The Nation’s Elie Mystal and By The People’s Alexandra Flores-Quilty look at the political struggle around impeachment as a battle for the soul and future of the nation.
MARC STEINER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner. Great to have you all with us.
Impeachment is in the air. The sense of corruption has coursed through this administration since the beginning. Some in the Democratic Party have been calling for impeachment proceedings to begin for a long time now, before Speaker Pelosi made her announcement yesterday. And yesterday, the legendary Congressman from Atlanta, John Lewis, had this to say.
REP. JOHN LEWIS: Every turn, this administration demonstrates complete disdain and disregard for ethics, for the law, and for the Constitution. They have lied under oath. They refused to account for their action and appear before the legislative body. We cannot delay. We must not wait. Now is the time to act. I believe, I truly believe, the time to begin impeachment proceedings against this president has come.
MARC STEINER: When the House Democratic Caucus met, it became clear it was not just the progressive members of that caucus who were ready to begin impeachment proceedings. At 5:00 PM yesterday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke to the nation.
SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI: The actions taken to date by the president have seriously violated the Constitution. For the past several months, we have been investigating in our committees and litigating in the courts so the House can gather all the relevant facts and consider whether to exercise its full Article One powers, including a constitutional power of the utmost gravity, approval of Articles of Impeachment. And this week, The President has admitted to asking the President of Ukraine to take actions which would benefit him politically.
The actions of the Trump presidency revealed the dishonorable fact of the president’s betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of our national security, and betrayal of the integrity of our elections. Therefore, today, I’m announcing the House of Representatives is moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry.
MARC STEINER: So it’s important to remember here that impeachment is not a legal question, but a political one. It’s about whether the President of the United States violated the oath of office, and transgressed against the Constitution, which means you betray the American people. It’s also political because no sitting president as ever been removed of office because of impeachment. It’s a political act that in all likelihood will get through the House, and anything could happen in the Senate. It could be killed. Nobody will even see the trial happen. We’ll talk about that.
It then becomes the heart of the next election, and becomes a different political process, which could mean that the impeachment process could dominate the election to come. And we are joined today by Elie Mystal, who is Contributing Writer to The Nation and Executive Director of Above the Law, and Alexandra Flores-Quilty, who is Executive Director of By the People. Elie, welcome back. And Alexandra, welcome to The Real News. Good to have you both with us.
ELIE MYSTAL: Thanks.
ALEXANDRA FLORES-QUILTY: Thank you.
MARC STEINER: So let’s start with this. Just a very, very quick definition, Elie. You may have a law degree, too. As far as I know, Alexandra, I don’t know, but I know Elie does. So what do we mean when they say, “impeachment is a high crime and misdemeanor?” That’s a very large bar to hurdle, right?
ELIE MYSTAL: Yeah.
MARC STEINER: So talk a bit about what that means.
ELIE MYSTAL: The impeachment comes from Article One of the Constitution. It is the only power that we have to remove a president. Now, unfortunately, the framers, in their infinite, slave-holding wisdom, decided never to actually define what a high crime or misdemeanor was. We don’t really know what they meant by high crimes and misdemeanors. We have to look to perhaps the Federalist Papers. If people remember, the Federalist Papers are what Madison, Hamilton and John Jay wrote in defense of the new constitution. In Federalists 68, Alexander Hamilton talks about the impeachment clause, and he says, quite plainly, that it is there in case a president violates trust with a foreign nation.
So what Trump is accused of doing right here is, as far as we can tell, kind of chapter and verse textbook definition of what at least Alexander Hamilton was thinking that impeachment meant in a constitutional sense.
MARC STEINER: So let’s take a walk backwards before we jump into some of these quotes and some of the other things we’ve seen in the press. Alexandra— let me just ask you— your organization has been pushing for impeachment for some time now, before all this Ukraine issue came falling out through with it that pushed people like Pelosi and other more conservative congressional representatives over the edge. So talk about why. What is it about what happened before that you thought was impeachable, and that you pushed so hard for, and now we’re at that point?
