Impeachment carries potential political peril for House Democrats -- but one conservative writer argued they must somehow punish the "despicable behavior" by President Donald Trump that was uncovered by special counsel Robert Mueller.
Norm Ornstein, a contributing editor for National Journal and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said full-blown impeachment hearings may prove too risky for Democrats, but he showed in an essay for The Atlantic how they could publicize Mueller's findings in another way.
"There is ample evidence of behavior on the part of the president that fits any reasonable definition of high crimes and misdemeanors," Ornstein wrote, "and most likely there will be a lot more when the Southern District of New York (SDNY) and other jurisdictions of the Justice Department finish their work — at least if (Attorney General William) Barr does not stymie them. The House has a constitutional responsibility to follow up."
He said a failure to take meaningful action against Trump would no doubt enrage the Democratic base, and he laid out a possible route lawmakers could take that stopped short of impeaching the president.
"What we need is for the Judiciary, Intelligence, and Homeland Security Committees to conduct a series of deep dives into the areas of communication and coordination between Trump and his campaign with Russians and their surrogates, such as WikiLeaks," Ornstein wrote, "the multiple categories and areas of obstruction of justice that Robert Mueller outlined; the threats to our intelligence operations and our justice system from Trump and his operatives; and the moves by Russia to interfere in and influence our elections used by Trump and unchecked by Republicans."
Other committees should be prepared to do the same thing as new information about possible Russian money laundering emerges from the SDNY investigation and probes by New York's attorney general.
Ornstein urged Democrats to coordinate the hearings so they don't overwhelm the public with evidence, and he suggested that each committee use an experienced lawyer, such as former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, to lead the hearings.
He also proposed doing away with five-minute rounds of questioning, which disrupts hearing continuity, and give the counsel an hour to ask questions of witnesses, or perhaps give a small group of committee members 15 to 30 minutes to ask questions on a given topic.
"This system might cause hard feelings among members who will not get their five minutes in the sun — and would reduce the public role for chairs — but it is better suited to accomplish the larger goal," Ornstein wrote. "And that larger goal is to build a compelling record, through vivid testimony, of what Trump and his people, including his children, did and did not do, said and did not say truthfully, that is the core of Mueller’s report."