‘Impeachment Is Good For Our Political Future’

September 27, 2019

The Nation's national correspondent John Nichols says that history shows impeachment has changed the political future, and thinks it is part of a struggle we should not shy away from.

The Nation's national correspondent John Nichols says that history shows impeachment has changed the political future, and thinks it is part of a struggle we should not shy away from.


Protesters hold signs calling for Trump's impeachment

Story Transcript

MARC STEINER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner. Great to have you all with us.

As this impeachment process and unfolds, the complexity seems to be growing, and the political challenge has come into better focus. How do progressives who have been calling for the impeachment process to begin square all this with the reality that the state itself, centrist Democrats and Republicans and even the security apparatus are now pushing and in some ways controlling this process, even though part of it was progressives at the beginning forcing this issue.

There are some like IPS Fellow Jim Feffer who think while we have to proceed with the impeachment, we may be walking into a trap with Trump being cornered and attacked and be able to defend himself. Polls show us that most Americans oppose punishment, but with each succeeding poll, we see numbers supporting impeachment growing. Trump tweets and his now recorded statements at the UN mission show the real danger that he poses.

We need to explore where this is all going, where the impeachment process may take us as a nation. Given the Republicans saying there has never been a quid pro quo and keep bringing up the Bidens, even though most of the press has debunked most of the stuff they’re throwing out as those talking points, they’re still sticking with many people. Most – people accept that this has always been a highly partisan affair like Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. One could argue now that the one against Trump is also partisan, but that doesn’t mean it’s not real. It doesn’t mean it’s not justified. It doesn’t mean it’s not right.

Let’s stop here and see what kind of clarity our guest can bring to the discussion today. We’re about to talk with John Nichols, who is The Nation’s National Affairs Correspondent, host the “Next Left” podcast and author of the Horsemen of the Trumpocalypse: A Field Guide to the Most Dangerous People in America as well as the book he wrote with Robert McChesney, People Get Ready: The Fight Against a Jobless Economy and a Citizenless Democracy. John, welcome back. Good to have you with us.

JOHN NICHOLS: It is a great pleasure to be with you, my friend.

MARC STEINER: I should also add, John also wrote a book a bunch of years back on impeachment, which is why he’s on demand. We’ve got to get this interview started so we can go back to his demands.

JOHN NICHOLS: You are the most important demand right now.

MARC STEINER: Thank you, Mr. Nichols. Let’s begin. I want to take us first to Trump himself, and look at this tweet he threw out and then look at what he said at the UN Mission just the other day. It’s sounding more and more like the so-called whistleblower isn’t a whistleblower at all. In addition, all secondhand information that proved to be so inaccurate that they may not even have been anybody else, a leaker or spy feeding it to him or her, a partisan operative. Then he had this to say at the UN.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The person who gave the whistleblower the information, because that’s close to a spy. You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart, right, with spies and treason. We used to handle it a little bit differently than we do now.

MARC STEINER: John, let me just start here. It’s important to start here because Trump’s response, how he’s framing this, the kinds of things he says, many people on the progressive side of the spectrum politically have been warning about what he portends, but I would also say that many centrist Democrats and especially centrist Republicans have been doing that as well.

JOHN NICHOLS: What he portends by that statement?

MARC STEINER: Yes.

JOHN NICHOLS: Yeah. Look, I mean, Donald Trump is a desperate man and he’s cornered. He’s been called out. It doesn’t mean that he is going to be removed from office. He has the partisan safeguards in there with the Senate, but there’s a very real likelihood that he will be impeached and he fears that, and so he is striking out at the underpinnings of that potential impeachment. Now, the thing to understand here is that a lot of people worry about this whistleblower and who he is, what he says, who she is, what she says, whatever. That’s so secondary to what we’re talking about here.

The President of United States has acknowledged, he has admitted that he engaged in a phone call with the leader of a foreign country, and the transcript of that phone call, released by the President, or at least some portion of the transcript of that phone call, confirms that he signaled to that foreign leader, that that country, Ukraine, desperately needs the United States to remain in a stable position. One of the most difficult parts of the world. Then he said, “Do us a favor.” That favor is to investigate and go after a political rival. Then he even said, “I’ll have my personal lawyer call you, and maybe my Attorney General, my flunky Attorney General.” People want to make these things complicated. This isn’t complicated. You can impeach on that, period.

MARC STEINER: When you look at, let’s say some of the folks of The Nation, people like Aaron Maté who’ve written several articles for The Nation.

