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May 08, 2014 3:32 PM Letting the Impeachment Genie Out of the Bottle—Carefully!

By Ed Kilgore

If you read two posts by Slate’s Dave Weigel this week about the establishment of the Select Committee on Benghazi!, the potential significance of this move and how it’s being handled by John Boehner becomes pretty clear. This isn’t just a move to provide daily porn for wingnuts, or even to take down Hillary Clinton’s approval ratings a few points, but a conscious step towards impeaching Barack Obama:

On Saturday night, as Washington’s press corps was distracted by a surge of celebrity selfie opportunities, it was missing a kind of milestone. Jeanine Pirro, a former New York Republican star who tumbled out of politics and onto Fox News, was calling for the impeachment of President Obama over “a story no one wants to talk about.”
The story was the 2012 attack on the American consulate in Benghazi. Referring to that, on Fox, as “a story no one wants to talk about” sounded a bit like CNN asking where all the Flight 370 coverage had been. Not Pirro’s point—she was saying that the media failed to see where the Benghazi story was going to lead. Hint: Impeachment.
“We have impeached a president for lying about sex with an intern,” she said. “A president resigned in the face of certain impeachment for covering up a burglary. Why wouldn’t we impeach this president for not protecting and defending Americans in the bloodbath known as Benghazi?” Pirro then addressed the president directly—though at this point in the evening he was giving a sardonic dinner speech—with a warning that “your dereliction of duty as commander-in-chief demands your impeachment.”
Just one segment on a slow news night, but there was a sense of inevitability about it, of the Overton Window being shifted by hand.

Weigel goes on to pull together a number of quotes from Republican pols and conservative media figures that don’t so much raise the possibility of impeachment as take it as a given and ponder how it can be handled without “looking crazy.”

Enter Trey Gowdy.

In a post today, Weigel suggests the selection of the South Carolinian was made precisely because the “investigation” will likely lead to impeachment proceedings:

To conduct hearings that may lead to impeachment, Republicans needed a leader who seemed unimpeachable. They needed someone exactly unlike former Rep. Dan Burton, who never lived down a demonstration, involving a watermelon and a gun, of how Vince Foster’s “murder” might have gone down.
“When you’re shooting a watermelon you’re probably going too far,” says South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham. “I don’t think Trey is going to have a demonstration in his backyard about how Benghazi happened. I’ve known him for years. If you ask any lawyer or judge in South Carolina, Democrat or Republican, he’d get A-plus marks. You’d find that to be a universal assessment….”

After an extended tribute to Gowdy’s skill as a prosecutor and inquisitor, Weigel concludes:

Gowdy only talks about Benghazi the way he’d talk about a re-opened murder investigation, a case given to his courtroom because somebody else screwed it up. He’s good at this. Republicans, who can imagine the select committee lasting through the midterms and into a lame duck president’s final years, are clamoring to be in his jury.

So in choosing Gowdy, it’s entirely possible Boehner had it mind for him a much more important role than entertaining conservatives: he’d be the face of impeachment. That congressional Republicans are contemplating this possibility so seriously when Barack Obama is already heading towards the exit—and given the vast evidence a similar move backfired decisively in the 1990s—shows how much pressure they are under from “the base,” and how deranged the supposed Great Big Adults of the Republican Establishment have become. Maybe the glittering prospect of impeaching Obama while disqualifying HRC is just so bright that they aren’t thinking straight.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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