ALEXANDRA FLORES-QUILTY: Yeah, thank you. The recent news around Trump’s latest discretion in regard to Ukraine is absolutely an impeachable offense. He’s bragging about it on national television. However, the case for impeachment of Donald Trump goes far beyond that. Our friends at Free Speech for People, a group of constitutional lawyers, have written a book, and they keep on having to actually, since the book was published, release additional papers for the additional impeachable offenses that Donald Trump has committed.
However, you don’t need to be a constitutional lawyer to know that Donald Trump is a danger to the American people, and a danger to our democracy. And he has betrayed the oath of office, and that has happened time and again, and there’s a wide range of issues. I think that we’ve seen a number of members of Congress come out early on in the Trump presidency in support of impeachment. Others have been, I think, too afraid to do what’s morally right, and what’s right for our Constitution and our country in order to put themselves out there and take a bold stance.
However, many of us, millions of Americans across the country, have been calling for the impeachment of Trump because of the impeachable offenses he has committed; such as breaking international and domestic law in his treatment of immigrants and asylum seekers, openly courting white nationalism. I think that it should be impeachable. Impeachment is a political act, and it’s place, as we talked before about the framers of the Constitution, impeachment was placed in the people’s chamber, where those who reside in that and have that power are elected by the people. They are representatives of their constituents. It was not placed in the Supreme Court.
And the openness of high crimes and misdemeanors empowers Congress and us, the American people, to identify when someone sits in the Oval Office, if they pose a threat to the democracy of our country, and to the people of our country, then they need to be removed. And so impeachment, to call for it, is not only right, it’s also our responsibility. It’s not just the responsibility of Congress. I believe it is the responsibility of us, the American people, which is why my campaign that I’m joined by thousands of other volunteers across the country, have been actively organizing, pressuring, protesting, demanding that we impeach and remove Donald Trump from office.
MARC STEINER: Unless, Elie, you have something you’re dying to jump in here with, let me go to a quote here before we look at the document itself that the White House released, and we’ll go to three parts of that to talk about. But earlier Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was asked about impeachment, and I’m going to get to the political question and what this would mean and the political battle around this before we get to the document itself. Let’s just watch what she had to say when she was being questioned by a member of the press in the halls of Congress.
REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: The corruption of this president knows no bounds. And in order to protect our democracy, we have to impeach him.
REPORTER: Are you worried though that this will fail in the Senate, and ultimately it could be a problem for you politically come 2020 for the Democrats?
REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: No, I’m not because we, as an independent body in the House of Representatives, we have to do our job. And I think that once the House impeaches, the House has impeached the president. And then that hearing goes to the Senate. If they want to fail it, then I want to see every Republican go on the record and knowingly vote against impeachment of this president, knowing his corruption, having it on the record so that they can have that stain on their careers for the rest of their lives because this is outrageous.
MARC STEINER: So let’s wrestle with this for a minute. This is the argument people make. Elie, I’ll let you start on this one. You can both please feel free to just jump in. But the heart of this is, okay, so you impeach him in the House. It’s sent to the US Senate. The Senate is supposed to have a trial. They don’t have to have a trial, just like in McConnell didn’t have to and did not appoint Obama’s last appointment to the Supreme Court. So he can do almost anything he wants with this. So the question is, politically, does this make sense to do if the Senate is just going to be recalcitrant and not impeach him and not finish the process? Because the difference between now and the early seventies was many Republicans were on board with getting rid of the Nixon. That’s not happening at the moment.
ELIE MYSTAL: Right. So I think there are three arguments politically that makes this make sense for the House Democrats. One, as AOC just eloquently put it, Congress has to do their job. The House of Representatives has a job to do. It’s constitutionally required, and they should just do their job and uphold the Constitution, and then let the chips fall where they may. That’s number one.
