When historians write the book on this irredeemably depraved administration, May 22 is going to require its own chapter.
It began with the Democratic Speaker of the House accusing Donald Trump of covering up crimes before declaring her intention to do nothing about it. It was stuffed through the middle with a presidential Rose Garden performance that will loom large in the annals of televised gibberish until the sun burns out. It ended when a federal judge dropped a metaphorical bag of bricks directly on Trump’s head for the second time in two days by again refusing to quash a subpoena for financial documents.
Act I opened with a morning meeting of the House Democratic caucus, a follow-up to the tense Monday meeting when several members pressured Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) to authorize the official opening of an impeachment inquiry against Trump. Reasons for doing so are manifest, having been meticulously detailed in the Mueller report. For Congress, impeachment is also nothing less than an act of self-preservation; Trump is actively working to strip the legislative branch of appropriations, oversight and war powers — efforts that, if successful, would render the institution essentially moot.
“Would you believe that it’s important to follow the facts?” asked Speaker Pelosi after the meeting. “We believe that no one is above the law, including the president of the United States. And we believe that the president of the United States is engaged in a cover-up. In a cover-up.”
Like Jimmy Two Times in “Goodfellas,” she said “cover-up” twice, so it must be important, right?
And … nothing. Pelosi and her allies used the Wednesday meeting to try and throw sand on the rising fire of impeachment demands within her caucus. At last count, some 32 members are on board, including Financial Services chair Maxine Waters (D-California). “The elephant in the room,” reports Paul Blest for Splinter News, “remains the fact that the House leadership continues to forcefully accuse Trump of breaking the law, while even more forcefully arguing against actually doing anything about it.”
Act II found the villain himself lurking offstage and ready to pounce. Trump watched the post-meeting Pelosi presser because of course he did; the man blows an o-ring without an active television nearby because he might miss seeing himself. A meeting between Trump, Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) to discuss funding for an infrastructure bill had been on the books for weeks, but Trump knew his own hand was weak because Republican hardliners in Congress were not on board.
When he heard the words “cover-up” (twice), he seized on the opportunity for an out. Storming into the meeting room like Ferdinand after sitting on the bee, Trump railed and pouted at Pelosi and Schumer for approximately three minutes before stomping out of the room. The gist of his spleen-vent was straightforward: He would essentially be on some sort of half-ass presidential strike until Speaker Pelosi and the other Democratic meanies stop investigating him. The infrastructure bill, the budget negotiations, Trump’s Canada-Mexico trade bill and a pile of other legislative priorities suddenly found themselves on the shelf.
It was at this point that a server in Trump’s bigly tactics brain crashed, which brings us to Act III.
The deliberate power move of blowing up the meeting could have at least been spun as a net positive, an example of the “walk away” negotiating tactic he loves to brag about despite the fact that doing so in the private sector didn’t spare him from losing billions and going bankrupt. But whatever advantage Trump may have gained via his tactical tantrum fell to ashes when he veered out to the Rose Garden with a fistful of misspelled notes and proceeded to caterwaul at an astonished press corps for 10 uninterrupted minutes.
“I don’t do coverups,” puled the man whose personal lawyer is in prison for helping him cover up two extramarital affairs by way of hundreds of thousands in hush money. He lied the way others breathe while disturbingly talking about himself in the third person, before finally retreating to his lair to lick his self-inflicted wounds.
One would think all this would be enough for a single day in Trumpworld, but no, Act IV was still in the offing. As the sun poured itself into the western horizon, New York State lawmakers along with yet another federal judge delivered a fresh batch of bad news to the White House.
Albany legislators passed a bill Wednesday that would allow Congress to finally get a look at the tax documents Trump has been guarding like a wolverine guards meat. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is expected to sign the bill soon. Later that same day, U.S. District Court Judge Edgardo Ramos batted down various Unitary Executive arguments proffered by Trump’s legal team, refusing to block congressional subpoenas seeking decades of Trump financial records from Deutsche Bank.
Judge Ramos’s ruling comes only two days after U.S. District Court Judge Amit Mehta all but threw Trump’s legal team out of the building after they made similarly doomed arguments against a separate subpoena for Trump’s financial records currently in the possession of his accounting firm, Mazars USA. Judge Mehta’s 41-page decision will serve as a blueprint for every court argument defending subpoenas served against the administration.
“A congressional investigation to carry out an expressly delegated Article I function, in addition to any legislation that might be had relating to that function, is plainly valid,” wrote Judge Mehta. “So, too, is an investigation to determine whether the President has any conflicts of interest. As already discussed, it lies within Congress’s province to legislate regarding the ethics of government officials.”
For all the noise and mayhem of the day, it is the morning meeting between Speaker Pelosi and the House Democratic caucus that holds my immediate intention. Pelosi is running the towering risk of becoming Speaker Have-My-Cake-And-Eat-It-Too. How can she put the impeachment remedy out of reach and then go on live television to yammer about the president covering up crimes? The cognitive dissonance is stunning.
The Speaker says impeachment is futile because it will die in the Senate, so Democrats should work on passing legislation despite the fact that it will also die in the Senate. In short, Pelosi is preaching the gospel of deliberate futility, a strategy to willfully ignore Trump’s serial crimes against the Constitution to protect a 2020 campaign playbook that is already out of date.
I understand Pelosi’s desire to be cautious; the stakes for the Democrats are astronomically high in 2020. So I’m just going to throw this out on the stoop and see if the cat licks it up: Impeachment is dead in the Senate? Fine. Do it anyway. Lay the facts out for the American people to see and then dare Senate Republicans to vote for acquittal. When they do — and they will — use those votes to show the people how the game is fixed, and who fixed it. The Democrats will need surfboards to catch the Blue Wave to come.
Also, and not for nothing, impeachment is a bedrock constitutional imperative at this juncture. If a president engages in a cover-up by defying lawfully issued congressional subpoenas, the reaction of responsible government must not be a cowardly tsk-tsk and a waiting game. The law requires action in the face of egregious lawlessness.
Impeachment is an act of responsible self-defense, not just for the Congress Trump seeks to hobble, but for the entire nation. Making it purely about politics is chickenshit Beltway nonsense, the exact kind that helped elevate Trump to begin with. Nothing less than the rule of law is on the line, and history is staring Speaker Pelosi dead in the face.
This article has been updated to reflect an increased number of House Democrats who support impeachment. Track that number here.