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The MPU Impeachment Journal

This column is a compilation of separate thoughts on impeachment and the state of American politics.


As I predicted on the podcast, the two limited and obtuse articles of impeachment that Nancy Pelosi and company adopted are woefully inadequate for the task at hand: galvanizing the nation’s attention and exposing President Trump’s lack of fitness for office. First, they do not allege actual criminal acts, a charge that Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans may very well use to prematurely dismiss the charges in the senate as legally meaningless. The terms bribery and extortion should have peppered the articles’ text, which should have contained one separate article just titled “Bribery and Extortion.” Similarly, opting for the amorphous term “Obstruction of Congress” instead of the criminal code crime of “Obstruction of Justice” was a fatal wimp out on the Democrats’ part.

Moreover, leaving out the Don McGahn incident and other obstruction of justices outlined in the Mueller Report allows Republicans to claim that the entire impeachment is over “one telephone call” instead of the panoply of Trump’s unconstitutional misdeeds over three (or more) years. Campaign finance corruption, emoluments, unlawful executive actions – these should all be in the mix on the senate floor. Make senators Susan Collins, Thom Tillis and Cory Gardner vote to acquit Trump of everything he’s done, instead of hiding behind a very limited single incident. That would have produced a national outrage commensurate with an impeachment trial.

I understand that the House majority’s expensive lawyers probably argued against using those legal terms. But having clashed with attorneys all through my television producing and corporate training careers, I’ve learned that lawyers have a very narrow view of the world that often misses the bigger picture. In this case, they lawyered the Democratic caucus right out of a meaningful impeachment trial.


For Mitch McConnell to stand on the senate floor and complain that Democrats have talked about impeachment since the start of Trump’s administration is the height of hypocrisy coming from the man who announced his goal of making Barrack Obama “a one term president” on the very first night of his first term in office.

Democrats had good reasons to anticipate impeaching Donald Trump. He showed a personality and temperament highly likely to violate the the oath of office. He had talked about forcing himself on women. He had run a scam university and was known for stiffing his contractors. He urged Russia to commit international computer hacking. He refused to sever his ties with his vast business empire, which right there promised to violate the emoluments clause (as he has for three straight years). He lied about charitable donations and it was common knowledge that he misused and abused his charitable foundation. He spoke in vulgar terms and showed little respect for women, children, minorities, international treaties, contracts, and laws. He hid his tax returns and lied about the reason. He regularly defied court orders (one of the charges he was eventually impeached over). His first national security advisor lied to the FBI within two weeks of his appointment to the job. His former campaign chairman was a known international scam artist. He fired his FBI Director for purely personal political reasons and lied about it on national television. He held private, off-the-record meetings with Putin. And as we later found out, he hectored his attorney general and White House counsel to obstruct justice for him. We would also learn he was negotiating with the Russian government to build a hotel in Moscow while actively running for president (the height of poor judgment and bad faith), and he used private channels to run his nefarious schemes, scams, illegal use of campaign funds, and he’s been a serial cheater on every wife he ever married. And his hero is Roy Cohen.

So yeah, people who weren’t mesmerized by his silly tweets and vulgar rallies could read his character and expect he would run afoul of his oath of office. What’s amazing is that 197 congressmen, 53 U.S. senators, and some 60 million Americans did not see it coming.


Trump keeps complaining about the Obama administration spying on him (which is factually untrue). Yet no one ever mentions that he professed to send private investigators to Hawaii to privately spy on President Obama regarding his birth certificate, an invasion of privacy that Trump had no legal standing to commit since he is neither a journalist nor a member of law enforcement. Now, it’s quite possible that he was lying about sending lawyers to Hawaii. But he still made the claim, just as he still keeps making the bogus claim that he was the one who was spied on illegally. People who live in glass houses should not be throwing private investigators.


The Republican Party has allowed itself to become the party of Trumpism. But as the defeats of Matt Bevin, Eddie Rispone, and Ed Gillespie demonstrate, even in red states, you can’t win on Trumpism if you aren’t Donald Trump. Someday The Donald won’t sit in The White House. And the politicians who anchored their careers to him and his perverse style of governing may just find themselves submerged in the anti-Trump backlash that will inevitably rise.


Many Americans think that the senate impeachment trial will be no big deal because the outcome is pre-ordained. Nothing could be further from the truth. There has only been one impeachment trial in modern American history, which established a limited set of precedents for how presidential impeachments should proceed. But Mitch McConnell shows the potential to rewrite the impeachment process and with it all future presidential impeachments ad infinitum. 

