After Mueller's Devastating Testimony, the Truth Is Beyond Denying: Congress Is Failing Us | Opinion

We are eye witnesses to the unraveling of the American project. Watching the old war hero stumble on the stage of history as he tried valiantly to overcome the limitations that his obviously ailing condition imposed on him was painful in itself. Watching the pitiless Republican vultures pick at his bones was even more so. But watching the ugly truth of what our nation threatens to become was worst of all.

That we are governed by a president who seized the office and wields its weaponry with the deliberate and felonious help of a hostile foreign power is now beyond denying.

Because so much of it happened in plain view, we became inured to the outrage of the thing. Donald Trump, pursuing his unbounded dream of wealth and fame in the form of Trump Tower Moscow and heaven knows what other financial schemes, was the willing recipient of the Russian government's illegal help as he pursued the presidency—seemingly less to win the office than to facilitate his plans of lucrative business in the heart of Moscow.

Led through the narrative of Trump's unpatriotic corruption of American democracy by an adept Chairman Adam Schiff of the House Intelligence Committee, special counsel Robert Muller finally rose to the occasion, as one could see a glimmer of the United States Marine who had earned the Bronze Star for valor in Vietnam in December 1968.

Yes, Mueller agreed, all distracting legalisms finally left behind, it was a disgrace to the office he now holds that Trump and those around him had sought, welcomed, benefited from and remained potentially compromised by the Kremlin's criminal hacking into American computers and the campaign strategy formulated around the leaking of the hacked material. Yes, the danger such an invasion of our electoral sovereignty posed and continues to pose to our ability to govern ourselves is real and pressing. No, that danger has not been acknowledged, much less addressed, by Trump and his allies in Congress—lest they confess the unthinkable: that they are pretenders to the power they wield.

That Trump and his minions systematically lied and dangled the prospect of pardons and discouraged witnesses from coming forward and otherwise committed abuses of power to cover up that dangerous truth—something that the morning hearing tried without much success to dramatize—becomes almost an afterthought once the enormity of the underlying and ongoing crime is acknowledged. That anyone but a sitting president would have long since been indicted for what the special counsel uncovered Trump had done should be obvious to anyone with half a brain and a modicum of honesty but clearly isn't moving the system into high gear.

The Constitution's framers were far from perfect, but they foresaw a scenario much like the one we face with Trump when they designed the impeachment power as a backstop to deal with "high Crimes and Misdemeanors," rejecting the argument that waiting for the next election to remove a dangerously illegitimate president would always suffice and insistent that we need a workable alternative to anarchy and bloodshed.

The argument that the otherwise politically astute House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the otherwise legally sage Schiff are making to avoid invoking that power and using the leverage it would provide in the courts as they and Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler pursue the truth and hope to move public opinion—the argument that only a public already crying out for impeachment can make that device worth deploying and that the electorate will in effect "impeach" Trump by voting him out of office in 2020—is not just wishful thinking but smacks of the very logic that the framers wisely rejected when they provided Congress with this surgical tool for protecting constitutional democracy and the rule of law between elections and not just every four years.

Robert Mueller Sworn In
Former special counsel Robert Mueller arrives to testify before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on his report on Russian election interference, on Capitol Hill, on July 24 in Washington, D.C. ALEX BRANDON/AFP/Getty

The time for eloquent speeches about proceeding methodically to protect our constitutional system is long since past.

It's not the Constitution that is failing us. It's the people we have elected—including the Democrats in positions of leadership, as well as a now totally corrupt Republican Party—who are failing us, and failing the test of history.

It may well be too late even for formal impeachment proceedings to suffice at this point. But at least beginning such proceedings without further delay will prevent us from being complicit in our own demise and that of the noble experiment that began over two centuries ago. At least beginning such proceedings before the summer recess will enable us to say to ourselves and our children and grandchildren: We did all we could.

Laurence H. Tribe is the Carl M. Loeb University professor and professor of constitutional law at Harvard. He is the co-author, most recently, of To End a Presidency: The Power of Impeachment.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.