Number two, it is very easy right now for the Senators to say, like, “Oh, we don’t think that the president should be impeached,” because it costs them nothing to just say that right now, right? Let’s see what happens when the rubber meets the road, right? I can talk a big game about raising my kid, like, “Oh, I’m going to teach him to stand up to bullies. I’m going to teach in a fight for himself.” Right? When my kid’s getting bullied on the playground, suddenly my tune changes, and I want to go tell a teacher, right?
So let’s put the Senators on the record, let them actually put their money where their mouth is, and as AOC said, say that they’re not going to impeach the president.
And the third thing is that I honestly think that we don’t know what the Senate is going to do yet. There are Senators in very tough reelection races in Colorado, in Texas, in Maine— Susan Collins— in Arizona, going on the record as defending this president despite the corruption that he has brought, that’s a tough vote for them. Mitch McConnell might try to shield them from that vote by trying not to hold the trial at all. But we’ve already seen yesterday he allowed that voice vote, that 100% consent vote, to go out about the whistleblower complaint. That’s already more than he did to advance the Merrick Garland nomination. I don’t think that right now Mitch McConnell has the votes to pull a Merrick Garland on impeachment.
MARC STEINER: Let me stop you a second, because I want to jump over to Alexandra. Just very quickly, why do you say that? What makes you say that he doesn’t have the votes to do it? Why are you saying that?
ELIE MYSTAL: Because he already allowed that 100% consent vote to see the whistleblower complaint go forward, right? A supremely powerful Mitch McConnell tells Chuck Schumer to go jump in a lake, like he’s been telling Chuck Schumer to go jump in a lake for the past two years. He didn’t do it yesterday. You could call it grasping at a straw, but I’m going to call it grasping to hope.
MARC STEINER: Okay. I’ll buy that for a minute. Alexandra, before you jump in here, jump in because I want to talk about the political issues here. We can look at Trump’s response to Pelosi after you speak, so we can wrestle with what the fight might be about once this really takes place. Go ahead, Alexandra. I’m sorry.
ALEXANDRA FLORES-QUILTY: Yeah, I think that, first and foremost, if we’re approaching the question of impeachment purely from the grounds of how will this benefit Democrats, that’s already wrong. We’ve been very clear, and I think many Americans are very clear, that if it was a Democrat doing this, we’d be doing the same exact thing. And in particular, my campaign, as we’ve been working, has made it very clear this is not about Democrat versus Republican. We would be doing the same exact thing if this was a Democrat having committed the same impeachable offenses of Donald Trump.
And I also believe that the actions that we have seen by the members of Congress on both the Democrat and Republican sides in regard to holding Trump accountable and then doing their job by upholding the Constitution impeaching him, the failure to act on both sides has been politically motivated. And so I want to see every single member of the House and the Senate go on the record. Have them pick a side. What’s more important, democracy or the American people? Protecting Trump or protecting the lives and the future of our country?
And I think, in particular this question about if and when we get to the Senate— I think that we don’t know what’s going to quite happen at that point, and I think that, at this point, we’re seeing the tides really shift within the American public. I think that when we tap into the full power of the American public, anything is possible. And over and over again in the course of this entire presidency, both the Democrats and Republicans have sent a message to the American people by refusing to hold them accountable. That they have normalized his corruption, his bigotry, his hatred over and over again. And that normalization, I think, has normalized all this within our democracy and within our society.
And when Congress starts to take actions, when we say that we will not allow this, that this is not okay, this is not within our values as who we want to be as a people, then the tides will shift, and the power of the American people will rise. And I think that that will have impacts on Republicans as well.
MARC STEINER: So a couple things I want to try to get to, and we have to get it to them fairly quickly in the time that we have left. But the first, we’ll talk about the politics of this for a minute, then want to go back to this document, the end with that – that was released by the Trump White House. But this is Trump’s response to Pelosi because this is the battle being set up against Democrats and against impeachment. Let’s look at this.
NEWS ANCHOR: Do you personally think impeachment should be considered?