If McConnell refuses to allow any prosecution witnesses, he’ll upend the precedent set by the Clinton impeachment trial, when Monica Lewinsky and two other witnesses gave video taped depositions. Or worse, he might submit the entire case for early dismissal which, if successful, could drastically minimize the significance of the impeachment process and forever alter the precarious balance of power between the three branches of government. Should McConnell rig the process to avoid a real final verdict of guilt or acquittal, future Congresses may be more empowered to use the impeachment process as a glorified form of presidential censure. 

It is imperative that impeachment not be dumbed down or diminished to be something other than what the Founders meant it to be: a sober and serious examination of a president’s fitness for office. If the majority party can swat away articles of impeachment without a serious examination of the charges brought by the House, future presidents will be emboldened to break the law whenever their party controls the upper chamber. 

Impeachments will always be a political and partisan endeavor, as they are the product of a political system. But that doesn’t mean we should allow one party to summarily revise the rules that have held U.S. presidents accountable to the people for 232 years.

Article 1 of the Constitution gives the senate sole power to” try all impeachments.” But it does not give the senate majority leader sole power to rewrite the impeachment language in Article 1 for posterity.

 

Kevin Kelton is the co-host of The More Perfect Union podcast and a founder of Open Fire Politics.

 

Joe and the Giant Impeachment Question

by Kevin Kelton

Among the first questions former Vice President Joe Biden will face on the campaign trail is whether he thinks congress should begin impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump. Several candidates have already weighed in with qualified (and in the case of Elizabeth Warren, unqualified) answers of “yes.”

But Joe Biden is a different type of presidential candidate, whose candidacy should be based on character, decency and raising the standards of decorum back to where they once stood. So here’s the answer I hope Biden gives to the impeachment question:

I’m not going to answer that directly because I think it’s unseemly for a candidate to call for the removal of his or her political opponent, just as I thought it was unseemly when candidate Donald Trump was going around the country saying that his opponent should be ‘locked up.’ 

But I will say this: the House of Representatives and the Senate both have an important responsibility for oversight and to hold the executive branch accountable. Because no one, not even a president of the United States, is above the law.

And if you ask me if I think the president committed obstruction of justice? The answer is an unqualified, ‘yes.’

If Biden can nail the right answers on his first few campaign questions – such as Medicare expansion versus single payer Medicare For All, the Green New Deal, and issues of income inequality – he will go a long way toward assuring the 2020 electorate that he’s in step with today’s Democratic base and is not a throwback to the 1990s.

Joe Biden is a great American and great public servant who could make a great Commander in Chief. All he has to do is prove he can be a great candidate.

Kevin Kelton is the co-host of The More Perfect Union podcast and a founder of Open Fire Politics.

Unseating Trump

by Kevin Kelton

The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.
–Sen. Mitch McConnell, 2010

Every opposition political party has a duty to try to oppose and, when justified, defeat the party in power, and that starts with its highest leaders. Just as the Republicans worked their tails off to unseat Barack Obama in 2012, Democrats have an obligation to their voters to do everything in their constitutional power to unseat Donald Trump.

The question is, How?

For one, Democrats should not be afraid of impeachment and so cowered by the right as to turn the mere mention of the word into a taboo. The “I word” is not a curse; it’s a constitutionally sound legal process that The Founding Fathers created for just this reason. The House is fully in its constitutionally mandated oversight rights to investigate potential high crimes and send articles of impeachment to the Senate if justified. Yet with a “jury” comprised of 53 Republican senators, it’s doubtful (though not inconceivable) that body will achieve the requisite 2/3 vote to remove Trump from office. 

But that does not mean an impeachment trial would be in vain. While the decision to vote for or against an impeachment conviction is a political calculation made by each senator, the damning testimony and evidence that would likely be unearthed in an impeachment proceeding would greatly inform the 2020 election.

The 2018 midterms showed that most Americans have lost patience with the lack of character and moral compass of this president. The revelations that could come out during an impeachment trial would greatly add to that impatience. Like the Titanic taking on water, Trump’s presidency cannot float forever. With each dirty revelation that surely would come out, each compartment of Trump’s illicit ship of state will begin to flood, and the entire administration will quickly submerge.

From Paul Manafort to Michael Flynn to Michael Cohen to Roger Stone – and maybe even Jared Kushner and Don Jr. – the wrong-doings that would come out during testimony in a public impeachment trial will send the Trump dominos falling. The president himself would probably survive thanks to his GOP firewall in the senate, but his presidency would be mortally wounded and on life support just as it heads into the 2020 primary season.

