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We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Impeachment

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The Trump administration has two contradictory responses to scandals: either to try to normalize misbehavior by shamelessly flaunting it—or to lie about it. On Thursday, White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney managed to do both in the space of a few hours. At a press briefing, Mulvaney baldly admitted that Trump had held up money allocated to Ukraine in order to pressure that country’s government into investigating Democrats. “The look back to what happened in 2016 certainly was part of the thing that he was worried about in corruption with that nation,” Mulvaney said. “Did he also mention to me in passing the corruption related to the DNC server?” Mulvaney added. “Absolutely. No question about that.” According to Maggie Haberman of The New York Times, Trump saw part of this briefing and “was happy with how Mulvaney did and sent him that message.”

But Trump’s personal lawyer Jay Sekulow felt Mulvaney’s comments could create legal problems. In short order, Mulvaney issued another statement that falsely accused the media of mispresenting the briefing and contradicted his earlier statement. “Once again, the media has decided to misconstrue my comments to advance a biased and political witch hunt against President Trump,” Mulvaney’s statement claimed. “Let me be clear, there was absolutely no quid pro quo between Ukrainian military aid and any investigation into the 2016 election.”

At the earlier briefing, Mulvaney also made news by saying that next year’s G-7 meeting will be held at the Trump National Doral Miami resort in Florida. This Trump property has had difficulty attracting guests, but now will receive a cash influx from both American taxpayers and America’s allies. The prospect of foreign governments’ lining the president’s pockets is a bald-faced violation of the emoluments clause of the Constitution. Even House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has been reluctant to impeach Trump, tweeted, “The Constitution is clear: the President cannot accept gifts or payments from foreign governments. No one is above the law. #EmolumentsClause”

Mulvaney’s flaunting of Trump’s misdeeds in Ukraine, his subsequent ham-fisted attempt to deny his own plain words, and the emoluments violation in Doral should all force Democrats to reconsider the scope and scale of impeachment. Pelosi has been pushing for a quick and narrowly focused impeachment that looks only at the quid pro quo deal with Ukraine. I had initially supported Pelosi’s cautious approach to impeachment, believing that by moving rapidly and focusing only on Ukraine, the Democrats could establish the point about Trump’s corruption without bogging down the political system. My worry was that impeachment would dominate the discourse and make it impossible for the Democratic presidential hopefuls to focus on policy debates.

But it’s now clear that it’s impossible to contain impeachment, since Trump’s only response to being challenged is to become ever more brazen. Mulvaney’s press briefing was an attempt to normalize Trump’s use of foreign policy as a tool to target political enemies. And when that attempt failed, Mulvaney lied about his own words, adding a layer of obstruction to the initial offense. That’s the way it is with impeachment: Trump and his cronies have no ability to defend themselves in a legal manner, so they’ll pile misconduct on top of misconduct.

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