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      •  Sunday Mailbag, Impeachment Edition

Sunday Mailbag, Impeachment Edition

This is a new feature. It is essentially a "Letters to the editor" column distilled from e-mails sent to the address. Basically, it represents a sample of comments from readers intended for publication (rather than questions that readers would like to see answered). As with newspapers, we reserve the right to edit comments for length, clarity, and fixing typos. The comments will be grouped by subject matter, each group preceded by a headline in red. Our response, if any, will be in italics preceded by Note (to help people using text-to-speech to read the blog).

If this works, we hope to make it a weekly feature. For today, as we noted, it's going to be focused entirely on the Ukraine/whistleblower/impeachment story.

The Logic of Impeachment

Your response about the politics of impeachment and your reasons for it make sense. Isn't there another reason related to process and trying to manage the stonewalling of the Trump administration? By moving forward with a formal impeachment inquiry, doesn't that give Democrats more powers to conduct their investigation and force members of the administration to testify?

E.C., Shoreline, WA

Note: We made that observation earlier in the week, but should probably have made it in the Q&A as well.

Given the corruption and lawlessness, impeachment, even without conviction, is a necessary action. It will effectively bookmark this president and beg future historians to ask that vital question: why? As such, the impeachment process needs to focus on evidence. The record needs to be built with an eye toward justification. If that is accomplished, acquittal in the Senate will be seen for what it is by the future.

K.V., Laguna Hills, CA

I believe that impeachment has become a necessity. A line has been crossed, and it is important that the Democrats make that clear and move forward. They must be very clear in making their case about what is acceptable behavior for any president. Trump has pushed this envelope so hard that I think it is non-existent. I dread the next few months, but I do believe that the Democrats have to make their case.

I have to believe that the Democrats can do this and make it work. It has been so disappointing to see the Republicans not do their job. The law doesn't matter to them. It's more important to win elections than it is to be honest and help make government work. The Republicans need to grow a spine and do their job! Allowing a president from either party to disobey the laws is a bad precedent.

C.J.C., Camano Island, WA

Removing the president from office is not the only reason to impeach.

If the Democrats did not pursue impeachment, Trump would say "See, even the Democrats didn't try to impeach me because I didn't do anything wrong!" That would be a big political win with his base.

Conservative commentators like Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh are already going to deride any impeachment attempt, but without an attempt, they too will say "Well, Trump didn't do anything bad and the Democrats knew it and didn't try to impeach."

Finally, not attempting to impeach when a president asks a foreign leader for the favor of investigating his political rival—something contained in the White House's own memo on the phone call—would give the green light to any future president to do the same thing.

M.A.H., Akron, PA

Watergate Parallels

Watergate played like the 1972 disaster flick The Poseidon Adventure: it droned on forever. On May 17, 1973, the Senate Watergate Committee held its first open hearing. On June 25, White House counsel John Dean testified to "a cancer on the presidency." On July 17, former aide Alexander Butterfield described the audiotaping system that Nixon had installed at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Yet it would take another 13 months (and one Saturday Night Massacre) for the "smoking gun tape" to emerge. Three nights later, Nixon announced his resignation.

In sharp contrast, less than 48 hours after Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) formally launched the House impeachment inquiry, the Trump administration coughed up both a damning summary of a July 25, 2019, phone call with Ukrainian leader Zelensky and an IC whistleblower's bombshell complaint. Borschtgate may unreel faster than one of those 1970s porno-booth loops.

T.C., Portland, OR

I very much appreciate—and agree with—the position you took on the matter of publishing details about the whistleblower.

I think that framing is extremely important in the media's communications with the public. We should honor, respect, protect, and even idolize whistleblowers; they are true patriots. 'Whistleblowergate' does the opposite of this. By attaching it to -gate, you evoke negative frames of criminality and wrongdoing, which readers will connect to whistleblowers, often unintentionally or unconsciously, and even if they disagree with it.

I completely understand that almost every other publication is using this term, but...lead the way? I love Ukraine and look forward to going back, but surely Ukrainegate or something like that is better.

J.D., Kirkland, WA

Note: We don't much care for it, either, but we tried out ?-gate and people weren't too happy. In our defense, nobody blamed the office building in the Watergate scandal.

