The announcement that Reps. Suzan DelBene, Denny Heck, Derek Kilmer and Kim Schrier support an impeachment inquiry demonstrates the need to show America more than Robert Mueller’s redacted findings before voting on the impeachment of President Donald Trump.
The special counsel’s testimony before two House committees nudged these four Democratic moderates to take the appropriate position in backing further investigation on behalf of the American people. This brings them into alignment with fellow Washington Democrats Reps. Pramila Jayapal and Adam Smith for a deeper look into Mueller’s findings. Rep. Rick Larsen has gone further, declaring Trump should be impeached — i.e., charged and sent to the Senate for trial — based on what is already known.
The Mueller report’s findings reveal too much about Trump’s solicitation and condoning of Russian election interference to set aside. Under the Constitution, Congress alone has authority to hold the president accountable. Because the redacted disclosure of Mueller’s findings presents strong evidence of illegal acts and a coverup that extended well into Trump’s presidency, Congress must examine the evidence in full to weigh the case.
Days before announcing their support for the inquiry, DelBene, Heck, Kilmer and Schrier told this editorial board that the question of impeachment would require further investigation. The official inquiry they now support — as distinct from moving to impeachment directly — is consistent with this position. The first public use of this label in the current process surfaced in a legal filing to lend weight to a House Judiciary Committee request that a judge give Congress grand jury records from Mueller’s investigation. The committee’s investigation is intended to determine what the articles of impeachment could look like; if the House votes to impeach, the Senate could remove the president from office.
“I think what changed was this frustration that the Congressional investigations keep getting stonewalled at every turn,” Schrier said later about her inquiry support.
The allegations and stakes are too high to let incomplete information — the redacted Mueller report — be the basis for final judgment. It is a failure of today’s American politics that the notion of a thorough investigation has so far been a full-throated partisan issue.
In 1974, a House vote to authorize an identical proceeding — a House Judiciary Committee impeachment inquiry — passed 410 to 4. The Republican minority held more than 45% of the seats that year. They insisted on legal guardrails to keep the process nonpartisan, then provided near-total support.
President Richard Nixon, of course, resigned before that process could come to completion. Two decades later, the House Judiciary Committee conducted no investigation beyond an independent counsel’s report before recommending four impeachment charges against President Bill Clinton. Clinton was impeached by the Republican-controlled House on two of those charges, but the Senate acquitted him on both.
The current inquiry began with no authorization vote. Lamentably, many Republicans in today’s Congress express little, if any, interest in bringing truth to light if it might displease President Trump, which torpedoes hope of an investigation receiving a bipartisan mandate.
Americans deserve the full truth. If the inquiry does not turn up convincing evidence for an impeachment, the position taken by Reps. DelBene, Heck, Kilmer and Schrier leaves them room to decline to support one.
The proper framing for the inquiry comes from what 1974’s House Judiciary Committee chairman, Rep. Peter W. Rodino Jr., Democrat of New Jersey, said before that year’s impeachment inquiry vote:
“Whatever the result, whatever we learn or conclude, let us now proceed with such care and decency and thoroughness and honor that the vast majority of the American people, and their children after them, will say: ‘This was the right course. There was no other way.’ “
Care, decency, thoroughness and honor ought to be the defining tenets of 2019’s investigation. Democrats in Washington’s congressional delegation are right to support it. Our state’s Republican representatives should make it a bipartisan pursuit.