Democrats Need To Start Trump-Russia Hearings Now

Over more than two years, story after story has demonstrated that President Donald Trump is compromised. Just in the past 10 days, it has been reported that the FBI opened a counterintelligence investigation into the president, Trump’s campaign manager shared internal polling data with a suspected Russian agent, Trump sought to conceal details of his meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and most recently that the president allegedly directed his personal lawyer to lie to Congress.

The bombshells show no signs of slowing. Nor do Trump’s efforts to obstruct justice and undermine the investigation. If anything, Trump’s attacks on special counsel Robert Mueller seem to be accelerating, as clear a sign as any that evidence of the crime he is trying to cover up ― collusion with Russia ― is finally catching up to him. It’s time to stop treating each new story as an isolated event. This is not a drill. This is an ongoing crisis.  

The new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives must begin public hearings — not just to ascertain the extent of the threat the president poses to our national security, but to prepare the American people for the near-certainty that the Russia investigations will continue to reveal more impeachable offenses by the president. Mueller’s work must continue, but what we already know is more than enough for congressional Democrats to act. Thursday’s BuzzFeed report on ex-Trump attorney Michael Cohen, and the special counsel’s subsequent pushback, is reason enough for legislators to get involved.

If there was any question before that collusion was real — after more than 100 contacts uncovered between the Trump campaign and Russia, after 36 indictments and seven guilty pleas, after Trump’s execrable performance last July in Helsinki — the last two weeks have offered a definitive answer.

The story, as public hearings would demonstrate, is very simple.

We now know that Trump’s campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his deputy Rick Gates allegedly shared private polling data — one of the most valuable resources any campaign can have — with a man they knew had ongoing ties to Russian intelligence. Not only that, they specifically asked their contact to share the information with two Ukrainian oligarchs with long histories of doing the Kremlin’s bidding abroad.

We also know that, along with his years of public attacks on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Trump has been badgering his advisers to let him pull the U.S. out of NATO. Short of actually declaring allegiance to the Kremlin, it’s hard to think of a clearer way for Trump to deliver on Putin’s goal of sowing division in the alliance.

And we know that Trump was compromised by a hostile foreign power ― if not by his decades of corrupt business dealings with Russian oligarchs, then by his efforts to work with (and reportedly bribe) Kremlin officials to develop Trump Tower Moscow, efforts he has attempted to conceal from both the American people and now reportedly Congress.

These stories, and the ones almost certainly in the works at news outlets around the country and in Mueller’s unpublished findings, underscore that the evidence the president is unfit for office will only continue to grow.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House intelligence committee.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House intelligence committee.

The new Democratic Congress needs to begin public hearings now. Hearings will allow Democratic leaders not only to learn the truth behind the president’s denials and dissembling but also to explain the scandal to the public. Piecemeal reporting that often fails to capture the big picture and the secretive nature of Mueller’s investigation have made it extremely difficult for average Americans to follow.

But the story, as public hearings would demonstrate, is very simple. The president was a corrupt businessman who was offered a corrupt deal to win the presidency. He and his accomplices happily took the deal, even if it meant working with a hostile foreign power to undermine American democracy. He has since done everything he can to repay that leader’s investment and conceal the rapidly mounting evidence of his own wrongdoing.

Questions about pursuing impeachment should be guided where the facts lead, not politics. If the facts are there, the country will be with them. For proof, Democrats need look no further than the Watergate hearings. The televised investigation set the stage for President Richard Nixon’s eventual resignation, increasing support for impeachment while eroding his approval ratings. Months later, Watergate carried the Democratic Party to one of the biggest midterm blowouts in American history, a 16-point landslide that won the party 40 seats in the House and four in the Senate.

Fears of blowback or political overreach are largely overstated. Despite impeaching an immensely popular president over what most Americans considered a personal scandal, Republicans still won the overall congressional vote, losing only five seats in 1998.

In the case of the Russia scandal, the facts are overwhelmingly on the Democrats’ side. Collusion is real, and many Americans are already recognizing it. Trump’s approval ratings are low and falling. And public support for impeachment far outpaces the support for removing Nixon, which only surpassed a majority in Nixon’s final days after impeachment proceedings were opened.

This is not some run-of-the-mill political scandal. The new House majority was elected in November on their pledges to hold Trump accountable and stop him from selling the country out. They must begin an inquiry with public hearings now so that we can begin to learn the depths of depravity and corruption to which Trump and his accomplices have sunk to undermine our democracy and escape justice.

Max Bergmann is a senior fellow and director of the Moscow Project at the Center for American Progress. He served in the State Department from 2011-2017. Jeremy Venook is a research analyst at the Moscow Project.