Impeachment alert: "It's very clear that the president obstructed justice," says House Judiciary chair

He said this yesterday as a prelude to his committee demanding documents from practically everyone who’s ever worked with or for Trump, 81 people in all. The House Judiciary Committee is the first hurdle to impeaching a president so the fact that the chairman is talking like this is no mere footnote to the day’s happenings in Congress. This is the man in charge of the process telling you he thinks probable cause of impeachable offenses already exists.

“Nadler’s talk with ABC was the clearest indication yet that Democrats have decided to impeach Trump and are now simply doing the legwork involved in making that happen,” wrote Byron York of this same clip. Sure looks that way.

Nadler offers plenty of to-be-sure caveats about diligently gathering evidence and needing to persuade the public, yadda yadda, all of which is designed to buy him and Pelosi time before they’re forced to act. We’re on our own schedule, he’s telling anti-Trumpers here, not yours. But the fact that he was willing to go this far in pronouncing Trump guilty of obstruction leaves him with little choice but to eventually pull the trigger. Either he impeaches Trump at some point or he reverses himself and claims that POTUS didn’t obstruct justice after all. The former would be dire and unpredictable politically for his party, the latter would be grossly humiliating.

Or is there a third endgame? What if, wonders Axios, the plan isn’t to make the case for removal by Congress but to make it for removal by voters next November?

They plan to pursue a slow-bleed strategy with lengthy public hearings and scores of witnesses to methodically pick apart Trump’s finances and presidency.

What’s new: In an investigation being coordinated among six to eight House committees, Trump will essentially be on public trial for months to come, with topics that include abuse of power, obstruction of justice, conflicts of interest (including profit from the Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue) and money laundering…

A source close to the House leadership told me: “Many in leadership believe impeachment could help Trump get re-elected,” and instead will try to “pivot the anger to defeating him on the campaign side next year. … The last thing they want to do is help Trump like it eventually helped Clinton.”

Impeaching Trump might be good politics — might — but there’s no truly “good time” to impeach him. For instance, impeachment would help make the election more of a referendum on the president, whose approval ratings rarely moves above 43 percent, than a choice between Trump and a possibly even more flawed Democratic candidate. But when to do it? If they try to do it this year in order to avoid stepping on the Democratic candidates’ 2020 campaigns, they risk having impeachment become old news by next November. If they do it early next year, it’ll consume the Dem primaries at a moment when the field should be trying to brand themselves on issues like health care and climate change. If they do it next summer, voters might be more likely to view it as a cynical ploy aimed at damaging Trump’s electoral chances, which could trigger a backlash. And what good would it do them to impeach at any point knowing that McConnell will keep Senate Republicans in line against removing Trump from office?

The smart play is to do what they’re doing, launching an open-ended investigation that will dig up plenty of dirt on Trump and grind on to Election Day next year, or at least close enough that Pelosi can offer a variation of the same rule McConnell used to block Merrick Garland’s confirmation three years ago. Since we’re so close to the voters choosing America’s next president, she might say after the investigations wrap up next spring, we think it’d be better to publish our evidence and let the people decide than to usurp their authority by seeking to remove the president ourselves. That’s the only chance Democrats have to actually oust Trump, after all. Instead of passing articles of impeachment and seeing them die in the Senate, they’ll probably produce a Democratic counterpart to the Mueller report, laying out everything they find in gory detail and publishing it next summer so that the Democratic nominee and the media have a treasure trove of oppo to use against Trump. That’s why Nadler is fine with accusing Trump of impeachable offenses without taking the logical next step and claiming that it’s time to impeach. They’re going to ask the people to “impeach” him at the ballot box.

Plus, why would they risk impeaching Trump at any point before Election Day knowing that there’s always a chance that juicy new impeachment material will emerge after the impeachment effort inevitably fails? Democrats get only one bite at this apple. If they try to impeach Trump for offenses X and Y and lose in the Senate, the public will naturally take less of an interest if they turn around the following week and come up with offense Z. Case in point, read the New Yorker today on Trump’s reaction to AT&T trying to acquire Time Warner. Trump opposed that merger on antitrust grounds, but the suspicion at the time was that POTUS was less worried about a new telecom monopoly than wanting to sic the DOJ on his enemies at CNN to punish them for their relentlessly critical coverage of him. Was Trump’s motive economic or personal? Personal, if you believe this story:

However, in the late summer of 2017, a few months before the Justice Department filed suit, Trump ordered Gary Cohn, then the director of the National Economic Council, to pressure the Justice Department to intervene. According to a well-informed source, Trump called Cohn into the Oval Office along with John Kelly, who had just become the chief of staff, and said in exasperation to Kelly, “I’ve been telling Cohn to get this lawsuit filed and nothing’s happened! I’ve mentioned it fifty times. And nothing’s happened. I want to make sure it’s filed. I want that deal blocked!”

Cohn, a former president of Goldman Sachs, evidently understood that it would be highly improper for a President to use the Justice Department to undermine two of the most powerful companies in the country as punishment for unfavorable news coverage, and as a reward for a competing news organization that boosted him. According to the source, as Cohn walked out of the meeting he told Kelly, “Don’t you fucking dare call the Justice Department. We are not going to do business that way.”

True or false? If the president tried to use state power to carry out a personal vendetta, that’s a big deal. Certainly big enough that the House Judiciary Committee would be interested in learning more.

Nadler doubtless agrees, so why would he rush to impeach Trump on obstruction grounds instead of taking the time to run down the New Yorker’s claim (and many others)? This Dem investigation blitz is going to be the most ambitious taxpayer-funded oppo research project for an election in the history of the country. Democrats are much less interested in the ostensible and futile goal of that research, the president’s removal by the Senate, than they are in winning next November and hoping that the blue tide carries them to a new Senate majority as well. They won’t impeach. They’ll ask voters to do it for them.