Why Congress must begin impeachment proceedings now

Why Congress must begin impeachment proceedings now
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There is a long list of consequences that follow from Congress making the political calculation not to pursue impeachment of a president who is flouting the law. One of them may be sliding into war with Iran, a regional power with a large army and powerful allies. The president says he does not want war,  but at the same time he evacuates US diplomatic missions to Iraq, deploys bombers and aircraft carriers to the Persian Gulf, and threatens in a belligerent tweet to "official[ly] end" Iran.  

Congress has not authorized war, and it's not as if the Administration has demonstrated an imminent threat from Iran that leaves no other recourse. Nor has it provided Congress with the necessary intelligence to explain its recent actions toward Iran and Iraq. It is supposed to give Congress a classified briefing today, but whether that briefing happens or not, it is hardly likely to allay growing alarm on the Hill over Trump's autocratic tendencies. There is little reason to believe that this president will be properly constrained by the War Powers Act, the UN Charter or international law from starting a war with Iran.

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At the same time, the president has taken the position that he is not answerable to the House of Representatives. We believe that the House has a responsibility to oversee the Executive Branch and therefore its subpoenas and demands for evidence must be honored immediately. The Mueller Report and President TrumpDonald John TrumpO'Rourke: Trump driving global, U.S. economy into recession Manchin: Trump has 'golden opportunity' on gun reforms Objections to Trump's new immigration rule wildly exaggerated MORE’s subsequent conduct are evidence of Trump’s disregard for the rule of law and his overt willingness to obstruct justice. His mocking attitude towards Congressional subpoenas is appalling. If Congress does not check his growing arrogance soon, we are increasingly likely to find ourselves at war.

As attorneys sworn to uphold the Constitution of the United States, we are deeply concerned by Trump’s blanket assertion of executive privilege and refusal to submit to Congressional oversight, and his Administration’s evident preparations for war with Iran. Political strategists have paid a lot of attention to the consequences of impeaching him in the House. But what about the consequences of not impeaching him? They include:

  1. Sending a public message that illegal conduct at the highest levels of our government bears no consequences, and that America’s greatest gift to the world, governance under the rule of law, has been corroded;
  2. Emboldening dictators the world over to crush dissent and ignore fundamental rights and freedoms that America has spent blood and treasure to defend and advance;
  3. Engendering disrespect at home for the system of checks and balances that our Founding Fathers carefully constructed to insure that our free society would never be subject to a tyrannical, authoritarian ruler;
  4. Enabling this administration to continue to ignore longstanding domestic norms and law, repudiate treaties and flout international legal restraints on the exercise of power;
  5. Countenancing this president’s continued gross disregard for veracity and his penchant for obfuscation, deception and outright lies; and
  6. Aiding and abetting those in the Administration who have long been open about wanting war with Iran. 

These forces are not going to be deterred by reasoned argument. Only forceful application of the law and the House’s constitutional duties can still win the day. Congress needs to fulfill its responsibilities and exert its powers, including the War Powers Act, the power of the purse, inherent powers of contempt such as arrest and fines to obtain compliance with Congressional subpoenas, and the power of impeachment.

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We understand why some urge restraint, and why charges of “overreaching” could further the president’s reelection chances. In fact, we have been sympathetic to that view until now. But now it is clear that delay and reticence will only encourage this president to double down, hide the truth, and cause more harm to the Republic and our institutions.

This is no longer just a case of violating campaign finance laws to hush up an extra-marital tryst with an adult film star, though Trump should have been held to account for that. Now the stakes for the United States and the world have grown indescribably grave, including war. 

It is time to start impeachment proceedings, which will allow the full scope and power of Congress to be exercised. Failure to do so will diminish Congress’ prestige and authority. It will need to marshal its full authority to check a president who is dangerously out of control.

Jonathan Granoff is president of the Global Security Institute, and United Nations Representative and Senior Advisor of the Permanent Secretariat of the World Summits of Nobel Peace Laureates. He chairs the Task Force on Nuclear Nonproliferation of the International Law Section of the American Bar Association, and he is a fellow of the World Academy of Arts and Science. He has testified as an expert before the U.S. Congress, the United Nations, Canadian Parliament and U.K. Parliament. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014.

Michael L. Prigoff is the managing attorney of Lebson & Prigoff, LLC. He is a former Governor of the American Bar Association and a member of its House of Delegates, and has also served as President of the New Jersey State Bar Foundation, Chairman of the New Jersey Institute for Continuing Legal Education and as a Trustee of the New Jersey State Bar Association. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelPrigoff.