It’s all disturbing. Very disturbing. Or rather, as Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) put it after sitting through Tuesday’s impeachment inquiry testimony, “extremely, extremely, extremely disturbing.”
So, triple-X disturbing. If House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is conducting an orchestra with this probe, she’s left the quiet early movements far behind.
With each witness, the maestra and her House of Representatives colleagues are building intensity. It’s getting hot and loud in the nation’s capital — it’s disturbing. But it’s also galvanizing.
For fully half of Americans, the ones who now favor the president’s removal from office, there’s finally hope that Trump might — at long last — be held responsible for the grave injuries he’s done to this country.
(Not to get sentimental, but the moving bass-baritone symphony of boos that greeted the president in Nationals Park on Sunday, where he couldn’t pack the stands with MAGA hats, seemed like the sound of the people rising. Speaking boo to power.)
Since Pelosi announced the impeachment probe a little over a month ago, a steady stream of witnesses has similarly described the July phone call in which President Trump pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to hound Hunter Biden and his father, who just happens to be Trump’s political rival.
Over and over, witnesses have delivered “a smoking gun” and “explosive” testimony. But those words suggest finality. Instead they’re better understood as installments in a crescendo molto, a great change in dynamics and loudness in Washington.
The Tuesday testimony that rocked Maloney, who is acting chair of the House Oversight Committee, came from Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman, the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council and one of a handful of people who actually listened in on the July call.
In his opening statement, Vindman said, flatly, “I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen.” Further, what Trump had in mind could “undermine U.S. national security.”
For the president, this is indeed extremely, extremely, extremely bad. It’s not hearsay, and it underscores the tune we’ve already heard. Sometimes, orchestral music can start to sound like an alarm.
In “To End a Presidency,” legal scholars Laurence Tribe and Joshua Matz describe impeachable offenses as those that “involve corruption, betrayal or an abuse of power.” A quick reorg turns this list into the impeachment ABCs: abuse, betrayal, corruption. Abuse of power. Betrayal of country. Corruption of office.
Expect Pelosi and her circle, as the crescendo mounts, to sound the gong for these ABCs over and over.
An eight-page House resolution, scheduled for a vote Thursday, will formalize the impeachment inquiry, making it blindingly clear that the members of the Democratic majority understand the solemnity of their work and the importance of sticking to the proper procedures.
You might say the speaker’s pace has been somber — almost plodding. More zealous Trump opponents started gunning for the president before he took office, incensed by his lifetime of questionable moral, ethical and professional conduct. But Pelosi has seized on the facts of Trump’s relationship with Ukraine.
The resolution also makes it clear that Trump’s forces will no longer be allowed to defy congressional subpoenas with impunity. Compliance with court orders turns out to be something of a kitchen-table issue. According to a new poll from Suffolk University and USA Today, 66% of Americans say the White House has an obligation to honor subpoenas from Congress. Only 26% disagree, suggesting that “no one is above the law” remains a recognizable American principle.
In May, when impeachment was barely a glimmer in the congressional eye, late-night TV host Jimmy Kimmel told Pelosi that the country had been waiting a long time for Trump’s comeuppance. “Like since the ‘70s,” Kimmel said, perhaps referring to the time in 1973 that the Justice Department sued 26-year-old New York landlord Trump for refusing to rent to black tenants.
Pelosi held her cards close. “When we go through with our case,” she told Kimmel, “it’s got to be ironclad.”
Through the summer and into the fall, when her colleagues’ hair was on fire over impeachment, Pelosi held to “ironclad,” a word she’s still using. “When we have what we need,” she told columnists this week about whether the House will in fact vote to impeach, “we will be ready … and we will be ironclad.”
Pelosi’s deliberateness, while sometimes maddening, has been extremely, extremely, extremely effective. Despite GOP charges to the contrary, the public, and perhaps even some honest Republicans, have been given a chance to see that the inquiry is based on facts and not feelings, discovery and not prejudice, evidence and not tweets.
Removing a president is not to be taken lightly. The people understandably want assurances that, if they support impeachment and removal, they’re not just throwing in with another band of colicky partisans.
After the cacophony of the last three years, the House needs to deliver diligence, evidence and transparency. Pelosi and company need to do it right. All of us can be forgiven for wanting Washington, someday soon, to land on a major chord.
Virginia Heffernan wrote this for the Los Angeles Times.