Forty-five years ago, my stepmother asked me if I thought Nixon should be impeached. I said "I think he has been a good President (ending the Vietnam War, opening up China, Clean Air Act), but we cannot be seen to condone such behavior. He must be impeached."

J.E.M., New Braunfels, TX

It's a beautiful thing to see in nature how tiny seeds turn into mighty trees. That's how the redwoods grew.

It's interesting to see the parallels in human society. In the 1970s, we saw how a "second-rate burglary" led in time to the resignation of the President of the United States. Will it happen again? Will the "perfect phone call" lead to the departure of Donald Trump from the presidency? Only time will tell, but it seems safe to assume that the House of Representatives will pass articles of impeachment. The big question will be, will there be a point when a group of Republican senators, much like Barry Goldwater and others did in 1974 with Richard Nixon, approach Donald Trump and tell him it's time to go? There are political and moral reasons to think that such a scenario can happen again. We can only hope.

D.G., Silver Spring, MD

I have two observations:

1. This is worse than Watergate. Nixon tried to bug the Democratic National Committee headquarters to get strategic and perhaps damaging information against his political opponents, plus there was the Enemies List and Nixon's attempt to get the IRS to investigate his enemies, and the burglary of Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office to get damaging information on the leaker of the Pentagon Papers. But he never, say, called up Israel and said, "Golda, the United States has been a good friend to Israel." "Yes, and we'd like to buy more fighter planes." "I have a favor though. Ted Kennedy, Ed Muskie and George McGovern are all bad guys, and the Mossad should be looking into them." (It should be noted, though, that before Nixon was in office, he worked to undermine the Johnson Administration's peace efforts in Vietnam. The majority of U.S. combat deaths there took place during Nixon's presidency. At least Trump doesn't have the blood of tens of thousands of Americans on his hands—at least not yet.)

2. A rush by the Democrats to have impeachment done by the end of the year is a mistake. There are still all the other, non-Ukraine-related investigations, and the conventional wisdom is that an impeachment inquiry will break the stonewalling of those investigations (remember the "six committee umbrella"). If the Democrats impeach before those investigations are completed, what happens to them? Impeaching twice would be politically disastrous and play into Trump's narrative of "presidential harassment." Do all these other investigations fall by the wayside? Congress has a responsibility to ensure those investigations are completed.

R.M., Brooklyn, NY

Note: It's actually the majority of overall combat deaths that took place during Nixon's presidency. As the U.S. dialed down its troop commitments and dialed up its bombing, fewer American soliders died, but many more combatants from the other armed forces died.

Whither the GOP?

I expect some cracks in the GOP Senate wall, once the DNC starts referring to them as "Trump's Fifth Avenue Gang"—who won't convict even if they saw him shoot someone on Fifth Avenue.

P.B., New York, NY

I'm really sickened by the tactic being deployed by Republicans right now—that the whistleblower is not a whistleblower if his complaint is based on "hearsay" or "secondhand information" or not on "personal knowledge". This is insane logic. Whistleblowing is not testifying. It's the first step in uncovering misconduct. If these people heard there was a bomb in the Capitol Building, would they stay in their offices because they didn't hear that from someone who saw the person place the bomb?

C.K., Silver Spring, MD

Note: You know who else was a secondhand witness? W. Mark Felt (a.k.a. Deep Throat). So was...Linda Tripp.

There is no shortage of Republican operatives and commentators who have either long been anti-Trump (Michael Steele, S.E. Cupp, Kirsten Soltis Anderson, Andrew Sullivan, etc.) or who have more recently had their "come to Jesus moment" (Tom Nichols, Anthony Scaramucci). And, of course, there are former elected officials who really need one of Amazon's spines (Jeff Flake, Bob Corker). Where are their voices on conservative media? Are they totally discredited and ignored?

Also, some Senators have hinted that they are at least open to learning more about the whistleblower's charges. In recent days I've seen that Sens. Mitt Romney (R-UT), Ben Sasse (R-NE) and Pat Toomey (R-PA) have spoken up. Heck, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) even suggested that the Dems grow a spine and move forward with impeachment if they so strongly believe in it (the source of the Amazon joke?). And yet other than one mention in one article, these voices seem pretty silent. Are any GOP Congressmen speaking up other than the usual pro-Trump attack dogs (Nunes, Meadows, Jordan)? Is there any indication that any of these people are willing to follow the facts and place country ahead of party and, if so, is this being reported anywhere?

