WASHINGTON – President Trump, having said he expects to be impeached, is now doing his best to see it happen. The White House has ordered administration officials to ignore all subpoenas for testimony from House committees in their impeachment inquiry, providing clear-cut grounds of obstruction of justice and violating Article I of the United States Constitution.
In an eight-page letter that stands reality on its head, the White House contends that Trump is being denied due process because the full House has not voted to authorize the inquiry – something House rules do not require.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has firmly rejected that defense, warning that "continued efforts to hide the truth of the President's abuse of power from the American people will be regarded as further evidence of obstruction" of Congress in its constitutional oversight role.
The latest poll by The Washington Post and the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University shows growing public support for the impeachment inquiry – with 58 percent of respondents in favor – and 49 percent for impeachment itself, and Pelosi clearly has the votes to proceed if such a vote were taken. But she is in the driver's seat without it and is demonstrating her political clout in pressing on.
Trump's order has temporarily stalled the subpoenaed appearance and testimony of U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, a major Trump campaign contributor with no previous diplomatic experience. He has inserted himself into the dispute over Trump's request for "a favor" from Ukraine – political dirt on former vice president Joe Biden – in return for delivering congressionally mandated military aid.
In text messages provided by Kurt Volker, former U.S. Special Envoy to Ukraine, Sondland was identified as working with Trump's private lawyer, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, on "deliverable" dirt on Biden and his son Hunter, a one-time paid board member of a giant Ukraine energy firm.
No evidence or charge of misconduct was ever brought against the Bidens, father or son, and at least one U.S. diplomat expressed concern that "it's crazy to withhold security assistance (to Ukraine) for help with a political campaign." In a reply text to the worried U.S. diplomat, Sondland pointedly insisted that there was no quid pro quo involved in the pressure campaign over U.S. military aid to Ukraine. Sondland reportedly made this assurance after consulting Trump personally.
If there is a "smoking gun" of guilt so far in the Trump impeachment quest, Sondland's testimony is seen by the Democrats as their best evidence of it so far.
Trump has at times expressed unconcern at the prospect impeachment by the House, considering the presumption that he would be safe from conviction by the Republican-controlled Senate. Conviction requires a two-thirds majority of senators present, so 20 or more Republican senators would need to join all Democrats in voting to remove the president.
When former president Bill Clinton was impeached shortly before the midterm elections in 1998, many, including House Speaker Newt Gingrich, expected a Republican landslide. In fact, the opposite happened, as Democrats gained five seats in the House while their Senate majority remained unchanged. When Clinton was subsequently acquitted in the Senate, there was a sense that the president had beaten the rap.
A reasonable strategy for Trump's political survival would seem to follow similar lines: Senate acquittal after expected House impeachment. But considering the latest polling results indicating erosion in the public's appraisal of Trump in the wake of his current political troubles, his path to a second term might not be so certain, should he be acquitted in the Senate.
In 2018, two years of Trump in the Oval Office generated a major Democratic comeback in the midterm congressional election, causing his loss of the Republican majority in the House, and a stormy and unproductive third year in which he repeatedly has been thrown on the defensive.
Yet he has clung to his loyal and combative base through continued political rallies among the faithful, and he continues to inspire fear of retribution among Republicans in Congress if they step out of line. No credible party savior has arisen to challenge Trump for the Republican nomination as he endures the current Democratic assault and hits back now at Joe Biden, and anyone else who may emerge to face him in 2020, if he himself survives in office by then.
Such is today's lamentable state of the once Grand Old Party.