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Trump's impeachment was once politically risky for Democrats. Not anymore.

I once worried that my party would be punished at the polls like the GOP was for going after Bill Clinton. But now, I believe we'll be thanked.
Image: Video Deposition
President Bill Clinton appears in this video image of his 1998 grand jury deposition as part of his impeachment trial on Feb. 6, 1999.APTN via AP file

The “I” word has left a sour taste in my mouth since the late 1990s. From the moment of President Bill Clinton’s inauguration, it was painfully evident that House Speaker Newt Gingrich and his band of Republicans — a group I actively aided as a right-wing journalist in the ’90s before changing sides — were thirsty for anything they could find to oust the president. When House Republicans finally got their chance during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, they impeached him.

It backfired.

After their impeachment measure was defeated in the Senate, Clinton’s approval shot to its highest point ever — 73 percent — and Democrats experienced historic success in the 1998 midterm elections. That’s why, even though the apparent evidence against President Donald Trump is plentiful, I've been skeptical of the wisdom of impeachment. In our country’s most recent case, the political consequences were extremely negative for the party that launched the process.

I'm afraid Trump has given Democrats no choice: It’s time for impeachment.

But with the recent revelations of the whistleblower complaint and news reports that Trump allegedly asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyto investigate former Vice President (and 2020 presidential candidate) Joe Biden’s son or put in jeopardy its foreign aid, I'm afraid Trump has given Democrats no choice: It’s time for impeachment.

I wrote in 2018 that I believed Democrats should not impeach the president just because we won back the House. I thought that impeachment would drown out Democrats’ ability to focus on the kitchen table issues — such as health care and fixing the broken economy — that typically drive voters to our party. And I thought, because of my experience seeing impeachment backfire in the 1990s, it would spell political disaster for our chances in 2020.

But no one is above the law, and if we as a party truly believe that, we must stand up for that principle before it’s too late. Our Constitution, our institutions and the fabric of our democracy are dependent on holding this reckless president and his allies accountable as he has increasingly disrespected our norms and laws. Whether or not Senate Republicans vote to convict Trump at the end of the impeachment process House Democrats have officially signaled their intent to open, I believe impeachment is the right thing to do — and that this course actually has the benefit of providing Democrats with a political advantage at this point.

Impeachment proceedings would allow Democrats to air a public prosecution of the president’s alleged corruption, and given the 24-7 cable coverage of the proceedings, the end result would be a net positive for our party. The impeachment proceedings would also likely divert media attention away from whatever baseless nonsense Trump would be throwing at a wall on a given day, including debunked allegations against Joe Biden, and instead force a focus on the president’stransgressions. The end result would be a debate on our terms, not Trump’s.

And it’s not like we don’t have a strong case to make. It’s not just the whistleblower complaint that is damning; there is a mountain of likely evidence against this president that could serve as a supporting argument for his unfitness to hold our nation’s highest office.

Trump never released his tax returns. A president that is unwilling to be forthcoming about his financial entanglements raises suspicions of corruption, and that’s an impeachable offense. There’s also Stormy Daniels. In 2018, Trump was all but named as an unindicted co-conspirator in a crime committed by his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, for hush money payments he approved while in office to silence the story of an adult film actress. A president who pays off people to keep them silent, from the White House, is a president that is impeachable.

And let’s not forget about former special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference — and Trump’s attempts to obstruct that investigation — in the 2016 election. The Mueller report detailed more than 10 counts of potential obstruction of justice by the president to subvert an investigation that found he welcomed Russian support on his behalf in the 2016 election. The list goes on.

Democrats cannot afford to run scared from the ghosts of our past anymore. Never before have there been this many signs of criminality by a sitting president. Despite my previous concerns, I see clearly now that this is 2019, not 1999. Democrats today have a much stronger case for impeaching the president than the Republicans did then, and consequently they will be rewarded, not punished, for holding Trump accountable.

I am encouraged by and fully support the move by House Democrats to open an official impeachment investigation of Trump. By televising the allegations of presidential corruption, the American people can be led to understand that impeachment is the only remedy for a lawless chief executive.

If we present an airtight case against the president and Republicans vote to acquit him, they will have shredded the Constitution they were sworn to protect.

We must make our case to the public and air the evidence for the entire country to see. If we are the party of anti-corruption, respect for institutions and the rule of law, let’s prove it and lay Trump’s malfeasance at the feet of Senate Republicans. This is right for our country, and right for our party. If GOP senators fail to do their duty, let them suffer the consequences at the ballot box.

During the impeachment proceedings of President Richard Nixon in 1974, Texas Democratic Rep. Barbara Jordan famously said, “If the impeachment provision in the Constitution of the United States will not reach the offenses charged here, then perhaps that 18th-century Constitution should be abandoned to a 20th-century paper shredder.”

If we present an airtight case against the president and Republicans vote to acquit him, they will have shredded the Constitution they were sworn to protect. That is a vote they will have to live with for the rest of their lives. By standing with Trump, the Republicans will be showing the American people that they are the same as Trump appears to be: thoroughly corrupt.