Doug Schoen: My advice to Democrats as they march toward impeachment (from someone who's been there)

This week, House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., announced a sweeping investigation into President Donald Trump's administration, 2016 campaign, businesses, and the Trump Organization.

The launch of this extensive probe signals that House Democrats are pursuing evidence of corruption and obstruction of justice that would become the basis of possible impeachment proceedings against President Trump.

The announcement of the committee’s probe comes just ahead of the much-anticipated conclusion of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with Russia.


I support the special counsel’s investigation, and firmly believe that the American people have the right to know whether the Trump campaign conspired with Russia, and whether the president has obstructed justice or engaged in illegal activity.

However, there has not been any factual information released thus far that has built a bipartisan coalition for the impeachment or removal of the president.

Undeniably, Mueller’s report is poised to make numerous allegations, at the very least about the president having been involved in obstruction of justice and other possible criminal behavior.

Nevertheless, given that the investigation has been embroiled in partisanship since the beginning, it is imperative that congressional Democrats allow Mueller’s findings to be released before advocating for or pursuing impeachment.

Further, given that Nadler’s investigation is going to revisit much of what federal prosecutors on Mueller’s team have already covered, it is important that House Democrats proceed cautiously and do everything in their power to preserve the legitimacy of Mueller’s investigation. They must not allow charges of partisanship in their own investigations to taint or overshadow the special counsel’s.

Moreover, Democrats must also be mindful of how partisan-fueled impeachments have played out in the past.

During my time working for President Bill Clinton, I witnessed first-hand what ensued when a Republican-controlled Congress politicized impeachment hearings. Not only was President Clinton not removed from office, but Democrats ended up winning reelection in 1998 with the slogan “Progress Not Partisanship,” which was in part inspired by my firm, and was a clear dig at congressional Republican’s partisan motives.

Ultimately, it would be playing into President Trump’s hands for the Democrats to pursue impeachment without unquestionable evidence of wrongdoing.

While most high-ranking Congressional Democrats have indicated that impeachment is far off and currently not even on the table, it is clear that Nadler’s expansive investigation has been launched with the goal of uncovering evidence that the president committed criminal, impeachable offenses.

Ultimately, Congressional Democrats must be careful to proceed in a way that does not reinforce the “witch hunt” narrative that the president has perpetuated, and to not buttress his claims that the investigations encircling him are partisan and biased.

“We do not now have the evidence all sorted out and everything to do an impeachment,” said Nadler in an interview this weekend. “Before you impeach somebody, you have to persuade the American people that it ought to happen.”

Ultimately, Congressional Democrats must be careful to proceed in a way that does not reinforce the “witch hunt” narrative that the president has perpetuated, and to not buttress his claims that the investigations encircling him are partisan and biased.

To be sure, Mueller’s probe is far from a witch hunt, as is evidenced by the 37 indictments that have already been issued, the guilty verdicts for those such as Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, and the continuing investigation of those in President Trump’s inner circle.

Indeed, President Trump’s former personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen’s public testimony last week in front of the House Oversight and Reform Committee reinforced the importance of the special counsel’s investigation into Russia’s influence in the 2016 campaign.

Cohen’s testimony offered a number of tantalizing leads about hush-money payments he made on behalf of the president in evasion of campaign finance laws, possible conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, and the extent to which Trump was aware of illegal activity going on within his campaign.

“I am ashamed because I know what Mr. Trump is,” said Cohen in his opening statement. “He is a racist. He is a conman. He is a cheat.”

Ultimately, it is important that the American people know the nature and extent of Russian involvement in our election, the nature and extent of complicity among the Trump campaign and others, and have a clear view of whether our election process was compromised.


Thus, we must wait for the Mueller probe to conclude, wait for Congress to finish its separate investigation into the president, and then only go forward with impeachment if and only if there is a “smoking gun” that shows clear, unabashed, impeachable behavior or collusion.

I strongly urge Democrats to resist the urge to pursue impeachment in the absence of unquestioned evidence of wrongdoing, and to focus on the facts and only the facts. Doing anything else will only hurt the Democrats in 2020 and beyond.