How Should Democrats Respond to Mueller?

They might impeach him. But there’s another way.

Robert Mueller in 2012. Source: Wikimedia

Last week’s release of a redacted Mueller report has provoked a fresh discussion of how Democrats should respond. The vast majority of Democrats on Twitter are already convinced that the president should be impeached. Meanwhile, party leadership is torn on the question, with many House members instead leaning towards a censure of the president.

Both sides have made cogent, compelling arguments. Supporters of impeachment argue that Trump’s actions demand a response from a coequal branch of government and that setting the impeachment precedent is more important than securing a vote for removal in the Senate. Brian Beutler of Crooked Media, a supporter of impeachment, recently argued, “Going down swinging can be good politics, and set important precedents. Unlike prosecutors they can’t select their jurors, but also unlike prosecutors, they are not discouraged from trying the case in public. To the contrary, it is their obligation.”

Critics of impeachment note the possibility of Trump’s success and that it might sink the electoral chances of Democrats. As Jim Newell wrote in Slate, critics in the House argued that impeachment “wouldn’t go anywhere in the Senate, it would rally the president’s base, and it would distract from Dems’ message on kitchen-table items that people care more about, like health care protections. These … are good points!”

There is a better way, however. Outside of impeachment and censure, Democrats need to pursue a path that would keep open the possibility of investigations and ongoing negative news releases.

The first step to the Democratic response is, of course, to subpoena Mueller’s full report and to hear his testimony. The unredacted version may yield a number of news items and evidence that House committees could use to bolster their own avenues of inquiry. Also, Mueller still has a considerable amount of power for Democrats. To a large number of Americans he is a neutral arbiter, one who is still untainted by a party label. Mueller’s comments on Trump can be used to refute the narrative that his report fully exonerated the president. They will certainly be quoted by Democrats on the campaign trail for years to come.

Afterwards, Democrats need to continue the pace and plan of their investigations. They must subpoena every financial record associated with Trump that they can justify to a court. Democrats should bring Trump administration officials in for questioning and release reports on a regular basis. This effort needs to be long term and multi-pronged, with a new update or development released every month or every week if need be. As soon as the report on obstruction is released, there should be another on Trump’s campaign connections with the Russians, and another on potential money laundering in the Trump organization, and so on. Throughout the process, there is always the chance of releasing a damning piece of information that could sway Republican votes in the Senate.

This plan is an alternative to both immediate impeachment and censure. Impeachment, while a noble and understandable goal, would have a certain end date and the support of only 36% of voters. If Trump wins an impeachment vote, it will be seen as a victory and will give him a polling boost in battleground states no matter how corrupt every liberal and Never Trump conservative knows that he is.

Impeachment is also opposed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi because of her fear of its political ramifications. Liberal groups are unlikely to convince the long-term Speaker otherwise. Instead, Democrats need to pursue investigations that do not easily culminate in a resolution or failed impeachment vote. There cannot be another redemption moment for the Trump administration a la Barr’s letter. If Democrats truly believe that Trump is a criminally corrupt president, they need to spend every day until the 2020 election reminding him, and the American people, of that fact.

I’m a writer interested in the intersections of history, ideas, and politics. I publish every week.

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