The idea that Trump might emerge from an impeachment acquittal victorious and vindicated is nonsense. He is not as likable as Bill Clinton, and his high crimes will prove much more than a sordid sexual affair. And it cannot be overlooked that even with a bump in Clinton’s approval ratings after his acquittal, that still didn’t stop his vice president, Al Gore, from losing the presidency in 2000.

One could even anticipate a GOP primary challenge to Trump on moral grounds. His poll numbers might get so bad that Trump would be compelled to forgo a re-election run, handing the nomination to Mike Pence in an effort to salvage some scraps of his presidential legacy. (A Hail Mary pass that didn’t work so well for Hubert Humphrey or Gerald Ford.)

But invariably, we will have to unseat Trump (or Pence) at the polls. While right now the pundit banter seems to flitter around who is the most progressive candidate or who is the new, younger face the party needs, I suspect that an impeachment process will change that equation. Voters often lurch from one extreme to the other – from Reagan-Bush old stodginess to Clinton young dynamism; from Clinton philandering to George W. Bush family values; from Bush II recklessness to Obama coolness.

If Trump is proved in a senate trial to be a dirty con artist who scammed his way into office and continues to profit illicitly from it, decency and honor may be the commodity 2020 voters crave.

Joe Biden is well-positioned to make that case. Just as George W. Bush was able to run on restoring honor and dignity to the Oval Office, Biden could run on honor, decency and competence. So might another Democratic candidate who can project a similar sense of honor and character in a way Hillary Clinton could not. A Trump-weary electorate might flock to that message and messenger.

The way to unseat Trump is to hammer his faults relentlessly and then offer a clear contrast. An impeachment trial in the senate, even one ending in acquittal, would magnify that contrast.

Trump’s policies may resonate with conservative voters, but his bankrupt character is what will ultimately defeat him.

 

Kevin Kelton is the founder of Open Fire Politics and cohost of The More Perfect Union podcast.

Republican Snowflakes (Ep. 151)

This episode of the MPU podcast looks at comedian Michelle Wolf’s turn as the headliner at The White House Correspondence Dinner, dictator Kim Jong-un’s turn as a statesman in South Korea, President Donald Trump’s turn as a guest on Fox and Friends, and Bill Cosby’s turn as a convicted sex offender. Amazingly, the only one who came off well was Kim Jong-un! What does that say about the world we live in?

Don’t forget to check out OPEN FIRE POLITICS on Facebook.

“Not a Target” Doesn’t Mean “Exonerated”

by Kevin Kelton

The border wall between a “subject” and “target” is thin and can crumble quickly. 

Much has been made about reports that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told President Trump he’s “not a target” of the Russia or Michael Cohen investigations. Trump and his supporters seem to believe that exonerates him in both investigations. As they say online, LOL.

Over the years I’ve read many dozens of articles about murder investigations and other felonies. Invariably there’s a spouse, relative or close friend whom all the evidence points to, but the police call him “a person of interest” and not “a suspect.” Usually it’s to get that person to turn themselves in for questioning. But persons of interest can turn into suspects and charged perpetrators very quickly.

Unlike “suspect” and “material witness,” “person of interest”… generally refers to someone law enforcement authorities would like to speak with or investigate further in connection with a crime. It may be used, rather than calling the person a suspect, when they don’t want their prime suspect to know they’re watching him closely. Critics complain that the term has become a method for law enforcement officers to draw attention to individuals without formally accusing them.

Now here’s the FBI’s terminology:

• A “subject” is: “a person whose conduct is within the scope of a Grand Jury’s investigation.” A subject is somewhere between a target and a witness. A subject has engaged in conduct that may look suspicious or unethical, but the prosecutor isn’t certain that a provable crime has been committed and wants to do more investigating in order to be sure.

• A person is a “target” when the prosecutor or Grand Jury has substantial evidence linking him to the commission of a crime. The key thing to remember about these categories is that they are ultimately meaningless and offer you no protection. Why? Because even if you’re currently a witness or subject, there’s no guarantee that your status will remain unchanged.

According to Bruce J. Kelton, a former Justice Department attorney who prosecuted RICO and organized crime cases, “Many individuals who wind up as criminal defendants in federal court started out as subjects and as the grand jury investigation developed turned into targets. To give an example, Bernie Madoff was the initial immediate target in a Ponzi scheme in New York. But by the end of the investigation, 15 others who initially were subjects were indicted and convicted.”

So if you think the fact that Rosenstein told Trump he’s “not a target” means he’s been vindicated, you may be in for a big surprise. And if the president thinks he’s been vindicated, good! Let him continue with that false sense of security.

As for me, I will accept the outcome if he’s never charged. And do a jig if he is.