JOHN NICHOLS: Sure.

MARC STEINER: Aaron had these tweets, and he tweets a lot. Not as much as Donald Trump, but he tweets a lot. This is one of his tweets. He said, “The transcript shows Trump’s first asked Zelensky to help Barr— DOJ— probe into Russiagate’s origins. Recall the Ukrainians bragged by giving dirt to the DNC, and Zelensky brings up Giuliani only to mention Biden. Only one mention of Biden, and there’s no quid pro quo, not even close,” is what Aaron Maté says.

JOHN NICHOLS: Absolutely, so what? So what?

MARC STEINER: So what?

JOHN NICHOLS: Yeah. I mean, more power to Aaron. I respect Aaron, and I respect what he’s saying there—

MARC STEINER: Me too, me too.

JOHN NICHOLS: But I’m not a lawyer. Impeachment is not legal process, my friend. Impeachment’s not going into court and all the lawyers and judges and stuff like that. Impeachment is, do you think that the President of the United States has taken actions that abuse his power for the purposes of advancing his political position? If you think that is the case, and in fact, if you think that he [inaudible] as he moves into an election, you have every right and, I would argue, a responsibility to impeach him.

The same goes for his business dealings, by the way. I don’t understand. I really don’t. As somebody who’s written several books on impeachment and a lot about it over many years, I think I know the history I would argue as well as anyone. Certainly I’ve read all the, I’ve read all the constitutional convention notes, the core statements on it, looked at every impeachment throughout history. I don’t know why we suddenly think this is so complicated. It’s not. It’s not complicated.

MARC STEINER: Let’s talk about that for a moment. I mean, because you do know the history and you’ve written books and articles about the history, but let’s talk this for a second. You look back in our history. Andrew Johnson— that impeachment had to do with mostly the radical Republicans who really wanted Reconstruction to happen. They went after Johnson, and it was a political act up. I mean, he should’ve been impeached. They lost by one vote, so it didn’t happen.

Then you have the impeachment of Bill Clinton. That didn’t happen either. I mean, that was clearly a partisan push. When you look at those, and we can take Richard Nixon, which is a completely different because of what they were caught doing with Watergate, which even forced many Republicans to endorse that impeachment process after a while.

JOHN NICHOLS: At the end of the day.

MARC STEINER: At the end of the day, right? Literally, yes. At the end of the day, but that’s still happened. There’s not been a president yet who’s actually been – who’s actually been removed from office because of an impeachment process.

JOHN NICHOLS:  That’s right.

MARC STEINER: Other than Nixon who resigned and let him go through it, right?

JOHN NICHOLS: Right.

MARC STEINER: What does this come out to at the end of the day, if Republicans control the Senate, even though there could be a push in the House over these issues? Where do you see this going?

JOHN NICHOLS: This is why I love impeachment. Impeachment is so cool.

MARC STEINER: That’s a great bumper sticker.

JOHN NICHOLS: I love impeachment. It is so cool. It is so impressive. It is such a powerful tool that impeachment is not done very often, but when it has been done, one president who was impeached decided not to run for re-election. Another president who was threatened with impeachment decided to quit rather than face the actual vote. If you go back into proposals to impeach like the proposal of House and Senate Republicans to impeach Harry Truman for seizing the steel plants in 1952, it didn’t even get to introducing resolutions before you had everybody scrambling back from it. Again in that case, Truman announcing very shortly thereafter that he wasn’t going to run for re-election.

The fact of the matter is, the genius of impeachment is impeachment, not the trial in the Senate. When a president is impeached, when a president is in the political context indicted for his or her wrongdoing, it is at that point that the accountability bell goes off. Now, the Senate may as it has in judicial impeachments and some other ones along the way, the Senate may actually take it to trial and remove the person. That that could happen. Even if it does not, the reality of it, the reality that the Congress of the United States has put this marker down has tremendous meaning, tremendous power. It always has throughout history. There’s simply no question of it.

What I would suggest to you is that if the House impeaches Donald Trump, tremendous pressure will be put on the Senate. We will see what the Senate does. If the Senate chooses, as I expect to defend Donald Trump, so be it. Then the process is done, but the impeachment is real, and we then move to the point where the American people get to weigh in, which is the most wonderful thing of all. You get to have an election in 2020. On one side you’ve got Trump, his corruption and the people who defended that corruption. On the other side, you’ve got people who challenge that corruption and propose to replace it. That’s a better election than most.

