What to do about Trump highlights Aspen discussion
Former Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal told an Aspen audience Friday evening that he believes Congress should take steps to impeach President Donald Trump given the findings of the redacted Mueller Report that were released April 18 and the special counsel’s first public comments about the matter last week.
“The standard for impeachment is high crimes and misdemeanors in the Constitution,” he said. “And I do absolutely, 100% think that the failure to protect us and safeguard our current election process is a high crime and misdemeanor in the teeth of all this evidence that has happened.”
Katyal’s remarks came during a discussion with Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser titled “The Mueller Report and Impeachment Perspectives” held at Paepcke Auditorium on the Aspen Meadows campus. The event was a fundraiser for Alpine Legal Services, which offers free legal services to low-income residents in the Roaring Fork Valley area. It has offices in Aspen, Glenwood Springs and Rifle.
Organizers couldn’t have hoped for much better timing for the event, which came two days after special counsel Robert Mueller said Trump could not be charged with a crime — in particular his alleged role in Russia’s interference in the 2016 election — while he is a sitting president.
“If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,” Mueller said Wednesday.
Katyal, who worked under the Obama administration as acting solicitor general, said the “remedy for a president who breaks the law is impeachment … otherwise the president truly would be above the law.”
Concerns in Democrat camps about launching impeachment proceedings mainly involve the potential political backlash in the 2020 elections. That, however, should not have a bearing on the decision of whether to attempt impeachment, Katyal said.
“I think the report, for anyone who looks at it, even one-tenth of it, is clear that there’s a very serious question about whether the president committed multiple felonies,” he said. “Therefore, it is the job of members of Congress, that’s their solemn duty, to go investigate that. Maybe some facts will turn up that say that’s not true, I don’t know. But it sure seems that like right now because the facts are leaning in one direction.”
Weiser, a Democrat who was elected Colorado attorney general in November and served in the Clinton and Obama administrations, said it’s important for Democrats to stay focused on the issues rather than aiming their ire at Trump and his supporters during the 2020 campaign.
“None of us ever can, I believe, or should engage in demonizing someone who voted for Donald Trump, because people voted were often feeling like the system wasn’t working for them,” he said. “There was a lot of fear among a lot of people who don’t have access to justice, who don’t see their job staying because it’s been automated or because jobs moved to other countries. We are living in an increased divided country.”
Katyal agreed somewhat, but he would not cut slack to voters who remain loyal Trump.
“I get all the things Phil is talking about people feeling left behind, … I understand why people voted for him,” he said. “What I don’t understand is how people could continue to vote for him, or this man now. Not just because … of children being separated from their parents at the border. Not just the Muslim ban. Not just the policies in every possible area where there’s global warming or LGBT, or anything — he’s so inventive in coming up with monstrous policies.”
Weiser said “it’s a scary moment we’re in” and suggested apathy or complacency will stymie any chances at progress.
“I say this all the time, ‘Democracy has to be a team sport,’” he said. “We need everybody engaged and showing up. And just think of all the complacency that happened in 2016. … I think everyone thought in 2016 that there was no way Trump was going to get elected. Complacency will be our enemy in 2020 and again in 2022. We all have an obligation to be engaged citizens. I think that is something we have to take seriously.”
When an audience member asked Katyal if “you might have it wrong” in his views about Trump, he deadpanned “no,” and later added, “I honestly don’t have a single doubt in my mind. And generally I’m a pretty doubtful person. And I don’t doubt what I think about this president for a second. This person is not fit to be president of the United States.”