As regular visitors to this shebeen know, the proprietor stood up for Nancy Pelosi when the Democratic party regained the majority in the House of Representatives and some folks wanted to block her from becoming Speaker of the House. It was conspicuous that this effort came largely from the more conservative members of the caucus, and it is now conspicuous that two of the ringleaders-Congresscritters Tim Ryan of Ohio and Seth Moulton of Massachusetts-are now running for president, proof positive that self-regard will wrestle self-awareness to the ground every time.
That said, what she wrote to her caucus on Monday is just, well, a bit naive.
While our views range from proceeding to investigate the findings of the Mueller report or proceeding directly to impeachment, we all firmly agree that we should proceed down a path of finding the truth. It is also important to know that the facts regarding holding the president accountable can be gained outside of impeachment hearings...As we proceed to uncover the truth and present additional needed reforms to protect our democracy, we must show the American people we are proceeding free from passion or prejudice strictly on the presentation of fact.
The model here, of course, is Watergate. We had the Ervin Committee and a special prosecutor for a year before the House Judiciary Committee voted on articles of impeachment, and John Doar was appointed special counsel to HJC chairman Peter Rodino in December of 1973. This, I believe, is what Nancy Pelosi is talking about. Investigations into presidential conduct that get around to an impeachment inquiry in their own good time. She is not alone in this, and I certainly am not averse to a full chorus of investigators calling on Camp Runamuck.
But this is why I don't think the precedent is helpful. First, as we noted, an impeachment inquiry started on its own while other investigations were ongoing. (Hell, Spiro Agnew got caught taking bribes in the middle of this period of time.) Second, the Watergate precedent depends vitally on bipartisan, cross-ideological support. Doar was a Republican, and Sam Ervin was an unreconstructed Dixiecrat. But a lot of the real telling fire came from Republicans, especially Howard Baker of Tennessee and Lowell Weicker of Connecticut, whose thundering condemnation of White House adviser John Ehrlichman was as powerful as you ever will see in a committee hearing. And it was Republicans on the HJC that sealed the deal in the summer of 1974.
Here we have to stop and stipulate that the Republican Party, as it moved toward the presidency of Ronald Reagan, vowed in its deepest soul never to let this happen again, and they held to that principle so resolutely that they were able to bury the Iran-Contra scandal so deep in fudge that nobody ever was held accountable for it. The template was almost identical to what had happened more than a decade before.
There were simultaneous investigations-first, the Tower Commission, and then an Ervin-like special joint congressional committee. All the while, Lawrence Walsh was laboring on as a special counsel. Because of the staunch partisanship of the Republicans in Congress, the whole process broke down and became a hopeless garble. The Tower Commission basically was a covey of Beltway wisemen sweeping the actual criminality under a rug. The special commission, despite the efforts of chairman Daniel Inouye, was sabotaged by its Republican members, who managed to make Oliver North a national hero. (A minority report, written by a young congressman named Dick Cheney, essentially absolved everyone in the White House of everything.) Not only that, but the immunity granted by that committee to North and others was the basis for throwing out the few convictions poor Walsh managed to obtain against all the stonewalling.
They were not going to let it happen again.
That's what's wrong with Pelosi's plan. Where are the Doars, and the Bakers, and the Weickers in the Republican Party now? Where's the Ervin among the Democratic members of Congress who will put political safety aside and do what's right? Joe Manchin? Ryan? Moulton? Please. Impeachment, as Peter Rodino knew, must be bipartisan, and 40 years of Republican institutional memory assures us that it never can be.
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