MARC STEINER: Let’s conclude with this. I know we have to end, and you also have to run for another interview.

JOHN NICHOLS: Yeah, we’ve got a few more minutes. We’ve got a couple more minutes.

MARC STEINER: Let’s look at this. We don’t have time to play all these clips I was going to play of Senator Graham, his contradictions between 1998 and what he’s been saying now about this impeachment. The other day on Fox News, diGenova, the former attorney, US Attorney, had this to say. This is part of a larger question when you look at the polls like the NPR/PBS/Marist poll that just came out. The polls were mostly showing if you look at them in aggregate, how close this is. Even though people are growing in their – supporting impeachment, it’s still a long haul for most Americans. Let’s listen to what he has to say and how do we counter this.

JOSEPH DIGENOVA: We’ve known from the very beginning that Mr. Shokin was not a corrupt prosecutor. We’ve known that he was removed from office under pressure from Vice President Biden because he was investigating the Vice President’s son, and because of his Vice President’s connection to Burisma Holdings. This is so clear and so obvious, and it is precisely why the Democrats have undertaken this new move against the President of the United States with this corrupt allegation that there was something wrong with a phone call with the President of Ukraine. This is ridiculous. The reason the Democrats have undertaken this offensive is to protect Vice President Biden.

MARC STEINER: Okay, so Joe diGenova, and this is part of larger public talking points. I heard them on Morning Edition. I’ve heard them all over the place. It becomes a different kind of political battle. It’s a political battle for the hearts and minds in this country. It’s political battle for the streets. He has his talking points, and the others have their talking points.

JOHN NICHOLS: Sure. There’s simply no question that, but isn’t it interesting that many of the people who are the least likely to get excited about Joe Biden have been the most ardent advocates for impeachment? In fact, the person who has literally put up a huge portion of his own fortune on the line on behalf of impeachment, Tom Steyer, is actually running against Biden for the Democratic nomination. In fact, if you go into the House, people who’ve been the most ardent advocates for impeachment tend to be well to the left of where Biden is. In fact, very much on the … I like people who come up with arguments. It’s always fun to watch, and all that. In reality, impeachment is not a product of those who would want to protect Joe Biden. That’s what Donald Trump would [inaudible]. Donald Trump would like you to imagine that everything is always just a partisan game. That that’s all it is, right?

People disagree and they argue, but there’s nothing real. Here’s what I will tell you: Impeachment is real. It takes guts. It takes courage. There’s a lot of people who are always going to try and talk around it, talk themselves out of it, avoid it. That’s just simply the case. There’s no question whatsoever that that is reality, but the deeper reality is that the Constitution sets up a framework for holding presidents to account when we see evidence of what are described as “high crimes and misdemeanors.” This is narrowly defined, right? It’s not some broad statute book. It is narrowly defined as what Congress identifies as actions so threatening to the Republic, so threatening to the future of our democracy or our politics, it has to be addressed. We’ve reached that point.

There is simply no question. It’s appropriate to impeach Donald Trump. Those who say, “You can’t impeach Donald Trump because it would be partisan.” Right? On one side or the other. Please just step aside. You’re not interested. You’re not interested in governing. You’re just interested in politics, right? Those who do choose to govern, those who believe that when an election is finished, you swear an oath to uphold the Constitution, you might actually want to uphold it, right? Let those people step in. Let them take the risk.

If indeed impeachment is a trap or it’s some sort of political third rail and everything goes to hell, then what would we – where would we be? Well, I don’t know. We might end up in a position where Donald Trump is president. Oh, hold it. That’s where we’re at now.

MARC STEINER: Well, John Nichols, it’s always for me— I’ve known you a while now— it’s always to hear your calm, clarity and focus in these conversations. I want to thank you so much for joining us today. And I’m going to harass you some more in the coming weeks to join us some more.

JOHN NICHOLS: I would love to join you, and I would love to join you with a better computer so we can actually look at each other, real faces. Your wonderful technical crew has been searching out photos and stuff like that and I appreciate it, but let me just say that you always are and always remain just such a great inquisitor on these issues. I wish you were on the House Judiciary Committee.

MARC STEINER: I’ll talk to Jamie about that. John Nichols, thanks so much.

JOHN NICHOLS: Take care, brother.

MARC STEINER: All right, take care. I want to thank our crew here for making this, what could have been a technical disaster, really work as they always do. I’m Marc Steiner here with The Real News Network. You know we’re staying on top of this impeachment for all of us, for you. Take care.