Maybe President Donald Trump doesn’t think the phone call with the Ukrainian leader was “perfect,” after all.
Maybe President Trump has something to hide.
Maybe he has quite a few things to hide.
That’s the most likely reason the president has refused to allow members of his administration appear before the U.S. House of Representatives as part of the impeachment inquiry. The president’s latest lawyer, Pat Cipollone, said in an eight-page letter the White House wouldn’t cooperate with the House at all.
The letter was an odd piece of work. It was less an example of legal reasoning than the literary equivalent of a toddler threatening to hold his breath until he gets his way.
Perhaps that’s because the president has no legal argument he can offer.
Article 1, section 2, clause 5 makes things clear:
“The House of Representatives shall chuse [choose] their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.”
That means the president of the United States doesn’t get to negotiate over terms of impeachment. He doesn’t get to guide the process. He certainly doesn’t get to decide whether or how it begins or proceeds.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, and chairs of various committees investigating Trump’s activities have said the president’s refusal to cooperate amounts to obstruction of justice and strengthens the case against him.
That’s not an idle statement.
President Richard Nixon resigned before impeachment proceedings could be formalized. Two of the articles of impeachment he would have faced, though, were obstruction of justice and contempt of Congress.
That’s the course President Trump is on.
The question is: Why?
The president is impetuous, undisciplined and often amoral, but he’s not stupid. He must know what he’s doing regarding impeachment isn’t working.
The polls show as much.
Just a few weeks ago, most polls showed public support for impeachment somewhere in the mid-30s. The most recent Washington Post poll showed 58% of those surveyed now favor impeachment – and 49% support removing Trump from office.
That’s a huge shift.
The president wants to blame Democrats for his troubles, but he’s being too modest. He’s almost solely responsible for the disintegration of his political fortunes.
When it comes to impeachment, the House Democrats have moved with all the speed and agility of a turtle crossing a road. There are at least two reasons for this.
The first is that they are cautious about the politics of the process. They know that no politician in the world is more skilled at casting himself as a victim and evoking sympathy than Donald Trump. Pelosi and her team don’t want the process to boomerang on them because they forgot to dot an i or cross a t.
But the larger reason is more basic.
One of the first rules of politics is this: “When your opponent is imploding, do nothing to impede the process.”
And that’s what the president is doing.
At every turn, he’s made moves that further implicate him or increase doubts about his stability and character. He’s acknowledged publicly the charges against him so that there is no real dispute about the facts. He’s attempted to shift responsibility for his actions to others, such as Energy Secretary Rick Perry, without seeming to realize that doing so makes the case he can’t manage himself or his team.
He’s even alienated friends and allies he may need by abandoning the Kurds in Syria. Two of Trump’s closest allies – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina – condemned the president’s decision in stark, almost inquisitional language.
But to no effect.
If President Trump wanted to paint a portrait of a man experiencing a meltdown, he couldn’t be doing a better job than he is now.
It will get worse.
Several courts now have said the president can’t keep shielding his tax returns much longer. Whatever secrets he’s been concealing about his business and financial affairs soon will come out. That likely will open fresh lines of impeachment inquiry.
There’s a storm coming.
And what we have in the Oval Office is an angry old man howling at the wind.