CONNECTIONS: Waiting for MuellerMore Info
In January 2019, I wrote a column, “Waiting for Godot” (renamed “Waiting for Impeachment”).
The article began, “A debate rages: Should the House begin impeachment proceedings now or await the Mueller report?”
In the article, the suggestion was made that waiting for Mueller could be like waiting for Godot, the man who never came. The article implored everyone on every side of the political divide to stop waiting for the Mueller Report and begin a process that may or may not result in impeachment.
Impeachment is the bringing of a charge of misconduct against a public official. If the public official is the president, only the House of Representatives can bring the charge. To determine if that is the proper course of action, the House carries on an investigation. The importance of a House investigation in contrast to the Mueller investigation is that it is conducted in public. We the people see and hear the evidence as it is presented.
This is a representative democracy, one that gives the voice of the people weight at election time and, perhaps to a lesser degree, between elections. It requires that the people know what is going on.
Instead, we have had 22 months of rehash and repetition of supposition by partisan press on both sides. What the people need, to be part of the governing process, is news—that is, the presentation of facts. A House investigation can be watched by the public and the public can experience, discuss and decide. In its place, 22 months of one side crying “crook” and the other side crying “no collusion” informs no one. Repetition bleeds the meaning out of the words. Repetition desensitizes and we cease to be alert to the importance and implications of facts.
The January article said: “The Constitution made both the investigation and bringing of the charge, the obligation of the House. In the only two impeachments ever brought against Presidents, Clinton and Andrew Johnson (1868), matters were investigated in the House. The presence of a special counsel was irrelevant.”
The Constitution gives the power of impeachment to the House. The charge is communicated to the Senate. The Senate conducts the trial and reaches a verdict of guilty or not guilty. The Constitution awards these powers not as an afterthought, but prominently, as part of the legislature’s key functions. The reason is that separation, not concentration of power, was of paramount importance to our Founding Fathers. Three co-equal branches were created with checks and balances that divide power so that no executive or judge or legislator can grab over-bearing powers.
For almost two years, every report ended, “we must wait for Mueller.” Must we? The January article suggested: “We really must act, each according to our obligations and abilities. For our sake, for Trump’s sake, for the sake of his most ardent followers and worst critics, we need an honorable, traditional, respected process of discovery, endorsed by and simultaneously shared with the public. We need the truth and we need it now.”
There were two key ideas in the paragraph. First, each branch of government should act in accordance with its Constitutional obligations without reference to political consequences or perceived political consequences. Second, for the public, an experience “simultaneously shared” brings people together. Even if they have different opinions in the end, they were mutually involved in the process. Shared experience is powerful.
The January article posed a question: “What assurance do we have that the evidence Mueller finds will be presented to the public?”
All the clever people who were calculating the odds, acutely judging the politics, and weighing cost/benefit, what do they have to say now? All elected officials who cared more about keeping their jobs than doing their jobs, how do they like waiting for Mueller now? All those who could not follow the Constitution, what is the reward?
The article asked, “Might not public hearings commence so we as a nation can come together, experience the presentation of evidence, and agree on the necessity to bring a charge or the lack of justification for a charge?”
Had the processes moved simultaneously, we could not find ourselves where we are now. If facts were in the public domain through Congressional hearings, there would be no benefit to withholding the Mueller report. Silly assertions about the unseen report could not be sustained when everyone witnessed the unfolding of the facts.
The article concluded: “It [the investigation] must be a joint effort … Life becomes meaningless if all you do is wait.”
What we are experiencing now puts stress on our institutions as they battle and defame one another. In the executive branch, what was the obligation of the special counsel and power of the attorney general? What was the obligation of the legislative branch and what are their powers? The answers should be known and accepted; the stress comes from one challenging the other and challenging the rule of law. It is a playground food fight with everyone waiting for teacher (that is, the judiciary) to break it up. In the current atmosphere, will that be enough?
This country does better when everyone does their job—when elected and appointed officials act in accordance with their oaths and responsibilities without fear, favor or “an eye to the main chance.” When those chosen to represent us honor and obey the rules rather than bend and challenge them. The angst about how all branches of government are behaving relative to releasing, withholding, editing or not editing the report is eroding trust in every branch of our government.
It was very expensive to wait for Mueller, just like Waiting for Godot.