Slow down the impeachment talk

This has been an extraordinary week in Washington. The White House seemed to be experiencing an electrical overload, with lights flickering on and off wildly. Every day presented a new scandal involving the recent firing of FBI Director James Comey or former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s ties to Turkey and Russia, intelligence leaks, mysterious tape recordings and memos and, of course, Donald Trump’s kneejerk tweets.

White House staff valiantly tried to answer the tide of accusations, with mixed success. In almost every instance, President Trump contradicted them, within hours, with another tweet.

By the end of the week, the president — arguably the most powerful man in the world — was forced to endure the selection of a special counsel to head up a deeper investigation of his campaign and subsequent actions. That reduced him to spouting self-pity about being the victim of a “witch hunt.” All of it was another stain on the office of the presidency.

Through the week, there were discernable and growing signs that Republicans in Congress were beginning to look toward the lifeboats, and to saving themselves if Trump goes down in a storm of his own making. On Monday and Tuesday many were defending the president. By the end of the week, there was broad support for the naming of a special counsel, and Republicans were ducking for cover.

Welcome to the most chaotic few months of any presidency since the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln, not that there are any other similarities between Honest Abe and Trump. In Lincoln’s defense, his rocky first months were the result of southern states succeeding from the Union. Trump’s are almost entirely self-inflicted.

The president has made a lot of mistakes in his on-the-job training as president, but four rose to the top this week. One was the decision to hire Flynn as national security director, even though his transition team, and presumably Trump himself, knew that Flynn was under federal investigation for receiving a half-million dollars from Turkey. The second, if it proves to be true, was pressuring Comey to limit or stop the investigation of Flynn. The third was firing Comey, who was leading the investigation of the Trump-Russian links. The last was the leak of sensitive intelligence to — of all people — the Russians, in the White House.

By the end of the week, Congress was in full boil. Despite the naming of a special counsel, Congress wants Comey to testify to its many committees, knowing that a Comey appearance will produce a blockbuster public spectacle. And perhaps feeling that Congress’ search for truth goes through a door marked Comey, not Trump.

This was the week that the conversation about Trump moved from a kind of nervous anxiety about his intellectual and emotional fitness to lead to something far more serious. Has the president interfered with the FBI investigation, and was the Comey firing part of that effort?

By week’s end, many scholars and political leaders were, for the first time, beginning to use the “I” word — impeachment. Parallels with Richard Nixon were flying everywhere. There was breathless excitement on the Democratic side and sagging shoulders among Republicans, many of whom never supported Trump in the first place.

We would all be wise to slow down the impeachment talk. The full extent of Russian involvement in our elections is not yet known. The existence of memos and tapes and what they confirm or dispute is also not known. And the investigations are still in the early stages, rather than approaching their conclusion.

Impeachment is a solemn matter that deserves to be above partisan politics. That’s something that Republicans forgot during the Clinton years, when they launched years of investigations against Bill Clinton, on Whitewater, that produced nothing until they stumbled upon Monica Lewinsky. In some sense, the chickens are coming home now for them, but one party’s mistakes should not be an excuse to repeat the error.

The focus now should be on the special counsel, former FBI director Robert Mueller, and what the scope of his investigation will be. There are three key questions that deserve answers:

1. Seventeen intelligence agencies in the U.S. have now declared that the Russians meddled in our elections in an unprecedented way. What was the nature and scope of that meddling?

2. What, if any, connections were there between the president, the Trump campaign and agents of the Russian government?

3. What, if any, efforts have been undertaken by the president, or those working in his behalf, to undermine, thwart, delay or derail any investigation, by Congress or law enforcement agencies, into these matters?

When we have the answers to those questions, the facts will dictate whether or not any action is warranted that will either discipline or remove the president.

Alan Caron, a Waterville native, is the principle of Caron Communications and the author of “Maine’s Next Economy” (2015) and “Reinventing Maine Government” (2010). He can be reached at: [email protected]