Kevin Kelton is a cohost of The More Perfect Union podcast and founder of Open Fire Politics on Facebook.

Multiple Bombshells (Ep. 149)

This episode of “The More Perfect Union” podcast looks at Trump’s military strike on Syria and its ramifications, James Comey’s new book and its ramifications, Michael Cohen’s rumored 2016 trip to Prague and its ramifications, and Greg’s ability to do foreign accents and its ramifications.

Whack-A-Mole (Ep. 148)

This week’s The More Perfect Union podcast celebrates Sen. Tammy Duckworth’s blessed event and Trump attorney Michael Cohen’s blessed FBI raid.

Between shows, check out Open Fire on Facebook

Roseanne & Donald: Life Irritates Art (Ep. 147)

This week’s MPU podcast looks at Roseanne Barr’s love affair with Donald Trump,  the differences between what liberals and conservatives watch on TV, Laura Ingraham’s cheap shot a Parkland shooting survivor, and what a remake of Red Dawn might look like.

Spank Me Kindly (Ep. 146)

This episode of The More Perfect Union podcast covers the Stormy Daniels “60 Minutes” interivew, the March For Our Lives, John Bolton, Trump’s congratulatory call to Putin, China tariffs, and Joe Biden’s ominous prediction for 2020. It’s real debate without the hate…and with the laughs.

Trade Wars Are Good (Ep. 143)

This episode of The More Perfect Union podcast looks at trade wars, little white lies, the exit of Hope Hicks from Trump’s inner sanctum, the West Virginia teachers’ strike, and some things that may secretly be making the president more cranky than normal.

Teachers Packing Heat (Ep. 142)

This episode of The More Perfect Union podcast looks at the idea of arming public school teachers, the latest in the Trump-Russia collusion investigation, and the possibility of Ohio Gov. John Kasich challenging Trump in 2020.

For more debate between shows, join Open Fire Politics on Facebook.

A National Boycott for Gun Safety

by Kevin Kelton

Dozens of high school students in Florida went to their state capitol this week demanding action on sensible gun safety legislation. Nothing happened. Dozens more have been camped out at the White House. Nothing happened. Students and parents met with the President of the United States. And nothing will happen.

Just like nothing happened after mass shootings in Columbine, Virginia Tech, Omaha, Geneva County, Binghamton, Fort Hood, Manchester, Tucson, Seal Beach, Oakland, Aurora, Sandy Hook, Herkimer, Navy Yard, Alturas, Marysville, Lafayette, Charleston, San Bernardino, Roseburg, Colorado Springs, Hesston, Orlando, Sutherland Springs, and Las Vegas. (I bet you don’t even recognize several of those!)

Because until we start limiting what types of weapons can be sold and who can get them, the shootings will continue. And like has happened in Europe, they won’t just be confined to our schools and churches.

I hope that high school students stage an ongoing national protest until some sensible gun controls laws are enacted. I encourage them to stay out of school until it happens. Yes, boycott high school… even if it means delaying your graduation for a year.

Let colleges sweat over the lack of incoming freshmen (and their tuitions). Let the school boards debate what to do. Let the nation’s teachers and professors be mobilized. Then watch the churches join in, and businesses and companies. Let the state legislators feel the heat from the nation’s student population and their parents. Let parents feel the pain of their children, who must walk into what now amount to caged human target ranges every morning.

If parents won’t lead, their children must.

Because if we don’t stop this now, soon it won’t just be schools and movie theaters and churches. It will be malls (as in Nairobi and Omaha). It will be restaurants (as in Paris and Killeen). It will be hotels (as in Mumbai and Kabul). It will be theme parks. It will be Little League games. It will be Main Street.

Politicians will not yield until the national pressure is so great that they cannot NOT act.

Just like it took sit-ins and walk-outs at colleges in the 1960s and ’70s to end the seemingly never-ending Vietnam War, we once again need to look to our student population to lead us out of the never-ending gun war on our streets and in our schools.

I urge the students of Parkland to continue to lead on this issue, and other students across the nation to follow their lead. Stay home. Do not walk into another killing field like Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School again until something is done to protect you. You will not be hurting your future if you push back your first year of college. You will be making your college years safer and your future brighter.

Adulthood will still be there for you. But you need to be there for it.

Many will call this column radical and hysterical. They are wrong. Inaction demands action. Change demands sacrifice. Courage demands leadership. Even if it comes from 16 and 17 year-olds.

It’s time to end this madness. If it means a few weeks or months of missed classes, so be it.

I want my high school-age child alive. I’ll worry about college later.

Kevin Kelton is a writer and co-host of The More Perfect Union podcast. He is also the founder of Open Fire Politics.