A Presidents Day perspective on the nature of a free press
End impeachment's government shutdown
We are facing an impeachment shutdown - the road-blocking of all our government's institutions for an impeachment that is going nowhere. It will inflame passions, divide our country further and accomplish nothing of any significance.
The cast is now complete with shady characters, wronged bureaucrats and impeachment prosecutors preening for their close-ups on national TV.
As in 1998 and 1999, there is going to be a reckoning when this is all over. I helped to defend President Clinton when the country wasted time then on another impeachment that went nowhere. The president certainly was not innocent of all of the accusations, and he lost his law license and paid significant fines for his actions, but impeachment was rejected and his hold on the presidency affirmed. His ratings soared.
Like them or not, presidents uniquely represent the elected will of the people. As such, their removal is not just about the removal of a person but the overturning of that elected will. For that reason, there are few offenses that will be so grievous as to cause the party in power to give up their party's leader and convict a president; most charges, even if true, won't reach that high bar for removal. Clearly, the accusations in 1998 and 1999 did not meet that threshold, and neither do the charges today.
The first count of the two articles of impeachment against President Trump accuses the president of abuse of power by withholding aid in an attempt to force Ukraine to look into possible corruption on the part of Joe and Hunter Biden. He is called corrupt in motive for asking for an investigation of potential corruption over questions that had been raised in the New York Times, Politico, The New Yorker and other media outlets.
Bringing this up on a call to the president of Ukraine was probably a boneheaded thing to do, but not an impeachable one. Aid was not actually held up. No investigation was ordered. The president of Ukraine and other Ukrainian officials deny that any pressure was applied to them. Trump's overall policy was, in fact, far more helpful to the Ukrainians than President Obama's policies that denied them much aid for weapons. There was and is no urgent threat to the national security of the United States.
There is definitely something about all this that the American public doesn't like, that reasonable people can judge as wrong, but that is quite different than removing a president from office through a process designed to use impeachment as a political vehicle. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) was not a truth-seeker - he is on tape soliciting naked pictures of Trump, and he repeatedly exaggerated evidence against Trump over the last three years. He was simply a weapon jamming through impeachment and ignoring fair procedure or legal process.
The last few days in the media have underscored this bias with the release of material from Lev Parnas, who - like Christopher Steele and his dossier before him, or like Michael Avenatti, now out on bail - is a questionable character with obviously wild claims for which he has no proof, including claims against Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Attorney General William Barr, whom Parnas has never met. It was a political dirty trick to release his information and him on the eve of the Senate impeachment trial, and this act alone would have gotten any real prosecutor's case thrown out.
The second article of impeachment - obstruction of the House by the assertion of executive privilege - is, in my view, wholly without merit. Despite endless allegations of lawlessness, this administration has implemented every court ruling it has lost without exception. Asserting executive privilege is not the same as paying hush money or suborning perjury, as was alleged in the Clinton and Nixon impeachment efforts. President Obama and his attorney general, Eric Holder, frequently asserted privilege in response to investigations and Holder was even held in contempt of Congress, a resolution he promptly ignored.
This article should be immediately dismissed, as there is really no factual basis for it at all, especially since the House deliberately avoided allowing the president to adjudicate the claims in court by failing to subpoena witnesses or withdrawing subpoenas from witnesses who challenged them in court.
We live in a country in which people have the rosiest view of their own personal lives that I have ever recorded while, at the same time, they have the dimmest view of their political figures and institutions. Congress has a 23 percent approval rating, and majorities dislike the Democrats, the Republicans and the president. They are now tearing each other apart in a process that will have no tangible benefit for the voters, and our parties and our democracy will all look worse when this thing is over.
Yes, there will be a reckoning for the unsuccessful litigant here, although the Democrats have been brilliant in elevating this matter, bringing together their caucus, dominating the news media and engineering parliamentary maneuvers to their advantage. Imagine if all of this energy had been put into fixing health care or immigration; they would be light years ahead of the Republicans, rather than facing a possible electoral boomerang when all this fails.
But impeachments have hidden costs, which is a strong reason I have consistently opposed them. In 1998 I received a 2 a.m. call from President Clinton, asking me if he should send some missiles to "get a really bad dude" or would it seem like he was doing it to divert attention from impeachment; he fired the missiles, but they missed Osama bin Laden. Perhaps if he had gotten bin Laden, there might not have been a 9/11. In contrast, the successful attack on Iranian general Qassem Solemaini, who was declared a terrorist by the Obama administration, during the Trump impeachment battle has been met with exactly the kind of skepticism that Clinton feared in 1998 and, as a country, we showed division rather than unity against our No. 1 foe, Iran.
History, it seems, does repeat itself. George Washington's farewell address about the excesses of partisanship was never truer than today. As America's only truly independent president, Washington predicted that the growth of factionalism would undermine the execution of our laws and that the "alternate domination" of one party over another would lead to efforts to "exact revenge" and "raise false alarms."
Let us not forget that the Trump administration suffered through a two-year special counsel investigation based almost entirely on opposition research from the other party, and that this imbroglio stems from the other party believing it had now in turn found information that would turn the political tables. It is all exactly as George Washington foretold.
We need to end this quickly, get back to the business of the country, and then have an election.
Mark Penn is a managing partner of the Stagwell Group, a private equity firm specializing in marketing services companies, as well as chairman of the Harris Poll and author of "Microtrends Squared." He also is CEO of MDC Partners, an advertising and marketing firm. He served as pollster and adviser to former President Clinton from 1995 to 2000, including during Clinton's impeachment. You can follow him on Twitter @Mark_Penn.