This week Project Syndicate catches up with Elizabeth Drew a Washington-based journalist and the author of Washington Journal: Reporting Watergate and Richard Nixon's Downfall.
Project Syndicate: In a recent PS commentary, you take issue with Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi’s decision not to move ahead with impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump. As you put it, “impeachment isn’t about politics, but about constitutional principles.” House Democrats, particularly progressives such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, are increasingly echoing that sentiment. Viewed cynically, is there a point at which upholding constitutional principles becomes good politics for the Democrats?
Elizabeth Drew: The main problem with the public discussion of impeachment is that it’s based on the issue of whether the president committed crimes, and while crimes can be impeachable offenses, not all impeachable offenses are crimes. The most important non-criminal set of issues has to do with presidential abuse of power.
The second Article of Impeachment adopted by the House Judiciary Committee against Richard Nixon in 1974 had to do with abuses of power. These include Nixon’s use of the Internal Revenue Service to audit the taxes of – and thus harass – those he saw as his “enemies,” and his use of other executive personnel to have those enemies wiretapped. Article II also held, significantly, that a president can be held accountable for the actions of aides. Winking and nodding won’t get the chief executive off the hook.
Yet almost no effort has been made to educate the public on this aspect of impeachment. There are various reasons to fear that, if an impeachment process were launched against Trump, it wouldn’t be handled as skillfully as the one against Nixon. US politics are more divisive today, and we have a different Republican party: in the 1970s, there were far more moderates, and the Republicans took Nixon’s misdeeds seriously.
We ask all our Say More contributors to tell our readers about a few books that have impressed them recently. Here are Drew's picks:
by George Packer
A wonderfully told biography of one of the most brilliant and complicated figures in America’s world of diplomacy in the last century.
by Benjamin Carter Hett
I’ve read a lot of books about Hitler’s rise but this one, without being ponderous, is more granular and explicative than most.
by Sarfraz Manzoor
An affecting, honest account of a young émigré from Pakistan to a suburb of London inhabited by his parents and other immigrants from their country, and how he dealt with the conflicts such a life presented, and found his way into the wider world, thanks to Bruce Springsteen.
From the PS Archive
During the last US presidential campaign, Drew wondered why Hillary Clinton – who was obviously more prepared and better suited for the American presidency than Donald Trump – wasn’t waltzing to victory. Read her full commentary Why is the US Presidential Race So Close?
Less than a year into Trump’s presidency, Drew reported that the risk of a US military confrontation with North Korea, coupled with Trump’s increasingly peculiar behavior, had already thrown Washington, DC, into a state of near-panic. Read her full commentary The Madness of King Donald.
Around the web
When Drew was covering Watergate, she was frightened, but not as frightened as she is today, covering the Trump administration. In a 2018 article, she convinces readers that they should be frightened, too. Read the full commentary here.
Accepting the Washington Press Club Foundation's Lifetime Achievement Award in March, Drew unflinchingly calls out enduring sexism in journalism, whether in the form of unequal pay and insufficient parental leave or in the form of “condescension.” Watch her full speech here.
In a recent article, Drew argues that the political dangers Democrats will incur if they pursue impeachment are dwarfed by the risk of doing nothing. In fact, she reiterates, Congress has a responsibility to act. Read the full commentary here.