Democrats' evidence-free rush to impeach Trump may hand him a second term

Instead of opening a formal impeachment inquiry in Ukrainegate, Democrats should have calmed down, taken a deep breath and counted to 67. That’s the number of votes needed in the Senate to remove a president from office via impeachment.

Getting to that number, which requires at least 20 Republican senators to vote to remove President TrumpDonald John TrumpWHCA calls on Trump to denounce video depicting him shooting media outlets Video of fake Trump shooting members of media shown at his Miami resort: report Trump hits Fox News's Chris Wallace over Ukraine coverage MORE, should have driven every impeachment calculation by the Democrats.

Yet, that seems to be the least of their focus. Judging by their overheated rhetoric, Democrats appear to have decided, largely based on initial news reports. The reporting alleged Trump threatened to deprive Ukraine, an American ally, of critical aid in its war against Russian-backed separatists unless it investigated the Ukrainian business interests of Hunter Biden. He is the son of former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump hits Fox News's Chris Wallace over Ukraine coverage Schiff: Whistleblower testimony might not be necessary Trump warns Democrats will lose House seats over impeachment MORE, who could be Trump’s opponent in the 2020 presidential election. 

ADVERTISEMENT

A sober, careful “just the facts, Ma’am,” investigation is fully warranted — but without the fanfare of a formal impeachment inquiry. The evidence, such as the transcript of the call between Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky (which does not appear to make U.S. aid a condition of a Hunter Biden investigation), is only just starting to come in. 

The “verdict first, evidence second” approach of the House Democrats creates two huge political risks. One is that the American public may be left with the impression of a partisan rush to judgment. The other is that if the evidence falls short, Democrats have no escape route other than to wage a losing impeachment battle or back down, either of which will embolden Trump and demoralize Democratic voters.

How quickly Democrats have forgotten the painful lesson of the Mueller investigation: Do not count your impeachment chickens until they hatch. Remember all the damning evidence? During the 2016 election Trump publicly called on Russia to hack Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonVideo of fake Trump shooting members of media shown at his Miami resort: report Ronan Farrow exposes how the media protect the powerful Kamala Harris to Trump Jr.: 'You wouldn't know a joke if one raised you' MORE’s emails and shortly Russia began targeting email accounts associated with Clinton. There were over 100 contacts between Trump associates and Russians, including one between the president’s son and a Russian lawyer with ties to the Kremlin who was thought to have dirt on Hillary Clinton. According to U.S. intelligence agencies, Russia extensively interfered in the election to boost Trump’s prospects. How could there not be collusion?

Except there wasn’t. Experienced investigators, who knew that the issue was whether there was a provable conspiratorial agreement (not the amorphous “collusion”), concluded that the evidence fell short. Among other problems, the Mueller team appeared to lack a witness who could testify credibly that such an agreement existed. 

Ukrainegate shows that Democrats, once again, are more in touch with their feelings about Trump, or more precisely, their constituents’ feelings, than with the evidence.

ADVERTISEMENT

Think of it as a “Thelma and Louise” moment for the Democrats, who announced the opening of a formal impeachment inquiry without even having interviewed the key witness. The whistleblower could be a genuine hero moved by conscience with a compelling firsthand story to tell of a president putting political self-interest ahead of national security. Or he could be a disgruntled employee with only second-hand information and an axe to grind, which would certainly not persuade Republican senators to vote against Trump.  

Some Democrats seem to believe that it’s their constitutional duty to impeach Trump, come what may in the Senate. Seriously, without having seen all the evidence?

In 1998, Republicans learned the hard way that a failed impeachment, namely that of President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonA Republican Watergate veteran's perspective on a Trump impeachment Beware the 34th month of Trump's presidency How to survive an impeachment MORE, can be worse than no impeachment at all. That year, for the first since the FDR presidency, the party controlling the White House gained seats in the House of Representatives. A careful study attributed that stunning outcome “largely to voter dissatisfaction with Kenneth Starr and congressional Republicans over their handling of the White House scandal and the impeachment inquiry.”

The Democrats could very well end up like Thelma and Louise by driving their impeachment car off an electoral cliff. Their fate could be worse than what happened to the Republicans in 1998, who after all held on to the House of Representatives.

The Democrats’ evidence-free impeachment frenzy could give the nation another four years of Trump. 

Gregory J. Wallance was a federal prosecutor during the Carter and Reagan administrations. He is the author most recently of “The Woman Who Fought An Empire: Sarah Aaronsohn and Her Nili Spy Ring.” Follow him on Twitter at @gregorywallance.