Impeachment only comes before investigation in the dictionary

Aye, yai, yai. Politicians love “I” words.

President Barack Obama was famously fond of “I, I, I.” It was a popular game in conservative news outlets to count the number of self-referencing statements in his speeches. In his first State of the Union address, Obama referred to himself 98 times. President  Donald Trump scored a more meager 26 by the same standard.

That said, his 2018 State of the Union was an anomaly; the current commander-in-chief has generally kept pace with his predecessor with self-referential words. He also throws some other “I” words around, like “illegal immigration.” Double word score!

Trump’s congressional opponents have been responding with their own selections from the dictionary pages beginning with ninth letter of the alphabet. “Investigation” has gained the most currency. And this week, the big one — “impeachment” — came to the fore.

The record memorandum from Trump’s July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is … strange. The latter seemingly says he was elected to “drain the swamp” in Kyiv and lauded Trump as an example. We will probably never know whether he actually chose those words; the declassified document is more like minutes from the call. It is emphatically not a transcript.

A White House-released memorandum of President Donald Trump’s July 25 telephone conversation with Ukraine’s newly elected president Volodymyr Zelensky. (AP Photo/Wayne Partlow)

It was released upon reports that a “whistleblower” complaint was filed accusing Trump of a quid pro quo. The memo from the call allows an inference of such an action, but it also can be read as banter or a request for assistance in a legitimate investigation. More information is needed before anyone can make up their mind. That is why the United States House of Representatives voted Wednesday night to obtain the complaint. It wasn’t partisan; the vote was 421-0.

But the calls for impeachment are premature. You would think congressional Democrats would know that by now. It was two weeks ago when an apparent bombshell dropped in the middle of the New York Times opinion page. The news? There were heretofore undisclosed further allegations about Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulting people.

The new leader of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, pounced. She pulled no punches, unequivocally calling for Kavanaugh’s impeachment. Others, such as New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, tried to catch her coattails and call for the same.

The luster on those topical tweets has faded over the past two weeks. The Times piece came under critical assault.  A “travesty of journalistic ethics” was one such headline, among others. As the actual facts came to light, it became shockingly clear that there was nothing new in this Kavanaugh story. Which means Warren’s impeachment plea was naught but partisan politics.

Officials in Washington would do well to remember Maine Sen. William Pitt Fessenden’s advice during the attempted removal of President Andrew Johnson: impeachment and removal should be “free from the taint of party.”

Congress should further investigate the whistleblower complaint and what it says. The side-story of Joe Biden’s son Hunter’s escapades in Ukraine will necessarily play into the question. Progressive groups, such as “Public Citizen,” acknowledged in June of this year that the younger Biden’s business dealings present “a huge appearance of conflict.”

We will never know exactly what was said on the July 25 call between Trump and Zelensky. The two leaders deny any quid pro quo. Zelensky’s political allies claim one was one tendered by Trump. So what do we need? Information. Maybe that leads to more detailed investigations. Depending on what it shows, it could even lead to impeachment.

So there is a responsible approach available, but it will require officials to put “I” aside. Aye, yai, yai. That will be one of the hardest challenges of all.

Michael Cianchette

About Michael Cianchette

Michael Cianchette was the chief counsel to Gov. Paul LePage from 2012-2013 and deputy counsel from 2011-2012. A Navy reservist, he was deployed to Afghanistan from 2013-2014 as a trainer and adviser to the Afghan National Police. He is an alumnus of the Leadership Maine program and holds a BA in economics and political science from Boston College along with a JD and an MBA from Suffolk University. He works as in-house counsel and financial manager for a number of affiliated companies in southern Maine.