Impeaching Trump: why this congressman says the time is now

“I did not file articles of impeachment to further the interests of my party,” says Rep. Brad Sherman.

The big story on the first day of the new Congress was Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a newly elected Michigan Democrat, declaring at an event in Washington, DC, that she was going to “impeach the motherfucker” — the “motherfucker” in this case being President Donald Trump.

But shortly before Tlaib’s pronouncement, a pair of Democratic members of Congress, Brad Sherman of California and Al Green of Texas filed actual impeachment articles against Trump. Sherman, who has been in Congress since 1997, filed a similar resolution in 2017, but Republicans controlled the House at that time, so the move felt more performative than anything else.

Today, however, Democrats are in control of the House, which makes the impeachment push more relevant. But does it have any chance of succeeding? And why do it now? Would it not make more sense to at least wait for special counsel Robert Mueller to conclude his investigation?

I reached out to Sherman to get some answers to these questions, and to hear his case for impeaching the president. I wanted to know if he really thinks this has any chance of succeeding, and his response to critics in his own caucus who say this is premature and might backfire.

A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.


Sean Illing

In your impeachment resolution against President Trump, you claim that he has violated his oath to “faithfully execute the Office of the President of the United States.” What, specifically, are you referring to?

Brad Sherman

He has obstructed justice. I made this determination on the basis of the testimony offered by former FBI Director James Comey before the Senate Intelligence Committee given under oath. Director Comey is not a Berniecrat hostile to the Trump agenda; he served in the Trump administration, and wished to continue to do so.

I sat there and listened to his entire oral testimony. It is clear that the president was trying to prevent him from investigating [Trump’s then-National Security Adviser] Michael Flynn. That’s obstruction of justice plain and simple. And it’s true. I mean, we have a percipient witness under oath, who happens to be the former director of the FBI and who observed the crime. What else do we need?

I did not file articles of impeachment to further the interests of my party. I believe that filing articles of impeachment was necessary for me to fully comply with my oath to defend the Constitution.

Sean Illing

Obstruction of justice is very difficult to prove, but impeachment is a political act, not a legal proceeding.

Brad Sherman

That’s right, and it’s very circular. Legal experts will tell you it’s just political. But the political experts will tell you that you need a legal justification. I can tell you that I’ve won a bunch of elections, and it would be very hard in my district to justify impeachment unless you could point to a particular section of the criminal code that had been violated.

Sean Illing

But why push for impeachment right now? Why not wait until the Mueller probe is complete?

Brad Sherman

Well, to be fair, I didn’t do it right now. I did it in July of 2017.

Sean Illing

Right, but the question still holds: Why not simply wait for the Mueller investigation to conclude, which would likely bolster your case?

Brad Sherman

Because then I would have been waiting for a year and a half after we already had proof of obstruction on the record, given by a credible, percipient witness under oath. So why wait around until 2019?

I don’t know of any prosecutor who says, “I’ve got on-the-record sworn testimony of a felony. But I’m gonna wait for a year and a half just in case the defendant may be proven to have committed other felonies.”

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) has drafted legislation to stop a US-Saudi nuclear deal.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) and fellow Democratic members of Congress held a news conference to voice their opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal at the US Capitol in 2015.

Sean Illing

Then why, given the totality of evidence we have right now, are so few people in your position willing to do what you’re doing?

Brad Sherman

Well, first of all, I did this as far away from an election as a House member gets in 2017. And I didn’t want it withdrawn, so I filed another impeach resolution last week to keep it alive. I didn’t do it as great politics, and I can argue that it’s bad politics or good politics for my party.

I think it may turn out to be just right, in that I’m not Nancy Pelosi. I’m not Chuck Schumer. What I’ve done takes us up to about 90 degrees. Whereas if somebody more prominent had done it, there would have been more attention, more heat. I did it in a low-key way.

