WASHINGTON—I don’t mean to diminish the gold-standard, A-level Founders porn with which the nation was gifted on Wednesday. I am a ridiculous nerd for such stuff, and not even the woebegone visage of Jonathan Turley, who’s seeing all those juicy Clinton impeachment TV appearances coming back for him like the visitation of the spirits at Scrooge’s place, can take the smile off my face.
But the best practical argument made in the context of 2019 politics came from Professor Pamela Karlan, who announced her presence with authority by clapping back ferociously on Rep. Doug Collins, the bellowing bullshit auctioneer from Georgia. Because he apparently believes that everyone is as deeply afflicted by deliberate ignorance as he is, Collins snarked about how none of the expert witnesses possibly could have read all 300 pages of the House Intelligence Committee’s damning report by the time they came to testify. To which Professor Karlan replied:
Here, Mr. Collins I would like to say to you, sir, that I read transcripts of every one of the witnesses who appeared in the live hearing because I would not speak about these things without reviewing the facts. So I’m insulted by the suggestion that as a law professor I don’t care about those facts.
I do not envy those of Professor Karlan’s students who show up unprepared for class.
Anyway, throughout the hearings, Karlan continually made an argument that should be central to anyone’s consideration of the charges relating to the Ukrainian shakedown—that the crimes therein involved an attempt to monkeywrench the 2020 election, and that, therefore, they are an assault on every American’s right to a free and fair election, and that, therefore, they are an assault on every American’s right to vote. Maybe someone else has made this argument and I missed it, but I doubt they made it as forcefully and as cogently as Karlan did. Now you can see why she almost was nominated for the Supreme Court by President Obama, who went with Merrick Garland, in part because it was determined that Garland was more likely to be confirmed. Yeah, that putt got called a little early.
The high crime, by Karlan’s thinking, is not merely something determined by what 18th century lawyers considered bribery to be, but rather the theft of something even more precious. In her opening statement, Karlan laid out the argument in her opening statement.
The evidence reveals a president who used the powers of his office to demand that a foreign government participate in undermining a competing candidate for the presidency. As President John Kennedy declared, the right to vote in a free American election is the most powerful and precious right in the world. But our elections become less free when they are distorted by foreign interference. What happened in 2016 was bad enough. There is widespread agreement that Russian operatives interfered to manipulate the process. But that is magnified if a sitting president abuses the powers of his office actually to invite foreign intervention.
To see why, imagine living in a part of Louisiana or Texas that's prone to devastating hurricanes and flooding. What would you think if you lived there and your governor asked for a meeting with the president to discuss getting disaster aid that congress has provided for. What would you think if that president said, I would like to do you—I would like you to do us a favor. I'll meet with you and I'll send the disaster relief once you brand my opponent a criminal. Wouldn't you know in your gut that such a president had abused his office? That he betrayed the national interest and that he was trying to corrupt the electoral process?
Asked later by chairman Jerrold Nadler to explain, Karlan did so in a way that even an ignoramus like Collins would find hard to pretend that he didn’t understand.
The way that it does it is exactly what President Washington warned about, by inviting a foreign government to influence our elections. It takes the right away from the American people, and it turns that into a right that foreign governments decide to interfere for their own benefit. Foreign governments don't interfere in our elections to benefit us, they interfere to benefit themselves.
If every Democratic candidate for president doesn’t adopt this framing on impeachment on the stump, then none of them deserve to win. This puts the president*’s crimes right in everyone’s living room. His abuse of power affects you as soon as you walk into the voting booth. It also has the added benefit of being true. The only effective rebuttal to this argument is to assert that, by their performance in 2016, and by the turnout figures in election after election, the American people don’t consider the franchise to be a thing of value. I don’t think I want to know the answer to that.
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