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Leonard Pitts: Impeachment must not be based solely on politics

By Leonard Pitts

I’ll admit that I’ve been wishy-washy about this.

In May of 2017, shortly after President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey and spilled top-secret information to the Russians, I chided his party for its silence in this monstrosity of a presidency and to demand action.

“Impeach him now,” I wrote.

By January of this year, my ardor for that remedy had cooled somewhat. I wrote that while Trump surely deserves impeachment, the politics of the moment would make that futile, as Senate Republicans are unlikely to vote for his removal. Besides, I noted, the process would “fracture an already fractured union” while failing to address the core sickness that made Trump’s presidency possible.

I still believe all that. But I am here to change my mind yet again. Blame the Mueller report. It has given me clarity, helped me appreciate something I didn’t appreciate fully enough before. Namely that, in allowing all of this to be framed solely around questions of what is politic and pragmatic, we miss something. There is a moral imperative here, a stark question of right and wrong. People keep doing things government officials are simply not supposed to do.

A press secretary is not supposed to flat-out lie, as Sarah Huckabee Sanders admitted to Robert Mueller’s investigators that she did when she claimed “countless” members of the FBI told the White House they had lost confidence in Comey.

Since the report’s release, Sanders has denied that her admission means what it means. In effect, she’s now lying about lying.

An attorney general — the people’s lawyer — is not supposed to act as defense counsel for the president as William Barr has at every step, from the misleading summary of Mueller’s report he released in March, to giving the White House a sneak peek at Mueller’s findings, to defending Trump’s behavior on the excuse that he was “frustrated and angered.”

And a president is not supposed to ask an FBI director for personal loyalty, not supposed to pressure an FBI director to end an investigation, not supposed to fire an FBI director for refusing to do so, not supposed to intimidate witnesses, not supposed to ask aides to lie and commit dubious acts, not supposed to, in other words, behave like some low-rent Queens thug.

Under Justice Department rules, a president can’t be indicted, and the special counsel evidently thought it unfair to level a charge that could not be tested in court.

But he certainly made his feelings clear: “If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the president clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. … However, we are unable to reach that judgment.”

We have a judgment to make, too, and it misreads the moment to base it solely on issues of politics or pragmatism.

House Democrats seem more worried about what is strategic than what is right, more worried about the feelings of Trump voters than of the voters who elected them. But this moment is bigger than that. It is about who we are as Americans, and the fact that someday, we will be required to stand before the bar of history and account for what we did — and failed to do — with our country on the line.

It is better to lose an election — to lose the country itself — than to win the one or save the other on terms that render the “victory” meaningless. This presidency is anathema to everything America is supposed to be. It is a matter of moral necessity — and country love — to say that as forcefully as possible.

So I am done being wishy-washy. I had it right the first time.

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Email him at lpitts@miamiherald.com.

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