R.L., Alameda, CA

Note: Flake did show up on the news this week, and said that there are "35 Republican senators" who would vote to convict Trump if they could cast their votes anonymously. And yes, Grassley was the source of the Amazon joke.

What Comes Next?

I think it goes without saying that no one knows what goes on inside the mind of Donald J. Trump, and he can never be counted on to do the sensible thing. But nonetheless, if I were the President, I would be seriously considering a deal right now. Everyone is so focused on impeachment, but honestly, I think impeachment is the least of the Donald's worries. It seems to me that many of his actions, both before and during his presidency, are not just impeachable but indictable. Yes the DOJ has a policy against indicting a sitting president, but Trump won't be president forever. And I doubt President Warren's AG is going to be as sympathetic as William Barr. And let's not forget about Letitia James, who no one is talking about anymore. I have a feeling that as soon as Trump leaves the White House, and no longer has the protection of the office of the president, hammers are going to start falling. And he will never have as much leverage to make a deal as he does right now. The sensible thing for him to do would be to offer to resign in exchange for certain guarantees against future prosecution of him or his children.

M.E., Stone Mountain, GA

My guess is that there is a 30-50% chance that Trump becomes ever more erratic, which will force the hands of the Senators.

B.B., Panama City Beach, FL

I disagree with your prediction that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will have to allow a trial in the Senate if the House passes articles of impeachment. While the current rules of the Senate require a trial, the Constitution does not. McConnell can change the Senate rules with a majority vote. Since the Senate is unlikely to convict Trump under any circumstances, the only real effect of conducting a trial would be to parade evidence and witness testimony on the television sets of America, a very undesirable outcome for McConnell. The Majority Leader can simply dismiss the articles of impeachment as a political attack without merit. If that were to happen late this year or early next and if at about that time a war with Iran were to break out, the whole episode might plausibly become a distant memory by next November. The optics may be bad for a while, but this is the same Mitch McConnell who stole Obama's Court seat after all, the optics of which did not seem to disturb him very much.

C.D., Geneva, Switzerland

Impeach the President after intensive hearing...but not before January 2020. Only then will you have America's attention.

D.H., Lisbon Falls, Maine

I do not, repeat not, believe that the House failing to move forward on impeachment is an option, given that sufficient evidence or suspicion of wrongdoing is available. Members have taken an oath to defend the Constitution; that oath is not conditional. Specifically, it does not include a clause that allows them to defer initiating impeachment if it is not politically advantageous. If adequate reason to proceed is present, the House MUST proceed, and let the political consequences be damned and fall where they may. Let the obsequious Republican senators explain to their grandchildren why they voted against what will likely turn out to be very damning evidence. Also, there may be an upside, even if the Senate fails to convict: at least, while they were involved with an impeachment trial, it would keep them busy, hence unable to approve additional knee-jerk, hard-right ideological appointees to the federal bench (selected by the Federalist Society, no less), or to appoint more heads to federal departments whose sole intent (and hence, reason for appointment) appears to be to totally destroy the ability of that department to carry out their intended mission.

D.B., Keedysville, MD

Looking Into the Pence-sieve

You speculated about the duty to appoint a vice president if Trump is removed in place of Pence. In the history of the US, we have had 38.5 years when the office of Vice President was vacant. After the death of William Henry Harrison, John Tyler served as President for almost 4 years without a Vice President. After the death of Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson served more than 3 years without a Vice President. Even as recently as John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson assumed office in 1963 and did not appoint a Vice President until after the 1964 election.

L.R., Utqiagvik, AK

Note: You're correct, but all of these cases were prior to the ratification of the 25th Amendment in 1967, before which there was no process for picking a new vice-president. The calculus is at least somewhat different today, with that amendment on the books.

The best placeholder VP would be Colin Powell at 81!

A.B., Chesapeake, Va.