CEDRIC RICHMOND: I think it should.
SENATOR ELIZABETH WARREN: As we begin impeachment proceedings now.
TOM STEYER: And we’ve got to impeach him and get rid of him.
CEDRIC RICHMOND: My sole focus right now is to make sure that he’s not the president next term. My sole focus.
REP. RASHIDA TLAIB: We’re going to go in there and we’re going to impeach the motherfucker.
REP. TED LIEU: We’re going to launch an Articles Three impeachment.
REP. ILHAN OMAR: In the question of impeachment, it’s about time.
JEN PSAKI: Nadler is. I hope he is not following the rules.
SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS: Congress should take the step towards impeachment.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It’s time to stop this nonsense. They think they’re going to win. Did you see the one man? He said, “It’s the only way we’re going to beat him in 2020,” they have to do this. Well, that’s a compliment, I guess, but think of what he said. It’s the only way they’re going to beat me. And actually it’s working the other way because now we have our best poll numbers that we’ve ever had. It’s crazy. It’s crazy.
MARC STEINER: So you might be able to change the Senate, and that’s very possible, and we’ll just have to see that plays out. But the 63 million or so Americans who are behind Trump, by most studies in polls, they’re behind Trump for lots of reasons. And part of those reasons might be all the scary black folks that are in that video that are coming to get you. So let’s be real about what’s being set up here. How does this play into the political battle for the future of America? How do you both see this? Alexandra?
ALEXANDRA FLORES-QUILTY: Yeah. I think that part of this fight is also addressing a rise of hatred and divisiveness that exists right now in the US. I think that we’re at an existential crossroads, one that’s not necessarily new, but has taken a different form in the year 2019 about what kind of country we’re going to be. And I think that the greatest power that we have though to address Trumpism beyond just Donald Trump is through removing him from office.
And it being clear, I think this is why the message has to be very clear from those in Congress who are upholding the Constitution, those of us who are taking action right now within the movement and putting pressure on Congress, about what it is, the case actually is for why we are removing him, the danger that he poses to our democracy, and the fact that this shouldn’t be viewed as a political act of trying to steal an election. In fact, this is the reason why we’re pursuing the route of impeachment. If we didn’t like the dude, I would just be advocating to vote him out in 2020, but I don’t believe, based off of the offenses that he has committed that elections are the proper form of removal for a man this dangerous and for the crimes that he has committed.
However, I do think there is a broader conversation and fight that we have right now for the soul of our country, and I think that, yes, his supporters will be very angry and feel like something was stolen from them. I don’t think that’s a reason for us not to do what is right. And of course he is going to continue to give a drum beat of trying to rally up his base as much as possible, and I think that we should be prepared for that. However, I don’t think that’s a reason to allow him to remain in power and submit to a bully, a bully whose agenda literally causes life and death consequences.
MARC STEINER: Elie?
ELIE MYSTAL: Okay, look, 60 million Americans are going to follow Trump off the cliff. That doesn’t mean that they have to drag the whole rest of the country down with them, right? We understand that Trump is going to do this kind of work. He’s going to spear monger and what have you. That’s his entire game. But here to me is the critical point. Since the Mueller Report came out in April, all the Democrats have done is try to tell the American people why he shouldn’t be impeached, right? All we heard from Democratic leadership is why he shouldn’t be impeached, why we don’t have enough to impeach him. So of course, right now the poll numbers are like, “Well, maybe we shouldn’t impeach him.” If Democrats all get on board, if we get 218 Democratic Congresspeople finally singing the same tune, finally working in lockstep, finally pushing towards exposing the crimes that he has committed as opposed to excusing the crimes he has committed, I think you will start to see public numbers turn.
