully develop a case for impeachment of Trump over, say, his likely violations of the Emoluments Clause in profiting from his presidency, though it’s possible congressional investigators have been quietly digging into this issue while attention was focused elsewhere.

So long as wrapping up impeachment in 2019 is still on the table, then, a relatively narrow scope is most likely. But Pelosi and Nadler will have to be careful. Anything beyond a single article may tempt some House “moderates” to find a way to split their votes, which could not only imperil passage of the entire package but might enable Trump to claim a partial exoneration (“even some socialist Democrats couldn’t support taking the witch hunt to such ends …”) even before the Senate predictably acquits him.

There is also the little matter of public opinion. At present public support for and opposition to the impeachment and removal of Trump seems to have stabilized and pretty closely tracks partisan affiliations and Trump’s meh job approval ratings. It’s unclear whether any additional high-profile hearings in the Judiciary or Intelligence Committee would make much if any difference, even if time could be find for them. That might argue for sticking to a narrow impeachment approach. But on the other hand, the original idea that a singular focus on the simple matter of Trump’s abuse of power in trying to make Ukraine an adjunct to his reelection campaign might move some Republicans members of Congress toward impeachment now seems naïve. Inside and beyond Washington, the GOP is Trump’s fortress. How impeachment plays into an overall assessment of Trump by the small number of 2020 swing voters could be all-important, but impossible to determine at this early date.