Witcover: Why impeachment now?

As President Donald Trump continues his opposition to congressional Democrats' demands for under-oath testimony from him and various other associates, their calls for his impeachment remain in limbo.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi insists that Mr. Trump be left to "self-impeachment" for his alleged illegal acts and personal behavior. But the Constitution's Article I, Section 2 specifies that the House of Representatives "shall have the sole Power of Impeachment."


The grounds for doing so are left ambiguously in Article II, Section 4 for "Conviction of Treason, Bribery or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors." Only two presidents, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, have ever been impeached, and each escaped conviction by two-thirds of the Senate under Article I, Section 3.

While the special counsel's report on the Russian investigations found no actionable evidence of Mr. Trump or his administration conspiring with the Russian government in the meddling into the 2016 election, it was silent on whether there was criminal obstruction of justice in the process.


It did, however, pointedly lay out 10 specific areas in which Special Counsel Robert Mueller did not exonerate Mr. Trump or associates, in what has been described as a road map for further inquiry into obstruction. House committees, including those on executive-branch oversight and taxation (Ways and Means) have issued subpoenas for testimony of Mr. Mueller, Attorney General William Barr and various Trump associates.

The president has directed all officials so ordered to ignore the subpoenas on the grounds of executive privilege, in anticipation of a drawn-out review by the federal judicial branch, under the Constitution's stipulated separation of powers among the three branches.

Democrats in majority control of the House accuse congressional Republicans and the Trump administration of stalling tactics as a means of combating the subpoenas. And the Republicans ultimately enjoy a 5-4 conservative majority on the Supreme Court, raising the reasonable expectation that the courts will side with Mr. Trump.

Calling the ad "a message for leaders of the Democratic Party," Billionaire investor and Democratic activist Tom Steyer says: "For over two years, the president has broken the law, and nothing happened. You told us to wait for the Mueller investigation, and when he showed obstruction of justice, nothing happened."

Mr. Steyer complains that the Democrats instead call for more fact-finding on the unredacted Mueller report and testimony from former White House counsel Don McGahn and others. And why, he asks, did Mr. Mueller in the end decline to exonerate Mr. Trump?

Mr. Steyer, who once considered seeking the presidency himself but wisely reconsidered, presses the Democrats in Congress: "You tell us to wait for the next election. Really? ... This is why we volunteered. Raised money. Went door to door. And voted in the last election. Our founding fathers expected you — Congress — to hold our lawless president accountable. And you're doing nothing. ... He broke his oath of office. He's defying you. Laughing at you. And he's getting away with it."

The television ad challengers Speaker Pelosi, who first said Mr. Trump was "not worth" the trouble of impeaching. She said her House caucus would be better served focusing on its progressive agenda that produced 40 new Democratic seats and her party's new House majority in 2018.

But Mr. Steyer and like-minded Democrats warn of further damage to democratic governance in 18 more months of Mr. Trump's first term, and the peril of a second term should he survive and win re-election next year.


Skeptics on impeachment note that without a two-thirds vote in the Senate required to convict, the House decision to impeach would be an empty gesture.

But the time is long past when the Republican majority in the Senate should end its silent acquiescence in the corrupt and lawless rule of Donald Trump, which threatens to dig the grave of the once respected conservative Grand Old Party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and John McCain.

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power" (Smithsonian Books). His email is