It Seems So Long Ago When the House of Representatives Gave Us All a Chance to Be Rid of the Madman in the White House
At any other time, any other Oval Office occupant would have been stained so thoroughly by impeachment that the opposition, the press and the voting public would have talked about little else.
In the case of Donald Trump, impeachment is just one of many scandalous episodes under consideration.
His fatal failure to deal with the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting damage done to the economy proved even worse than impeachment. Yet, the ignominy of being only the third president ever impeached surely will stand as one of the three crises that define him.
Reporter Peter Eisner and I anticipated Trump’s impeachment when we first met with House Democrats who, having swept the 2018 midterms, suddenly held the power to investigate the president and his administration.
Although a few rabid partisans already were talking impeachment, in these first meetings, in March of 2019, mainstream Democrats said they only would speak of impeachment off the record. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was rejecting every call to action.
Like much of the country the Democrats were anticipating Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. Although the president famously blamed everyone from China to “somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds” little doubt attached to the fact that Moscow had worked feverishly to help Trump win.
The computer hacks carried out against his opponent, which yielded troves of embarrassing emails that were then made public, had been conducted by Russian agents. And evidence of cooperation, if not coordination by Trump campaign operatives, had been reported in the press.
In addition to the Russian hack, Mueller had investigated other possible crimes encountered in the course of his work. He widely was assumed to be looking at the many occasions when Trump seemed to have obstructed justice as he tried to thwart those who might prove he got special election help from the Kremlin. His firing of FBI Director James Comey could have been one such obstructive act. Others might be seen in his threats to fire Mueller himself.
Press reports and rampant speculation in Washington gave Democrats reason to believe Mueller would hand them a roadmap to impeachment. It was this story Eisner and I were preparing to tell.
When the special counsel’s report was then interpreted by Attorney General William P. Barr, who then held the document secret for weeks, this prospect faded. Barr’s spin, which created the false impression that Trump had been cleared, was too much for the House to overcome.
Impeachment and the book that we planned to write seemed to fade away. Then, in the summer of 2019, Trump called the president of Ukraine to demand help against his rival Joe Biden in exchange for promised military aid. Ukraine was fighting Russian-backed separatists and need both the material and moral support of the United States.
Call it a bribe, or a quid pro quo demand, Trump clearly abused his office and a key ally and one of the government officials who listened to the call would act as a whistleblower, informing Congress.
Impeachment was back on the national agenda and our project got new life.
The product of our reporting on the work of a dozen members of the key Congressional committees, the book High Crimes: The Corruption, Impunity, and Impeachment of Donald Trump, is a reminder that, amid the chaos the Trump era is, certain episodes stand out.
This one is especially convoluted and features a cast of characters too improbable to have been invented. From the Soviet-born Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman to the wayward former mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani and the infamous Three Amigos, they pursued schemes that were both ridiculous and criminal.
High Crimes is the first comprehensive account of the impeachment of Donald Trump, and, as such, is a fairly long read. With this in mind, we created a series of digital shorts that together serve as a video primer for the voter challenged by the volume of pre-election, Trump chaos news. Viewers will be reminded that, oh yeah, that happened too.