Another guest blog post from Sam Turner.
On Friday the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York filed a sentencing report in Michael Cohen’s case that contained a bombshell. It stated that Cohen “acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual-1,” a.k.a. the President, in committing two felony campaign finance violations. The felonies “deceived the voting public by hiding alleged facts that he believed would have had a substantial effect on the election.” It is now the official position of the United States Government in legal filings that the President committed felonies in order to substantially affect the presidential election.
There is no question that felonies committed for the purpose of deceiving voters are impeachable crimes. But there are a couple reasons for the new, Democratic House members to be wary of rushing into impeachment. Impeachment would take up a lot of time and resources and would completely take over all media attention at the risk of nullifying anything else the House might want to do. The biggest problems in our country right now will not be solved by litigating the past. It is tough to justify choosing a technical, legal investigation into past conduct over actual solutions to real problems facing Americans.
And having all media coverage coming from the House being about impeachment could backfire in the eyes of Americans. Poor people and people of color are the base of the Democratic Party, but many are skeptical that Party officials are actually looking out for them. Republican positions have forced people of color to vote Democratic; Democrats rely on their votes to win but also largely take their votes as a given. Investigating campaign fraud instead of trying to meaningfully check the President’s racist policies could look like even more abandonment to the Democratic base. Meanwhile, the Democrats also risk alienating white moderates. Currently, the President is unpopular largely because he is vulgar, narcissistic, and unpresidential. Impeachment, however, could make the President a much more sympathetic figure. Bill Clinton’s approval rating was at its highest after his impeachment. Clinton’s impeachment in the House and then acquittal in the Senate made the Republicans look overly political. The Democrats would not want to make the same mistake.
At the same time, the charges against President Trump are of a different nature than the charges against Clinton. The President is accused of committing campaign finance violations to deceive the American people into voting for him. Meddling with the presidential election is a bigger deal than lying under oath. And the Mueller investigation is likely going to conclude that the President conspired with a foreign country to change the result of the election, which is an even bigger deal–a borderline treasonous deal. All incoming members of the House of Representatives take an oath to defend the Constitution. Anything short of impeachment proceedings in the face of these facts would seem almost like a violation of that duty.
I suggest a possibly radical solution to this dilemma. Democrats can impeach the President while fighting the President’s worst programs and fighting for their base in the process. All they need to do is decide that crimes against humanity under international law are high crimes and misdemeanors for impeachment purposes.
The President has ordered child concentration camps. He has permanently separated (Latino) parents and (Latino) children and then placed those (Latino) children up for adoption in (white) homes. Article 2 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and Article 18, section 1091 of the U.S. Code both define the crime of genocide to include transferring children from one group to another group with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, the first group. And he has authorized and suggested the use of lethal force on unarmed refugees.
There is at the very least a colorable argument that all of these actions violate international human rights laws that have been incorporated into the U.S. criminal code. Including these charges in the articles of impeachment, along with the election-based charges, would send a strong message that the President’s treatment of people of color is unacceptable. It also might be one of the most effective means of getting actual policy change. Democrats are powerless to pass laws to stop the President’s actions because they do not control the Senate, but threatening impeachment could lead to mitigation on the part of the President or at least discourage further escalation of his inhumane policies. This would allow the Democrats to do their democracy-protecting duty of impeachment, to fight directly the President’s worst policies, and to signal to their base that they are not giving up the fight.
Doing this would also have a significant impact on the moral position of the United States in the world. President Trump has championed the removal of the United States from the world community. But even before his presidency, there was legitimate criticism that the United States held the rest of the world to higher standards than it held itself. The United States has never prosecuted or even really shunned its war criminals. The late Anthony Bourdain said in one of his books,1
Once you’ve been to Cambodia, you’ll never stop wanting to beat Henry Kissinger to death with your bare hands. You will never again be able to open a newspaper and read about that treacherous, prevaricating, murderous scumbag sitting down for a nice chat with Charlie Rose or attending some black-tie affair for the new glossy magazine without choking. Witness what Henry did in Cambodia–the fruits of his genius for statesmanship–and you will never understand why he’s not sitting in the dock at The Hague next to Milosevic. While Henry continues to nibble nori rolls and remaki at A-list parties, Cambodia, the neutral nation he secretly and illegally bombed, invaded, undermined, and then threw to the dogs, is still trying to raise itself up on its one remaining leg.
As Bourdain noted, American politicians who oversaw actions that arguably violate basic international law and laws of war and humanity maintain an honored place in society. Just last week, we held a state funeral for George H.W. Bush, a CIA Director, Vice President, and President who oversaw many illegal coups and operations abroad that destabilized whole regions and who oversaw a war on drugs and a lack of war on HIV that targeted and crippled marginalized communities at home. Indeed, it can be argued that every modern President has violated international law. Including violations of international laws that have been incorporated into U.S. law in the articles of impeachment would send a powerful message that going forward the United States is going to take seriously the rules it makes everyone else play by. And it could encourage future Presidents to think a little more about everyone’s humanity before they act, an inspiring message that the Democrats could adopt.
Thus, I believe the new, Democratic House should start the impeachment process right out of the gate. But I believe they should do so, not just with an eye to the rules rich white people have in place when facing each other (i.e., election law) but also to the rules the world has agreed on that protect the weakest among us. Doing this will provide a meaningful check on the worst abuses of the Trump administration and will send a positive message to Americans and the world.
- Anthony Bourdain, A Cook’s Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines, 2002 ↩