If it was the No. 1 thing my party’s doing, Nancy Pelosi would be doing it. I do a lot of things in Congress, and nobody ever says, “Oh, the Democrats are spending all their time on Brad Sherman’s bill about nuclear cooperation agreements and nonproliferation provisions.”

Again, it’s an important thing for our party to do, but if it was the most important thing our party was doing and our Congress was doing, then Speaker Pelosi would be doing it. And let’s face it: Trump is not going to be removed from office until two-thirds of the Senate votes to remove him from office.

Sean Illing

That’s sort of my point: As it stands, you can’t even make the full case for impeachment to the Senate because we still don’t know all the facts. If you’re serious about moving forward, isn’t that a problem?

Brad Sherman

What I’ve done is make these articles of impeachment available for consideration. I have not gone to the floor and said we should have an immediate vote. I have said that we ought to have investigatory hearings. And whether they are called general investigatory hearings or pre-impeachment investigatory hearings, I’ll leave to others.

But just about every Democrat in Congress thinks the Judiciary Committee should be investigating Donald Trump for what appears to be multiple violations of the laws. And most of us would say that if the president is, in his capacity as president, using his powers to violate criminal law, that would be an impeachable offense.

So we’re creating a stew. And impeachment articles might be a little bit spicier than one of the other elements of the stew, but overall it’s just one part of a much bigger effort to hold this president accountable.

Sean Illing

What are your House Democratic colleagues telling you in private?

Brad Sherman

I think everybody I talk to more or less agrees, although we may differ on tactics. Should you give this speech this way? Should you use the word “impeachment?” Should impeachment be in the title of the article you’re publishing? How far should we be prepared to go?

So there’s a range of opinion, but the center of that range is that the removal of Donald Trump would help the country — maybe not our party, but the country. He has indeed committed such acts that it is legally permissible for Congress to remove him.

It may not be politically possible to remove him right now, but investigations should proceed and we should continue our efforts to show the country what violations have been committed by this president.

Sean Illing

Is there any indication at all that Republicans are wavering in their support for Trump?

Brad Sherman

Can I identify any Republican colleagues ready to vote for articles of impeachment against Donald Trump? No, I can’t. And I don’t think that some incisive speech by me with incisive legal analysis would change that. The thing most likely to change it is Mueller.

But when Mueller issues his report, it’s important that we view the entire case against Donald Trump. Not just the new stuff. All the issues I’m raising, namely the obstruction charges, should not be overlooked just because we’ve known about it for a year and a half.

Sean Illing

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi recently said that Democrats ought to wait for a “crescendo” of bipartisan agreement before moving forward on impeachment. Is she wrong? Is she being too cautious?

Brad Sherman

It depends on what it means to “move forward.” Pelosi wouldn’t say that we shouldn’t talk about the fact that Donald Trump is violating the laws of the United States. Whether she would want impeachment hearings to start before the Mueller probe is complete or before House investigations are complete, well, apparently not.

As a legal matter, I can make the argument that that’s what Congress should have done in 2017. But we all play different roles here. And my role was, in July of 2017, to demonstrate that we had the legal justification to remove a president who was harming the country.

Sean Illing

Do you think there’s any realistic chance that impeachment will happen?

Brad Sherman

Not on the basis of facts known by the public today, but the argument I have put forward is legally sound.

Sean Illing

Is there any utility in a failed impeachment push? Aren’t you worried at all that it might backfire?

Brad Sherman

My top concern is the legality of the Constitution — and there my conscience is clear. This president should be impeached and I have said so, and I’ve taken the actions that I should take in light of that belief.

But just looking at it from a purely political perspective, if no member of the Democratic caucus in the House even mentioned the word impeachment, our base would go nuts. And that would be bad politics.

If we brought to the floor an immediate removal of Trump and all those Democrats voted for it on a party-line basis with no additional facts, the Republican base would go nuts against us. And that might be bad politics.

Ultimately, we should just do what we think is right and hope that it turns out to be good politics.