This is not a popular president. He has a committed core, but this is not a president liked by a majority of Americans. If Democrats could just stop being Democrats for five minutes and stay on message, I think we would see the numbers start to turn. I know, it’s a ridiculous—
MARC STEINER: So let’s close with this. There are the quotes. I’m going to talk about a few of the things that came out of the transcript, the supposed transcript that was sent out. And we know that this transcript, first of all, is not verbatim. Because it seems like it was not recorded, which I think The Jerusalem Post actually broke first, when I read that early yesterday. It was not recorded. This is the NSA folks who are sitting with him, National Security people sitting with him, what they remember from the conversation, what they wrote down as he was speaking and listening to the Ukrainian President.
But when you look at the first quote, and he talks about asking the Ukrainian President to investigate Biden, and you look at what they said there. Then they talk about Biden’s son, and went around bragging about it, and actually telling lies about that, and pushing that, even though most of the evidence says it didn’t happen. Or this second quote that we can look at for a moment, which is saying, I’m going to bring Barr to talk to you, the Attorney General, so you can work on this together. And then Ukraine and our Attorney General can work together to go after these people together because how bad Mueller was, and what he did.
And then the last one I’ll look at with you two is about Giuliani, and he’s going to – he literally said he’s going to send a private citizen, his attorney, to help push this with the leader of the Ukraine, to see how the dirty dealing was done. And he even puts down the Ambassador to the Ukraine for the United States. So having seen those, the question I have though is, what’s in there for the two of you that’s impeachable? What is in this act, which is clearly going to be the front of this impeachment push, that’s in there that says impeachment is warranted?
ELIE MYSTAL: Every damn word. The whole thing is a mess. I cannot believe that Trump thinks this is going to help him. The thing that jumped off the page, I think, for the American people, you can see the Trump people already trying to move the goalposts, and saying that we need a quid pro quo. You don’t need a quid pro quo, but it’s pretty close in the memo where the Ukrainian President says basically, “I need to buy missiles.” And Trump is like, “Oh, I have a favor to ask though.” That’s pretty bad, but as a person with legal training as a lawyer, the thing that jumped off the page to me was the involvement of Attorney General Bill Barr. That – sicking the United States Attorney General on a private citizen in connection with a foreign power to dig up dirt on your political enemies, that is such a textbook abuse of executive power, that that alone is impeachable on its face.
MARC STEINER: So – and Alexandra, let me give you the last quote of the day. You’re on The Real News.
ALEXANDRA FLORES-QUILTY: Yeah. Donald Trump is a man throughout his entire life in which the rules did not apply. He has broken the rules over and over and over again, but now he is the President of the United States, and because of his arrogance and his blatant disregard for the rules, he has successfully intimidated members of Congress to abdicate their responsibility, and have waited this long to do their job and actually hold them accountable through impeaching it.
And I think that we had a victory in this movement yesterday with Speaker Pelosi making her announcement about now finally supporting impeachment inquiry. However, I think that we will continue to see Congress abdicate its responsibility, wait out the clock. The impeachable offenses are right there in plain sight. We don’t need further investigations. And it’s, frankly, reckless. It’s reckless and harmful and dangerous to wait out an investigation as every single day lives and our planet and our democracy are crumbling and in harm’s way.
And so, the message I think right now that we need to send to Congress is that we are refusing to wait any longer. We want swift action. We want them to hold impeachment proceedings this fall. We want them to vote on Articles of Impeachment in the House this fall, and we’re going to be mobilizing starting this Saturday during the congressional recess.
MARC STEINER: It’s been a fascinating discussion. We’re going to be covering this clearly a lot, and we’re going to have the two of you back. I’ve really enjoyed this conversation. It was very eye opening for many of us, and many of our viewers. Alexandra Flores-Quilty, who is Executive Director of By the People, and Elie Mystal, who writes for The Nation and also is Executive Editor of Above the Law. Thank you both so much for being with us today. It’s been great.
ELIE MYSTAL: Thanks for having us.
ALEXANDRA FLORES-QUILTY: Thank you.
MARC STEINER: Thank you. And I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News. We’ll be covering this with some intensity. Please go to our website and let us know what you think about these conversations, what you want us to cover around this, and what you’re thinking. Take care.