TOPSHOT - US President Donald Trump leaves after speaking during the first meeting of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity in the...
SAUL LOEB

On high crimes, the question shifts from ‘whether’ to ‘how many’

Updated

A couple of weeks ago, the Washington Post reported that Donald Trump was so desperate to expand border barriers ahead of his 2020 campaign that he’d directed aides to “aggressively seize private land and disregard environmental rules.” Those who were caught running afoul of the law, the president reportedly added, would be rewarded with presidential pardons.

The day the article was published, MSNBC’s Chris Hayes wrote on Twitter, “This is, I think, pretty unambiguously a high crime/misdemeanor.” And when I saw the tweet, I immediately nodded in agreement. There’s plenty of scholarly debate about what meets the threshold for presidential misconduct worthy of impeachment, but it seems more than reasonable to think offering pardons to those who commit crimes while scrambling to build an unnecessary “wall” with raided funds in defiance of Congress’ wishes probably crosses the line.

But what’s unsettling is just how often political observers are confronted with the same question. It’s little wonder that the congressional impeachment inquiry is due to expand.

House Democrats return to Washington this week poised to significantly broaden their nascent impeachment inquiry into President Trump beyond the findings of the Russia investigation, but they will confront a fast-dwindling political clock.

Undeterred by lackluster public support for impeachment, Democratic lawmakers and aides have sketched out a robust four-month itinerary of hearings and court arguments that they hope will provide the evidence they need to credibly portray Mr. Trump as corrupt and abusing his power.

I won’t pretend to know what’s going to happen as a result of these inquiries or the vigor with which they’ll be pursued. It’s no secret that much of the House Democratic leadership is deeply skeptical of impeaching Trump – not because House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her allies think he’s innocent, but because they think the process will help him win a second term, especially after the Republican-led Senate quickly ignores any articles of impeachment approved by the lower chamber.

But tactical considerations aside, it seems the underlying question isn’t whether Trump is facing credible allegations of high crimes and misdemeanors, but how many high crimes and misdemeanors the president may have committed.

To be sure, many of the controversies relate to unproven allegations that deserve extensive scrutiny. But my oh my are there are a lot of allegations.

Just from the last couple of weeks, there are the reports about Trump offering pardons to those who run afoul of the law while building border barriers. There’s also the report that the president is trying to extort Ukraine into interfering in the 2020 presidential election, tying U.S. military aid to Ukrainian willingness to undermine Joe Biden’s candidacy.

There are also questions surrounding Trump directing Vice President Mike Pence to waste taxpayer money to bolster Trump’s struggling business in Ireland. And Trump’s eagerness to have a G-7 summit in Miami, forcing world leaders to give money to his struggling business in Miami. And the military stops in Scotland, possibly in order to help Trump’s struggling business in Scotland.

All of this raises the possibility of almost cartoonish corruption that has no precedent in the American tradition, with a president illegally profiting from ridiculous schemes.

New head-shaking scandals pop up all the time, including stories about Trump’s politicization of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

All of this, of course, comes on the heels of the Mueller report and evidence that Trump directly and repeatedly tried to obstruct a federal criminal investigation. And all of that came on the heels of evidence that the president – a.k.a. “individual one” – was involved in an illegal hush-money scheme about which he very clearly lied.

Any one of the controversies would’ve very likely rocked a normal American presidential administration to its core. Collectively, they make up an arrow pointing at one individual.

During Barack Obama’s presidency, I counted at least 10 separate “controversies” that various observers labeled “Obama’s Watergate,” each of which turned out to be meaningless, further diluting an already over used cliche.

But nearly three years into his successor’s term, “Trump’s Watergate” isn’t part of the political lexicon, in part because the phrase seems inadequate to the scope and scale of the Republican’s many alleged misdeeds.