Melinda Henneberger

Emanuel Cleaver now ready to impeach Trump: ‘I want history to know where I stood’

Like other Democrats in Congress, Missouri Rep. Emanuel Cleaver has been, as he puts it, “extremely apprehensive about impeachment.” But now, he said in an interview, he’s ready to vote to impeach President Donald Trump anyway. Because he’s no longer willing to let his grandchildren wonder where he was when “our democracy was being damaged daily.”

“I want history to know where I stood,” Cleaver said.

All of us, with or without grandchildren and with or without a vote in Congress, are going to have to decide where we stand, not someday but now. And since Congress will be taking its cues from the public, what we decide matters.

Just in the last few days, Cleaver has come to feel that morally, he no longer has much of a choice. Even ultra-cautious Kansas Democratic Rep. Sharice Davids may be tip-toeing in that direction, though she signaled what she seems to see as a major shift in a statement so tentative it’s hard to say for sure.

If, as Cleaver fully expects, he reads in the inspector general’s report that Trump really did ask the president of Ukraine, whose country is in urgent need of military aid from the U.S., to get involved in our election by investigating his Democratic rival Joe Biden’s son, then that transgression “was much more egregious than almost anything in the Mueller report.”

He also expects Democrats to have to go to court to get the report, without which nothing can happen on impeachment.

But the president has already admitted most of what’s been alleged, without blush or apology. He’s confirmed that he and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky talked about Biden. Their July conversation, Trump said, “was largely the fact that we don’t want our people like Vice President Joe Biden and his son creating to the corruption already in Ukraine.”

The whole story about Joe Biden’s supposedly lawless behavior is another classic Trumpian projection. In fact, in pushing Ukraine to get rid of a corrupt prosecutor when he was vice president, Biden was carrying water not for his son but for Barack Obama, in concert with the entire E.U. and the U.S. State Department. They all wanted prosecutor Viktor Shokin gone because he wasn’t being tough enough on corrupt oligarchs, including the one Hunter Biden was mixed up with.

Trump really only denies that asking a foreign official desperate for our help for a favor — repeatedly, according to The Wall Street Journal — amounts to a quid pro quo. Still, never one to worry about implicating himself, Trump also strongly suggested that you bet there was a link between the aid he was withholding and the investigation of Biden: “If there’s corruption, and we’re paying lots of money to a country, we don’t want a country we’re giving massive aid to to be corrupting our system.” Got it.

Cleaver doesn’t see the Senate voting to remove the president under any circumstances, since most Republicans still support him. “Mitch McConnell will thank us for sending it over” if the House passes articles of impeachment, and then “the Senate will do nothing.”

Yet knowing all of that, “I’m still going to vote for impeachment because I’ve got grandchildren. Our democracy is in the process of being strained like it never has been” by a president who “won’t respect the other two branches” of government, and “hires an AG to be his own lawyer. In other countries, this causes civil wars.”

If all of the above is proven true, Cleaver said, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will “be hesitant even then, because it will put vulnerable Democrats in a crunch, and people will say, ‘Why did they overreach?’ ’’

But now, Cleaver said, even some Democrats who could lose their seats over impeachment “are saying we can’t just say nothing,” particularly because Trump “is going to become even more constitutionally rambunctious if there are no consequences. The children and those not yet born will look back and ask what in the world was going on in our country if he’s paid no price for this latest molestation of the Constitution.”

Cleaver decided all this last Thursday, then came home for the weekend and felt his decision was confirmed when he attended a climate change protest and heard nothing but questions about impeachment from young people.

I’ve agreed with Pelosi’s let’s-not-go-wild-here approach too until now; with 100% chance of dividing Americans further and almost no chance of removing the president, why impeach only to embolden and reelect?

Because even if that’s true, we can’t just frown, remonstrate, and let our democracy slip away without a fight, that’s why. Because we can’t fail to at least try to make the case for the rule of law and the separation of powers. Because if we do nothing, we will have been complicit.

That means you, too, have to decide, Sharice Davids. The congresswoman sent me a statement an aide called her most forceful so far, and maybe it is. “If true,” Davids said in it, the reports about Trump pressuring Ukraine “represent a clear abuse of power and mean he invited foreign interference into our democracy for his own political gain.” She calls out Trump’s constant stonewalling and “pattern of corruption,” and says that if acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire doesn’t turn over the whistleblower report when he testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday, then he’ll have to be held accountable.

Anyone think that promise gives the president a chilling foretaste of his coming reckoning? It’s time to call this one, Congresswoman.

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Melinda Henneberger is a columnist and member of The Star’s editorial board. She has covered crime, local and state government, hospitals, social services, prisons and national politics. For 10 years, she was a reporter for The New York Times in New York, Washington, D.C. and Rome. In 2019, she was a Pulitzer finalist for commentary and received the Mike Royko Award for Commentary and Column Writing from the News Leaders Association.