White House Down was on TV today, and I saw Angel Has Fallen recently. I think there have been too many movies where the VP was the villain in an attempt to kill the president. It makes too many people take VP Pence too seriously. He will be a footnote in history, even if he eventually becomes an accidental president by impeachment of Trump.

G.W., Oxnard, CA

Note: Don't forget Frank Underwood in House of Cards!

Ferris Mueller

Besides Trump, Rudy Giuliani and Barr coming out looking bad from the whistleblower's report, I also thought the person to have their reputation smudged was Robert Mueller. What a difference between two reports! The whistleblower's writing is clear, concise and very direct. It is an easy and compelling read. Whereas Mueller's report was thick with verbiage, deadly boring and frankly often impenetrable. I will be honest, I tried to read the Mueller Report several times but fell asleep each time after a few pages. On the other hand, I flew through the 6-7 pages that made up the Whistleblower's Report. Added to this was Mueller's less than stellar hearing appearance where he appeared overly pedantic with his answers and peevish at having to testify. I can't help but wonder if things would have turned out different if Mueller had written his report with an eye to public consumption instead of a dense legal tome meant for scholars. If he had written his report in clearer language, perhaps Barr could not have edited and misconstrued his findings so much. I also can't help but wonder if at the end of the day, if Mueller didn't turn out to be a party man after all who deliberately hid Trump's action in legal jargon to repel the common reader and damp down Trump's misbehaviors.

D.E., Lititz, PA

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Sep28 Saturday Q&A, Impeachment Edition
Sep27 Thar She Blows!
Sep27 Maguire Speaks Much, Says Little in Testimony before House Intelligence Committee
Sep27 Support for Impeachment Is Growing
Sep27 Wanna Bet Trump Gets Impeached?
Sep27 While You Weren't Looking
Sep27 Issa to Challenge Hunter in California
Sep27 Tom Price May Be Back
Sep26 Is This a Smoking Gun?
Sep26 The Historian's Perspective
Sep26 Whistleblower Complaint Sent to Congress
Sep26 Senate Republicans Express Disdain for Impeachment Articles
Sep26 Is This 1974 or 1998?
Sep26 Warren Leads Nationally
Sep26 Warren Leads in California
Sep26 Progressive Candidates Announce Progress
Sep25 An Im-Peachy Day in Washington
Sep25 Trump Distractions Aren't Very Distracting
Sep25 Democratic Debates Lurch Forward
Sep25 The State of the State Polls
Sep25 Bevin Hires New Campaign Manager
Sep24 Whistleblowergate Picks up Steam
Sep23 Ann Selzer: Warren Leads in Iowa
Sep23 Trump Admits That He Discussed Biden with Ukrainian Leader
Sep23 Pennsylvania and Wisconsin Have Lost Factory Jobs This Year
Sep23 Democrats Will Target 26,000 Local Races
Sep23 Alaska Cancels Republican Primary
Sep23 What Are the Candidates Worth?
Sep23 Bill de Blasio Calls It Quits
Sep23 Booker Is Close to Calling It Quits
Sep23 Rand Paul Tries to Block Liz Cheney's Senate Ambitions
Sep21 Saturday Q&A
Sep20 The ?-gate Plot Thickens
Sep20 McConnell Now Wants $250 Million for Election Security
Sep20 Trump's Tax Returns Are Keeping the Courts Busy
Sep20 Withdrawn FEMA Nominee's Issue: He Got into a Bar Fight
Sep20 Harris All-in on Iowa
Sep20 National Polls Say the Democratic Race Is as Easy as 1, 2, 3
Sep20 DNC Has Lots of Oppo Research on Trump
Sep19 Polls: Warren and Biden are Neck and Neck in Iowa
Sep19 Poll: Biden Leads in Florida
Sep19 Trump's FEMA Nominee Is a Disaster
Sep19 Whistleblower Targeted Trump
Sep19 NSA #3 Blasts Trump
Sep19 Trump Picks Robert O'Brien as NSA #4
Sep19 Trump May Face a Domestic Crisis: A General Motors Strike
Sep19 Americans Are Not Keen on Impeaching Trump
Sep19 Fed Lowers Interest Rates Again
Sep19 Sanders Unveils "Housing for All" Plan
Sep19 Warren Took 4,000 Selfies in New York