Democrats hold show trials rather than vote to oust the President.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler in Washington, D.C., April 9.PHOTO: ZACH GIBSON/GETTY IMAGES
The Editorial Board, WSJ
House Democrats are escalating their campaign against the Trump Administration with complaints that its resistance to Congressional requests for documents is a threat to democracy. It’s more accurate to say that Democrats are performing what amounts to a pseudo-impeachment so they don’t have to undertake a real one.
Democrats are agonizing over impeachment because while they’re itching to do it, special counsel Robert Mueller’s report blew up their Russian collusion hopes. He also took no position on obstruction of justice while reporting a highly critical “analysis” of President Trump’s actions. Democrats now find themselves caught between a left-wing base that says they’ll abdicate their duty if they don’t impeach and Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s cold-blooded calculation that it could cost their majority in 2020.
What to do? Democrats have decided to act out a pseudo-impeachment that claims Mr. Trump and his Administration are committing offenses against the Constitution without daring to open a formal impeachment inquiry. The split-level goal is to appease the left while sparing the swing-district Democrats who delivered the 2018 majority from ever having to vote on articles of impeachment.
The problem with this play-acting is that it has Democrats fulminating about actions that aren’t even misdemeanors, much less high crimes. Exhibit A is Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler’s threat to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt for failing to turn over the entire Mueller report to Congress.
Yet Mr. Barr has been as accommodating as the law allows. He made the entire report public with light redactions though he didn’t have to release any of it under the law. He has let senior Members of Congress review redacted material in private, though no Democrats have taken him up on the offer.
The exception is grand-jury information that Mr. Barr can’t release without a judge’s order if relevant to specific legal investigations. A judge isn’t supposed to open such testimony to Members of Congress for general oversight, though it might get it as part of a formal impeachment proceeding.
How is Mr. Barr obstructing Congress by providing access to nearly all of the Mueller report, and 99.9% of the section on obstruction of justice? Mr. Nadler is threatening to sue Mr. Barr to get the rest, but we’ll go out on a limb and predict he has no chance of winning in court. Even if a liberal judge agrees, the decision would be overturned on appeal.
These executive-Congress disputes are typically settled by negotiation, and on Tuesday Judiciary staffers of both parties met with representatives from Justice to discuss an accommodation. We’re told Justice offered to allow a dozen more staffers to review the less-redacted report, to take and keep notes, and to allow those who have viewed the report in camera to discuss it with one another.
The question is whether this will be enough for Mr. Nadler to postpone the contempt vote he has so recklessly set for Wednesday. If Mr. Nadler proceeds with contempt, we’ll know it’s one more act of the pseudo-impeachment production. The vote will feed the liberal outrage machine and throw up the appearance of wrongdoing. But a contempt vote won’t matter in practice because a U.S. Attorney is unlikely to act on it and file charges.
Perhaps Mr. Nadler will send the sergeant-at-arms to arrest Mr. Barr, which would make for an interesting showdown with the federal marshals who protect the AG. Even if Mr. Nadler were cynical enough to try such a stunt, most Americans would see it as one more sign of the Democratic obsession with investigations instead of legislative achievement.
The real offense against the Constitution here is by Democrats. Oversight of the executive branch is an important Congressional power, but the Supreme Court has said it should be related to Congress’s legislative function or constitutional duty. It can’t merely be a trawling exercise to see what nasty details they can find to score political points and discredit a President before the 2020 election.
If Chairman Nadler wants to continue his Mueller fixation, he should announce that he is beginning formal impeachment proceedings. Impeachment is a legitimate Congressional power, and at least the public would then understand what Congress is up to and could judge the effort. If Democrats really believe Mr. Trump is a threat to the Constitution, they should file articles of impeachment and have every Member vote on them.
That’s the path of accountability. The current pseudo-impeachment is a fraud on the Constitution and the American public.