Impeachment of Donald Trump

By Matt Daley

While we are only partially through the House of Representatives impeachment process, a number of judgments present themselves clearly. As a starting point, we take the principled position announced by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi eight months ago, i.e., “Impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there is something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path, because it divides the country, And he’s just not worth it.” One need not take a position on whether President Trump is “worth it” to acknowledge and validate the assertion that the issue giving rise to impeachment of a President should be compelling and overwhelming. It arguably needs bipartisan support to warrant the risks it may pose to an already frayed national political and social psyche.

Those whose hair is sufficiently gray to recall the Congressional hearings that led to Richard Nixon’s resignation have a strong point of reference with which to make judgments using Speaker Pelosi’s criteria. Sadly, today the House is split, overwhelmingly on partisan lines. Thus far the hearings have not moved the public opinion needle any great distance and can hardly be termed bipartisan. Those who favor impeachment have had to go considerable lengths to explain to the American public why the “offenses” with which Donald Trump is charged possess the inherent gravitas to warrant the nullification of a national election. To a considerable degree, the hearings to date have fallen short of mark because of five factors:

– Foreign policy and domestic politics have never been conducted in separate, impermeable silos. Using leverage in the conduct of foreign policy has a long history; Trump is not the first President to seek to capitalize for domestic political purposes on moves abroad. For example, more than one historian has explained the coolness of FDR’s Administration towards admitting Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany to the US by reference to domestic politics. Students of national security policy in the Viet Nam War era have noted occasions when critical national security decisions were shaped for domestic political purposes under more than one president. On those occasions, unlike in the Ukraine affair, the lives of American soldiers were at stake.

– When one has to spend hours creating a narrative to explain the nature of the “high crimes and misdemeanors,” eyes glaze over and minds are not changed, especially when the alleged coercion was temporary, the allegedly desired payoff did not materialize, and the President of Ukraine made remarks that do seem to exculpate President Trump.

– That President Trump claimed concern about corruption in Ukraine according to witnesses in the House hearings is plausible on its face and supported by Foreign Service professionals who nonetheless clearly found the approach taken by the Trump Administration to be wrong headed.

– Too many witnesses were pressed to offer hearsay testimony and as well as assumptions, judgments, feelings, and even speculation because they lacked direct knowledge of alleged presidential misdeeds. This and a lack of more stringent application of commonly accepted principles of due process may leave a queasy feeling in the pits of independent stomachs.

– The House seems now inclined to accelerate its deliberations and not take the time necessary to secure the testimony of officials and others who can speak to critical unanswered questions. 

At this point, we must withhold judgment and see how the drama plays out. The bar set by Speaker Pelosi has not yet been cleared. Chairman Adam Schiff and his colleagues have put on a prime-time spectacle but have not shed much in the way of new light on a President whose failings and warts have been on public display since the time he sought the nomination. At too many times and in too many places, Donald Trump’s conduct of governance has been sub-par and characterized by self-inflicted wounds, even when his policy objectives were laudable. The only stars in this still unfolding drama are career professionals of the Foreign Service and the NSC who have shown themselves to be competent, courageous and dedicated. The “winners” are the American people whom these pros serve.  

Matt Daley served his country as an Army officer, Secret Service agent, and foreign service officer. He held the position of Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Southeast Asia and the Pacific before he retired from government service.