I am a fan of Preet Bharara, an American lawyer who served as the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York from 2009 to 2017. Preet has a podcast called “Stay Tuned with Preet” in which he comments on legal and prosecutorial matters and interviews experts on the law and diplomacy.
This week, Preet responded to a question from a listener who asked whether he thought it is the duty of our Congressional Representatives to uphold the law or to demur because of the feared negative political consequences that might result.
In his response, Preet framed the issue of impeachment of the President well. I transcribed that response here. He said:
“You’re a House Dem and you aren’t sure impeachment is electorally smart, but you are sure that it is constitutionally warranted based on the facts. What’s the right thing to do? Isn’t duty greater than speculation?
…if you have the view that there’s overwhelming evidence someone committed some transgression, and you have the power to hold that person accountable, then yes, you do have the duty.
I recognize Democrats’ hesitation – of Nancy Pelosi and others…what are you supposed to do? I understand that as a political prediction-matter if you think that the most important thing for America in the world in the next couple of years is for Donald Trump to be defeated in 2020, and you also think your reading of semi-ancient history of 20 years ago [i.e. the impeachment of Bill Clinton and his political comeback after the fact] that your reading of impeachment will undermine the ability to defeat Donald Trump in 2020, why you might have some hesitation. While in good faith you are still working toward this important election you don’t want anything to get in the way of that. I understand that. But the problem is that dubious calculations are being made by members of Congress. Knee-jerk timidity based on 1998 jitters is not leadership.
So, on the one hand, if you have this concern about the election and the effect that impeachment proceedings will have on that election, but on the other hand you have certitude – moral, ethical, and factual certitude – that the President committed acts that justify impeachment, how do you choose?
To me, the first thing is speculative, and people have been very bad about speculating what is going to happen in the future. And so, in a world in which one decision is merely speculative and the other you feel in your heart and mind is certain, then you go with the certain – you go with the definite, and you hope that that changes hearts and minds, and people understand that you are doing things in good faith and you are proceeding in a way that is about the truth and about accountability and values as opposed to scoring political points; and people can see you are doing things in that way – then you have to proceed.
I’m not saying that tomorrow articles of impeachment need to be filed. What I am saying is that as a member of Congress you feel deeply that impeachable offenses have been committed, then you can’t shy away from moving towards that, whether it’s by having hearings along the way to get more evidence and to put more of the picture of what happened before the American people where you get to a point where you pursue formally that thing called impeachment, then you need to proceed.
However, if you don’t think that impeachable offenses have been committed, then it’s an easy decision for you – and you don’t proceed…every Congressperson needs to decide for themselves what they think happened here and not to unduly shy away because of some speculation about how it will be perceived in some future election.”