Yesterday, the most-libertarian member of Congress, Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) said that he believes President Donald Trump had “engaged in impeachable conduct.” A lawyer by training, Amash tweeted that he’d read the Mueller report carefully and conferred with others before concluding that
Mueller’s report identifies multiple examples of conduct satisfying all the elements of obstruction of justice, and undoubtedly any person who is not the president of the United States would be indicted based on such evidence.
Amash’s conclusion aligns with that of another high-profile libertarian presence with a background in law: Judge Andrew Napolitano, the senior legal analyst for Fox News, who told Reason a couple of weeks ago that the Mueller report describes behavior that clearly meets the threshold for charges of obstruction.
In response to Napolitano’s claims, first aired on Fox, the president shrugged them off and claimed that the former judge had asked to be placed on the Supreme Court and sought a pardon for a mutual friend. Responding to Amash, Trump lashed out via Twitter, calling the congressman “a total lightweight,” a glory hound trying to “get his name out there through controversy,” and a “loser who sadly plays right into our opponents [sic] hands.” Oddly, the president also refers to himself in the third person, taking a swipe at the Mueller report as being written by “Angry Dems who hated Trump.”
….he would see that it was nevertheless strong on NO COLLUSION and, ultimately, NO OBSTRUCTION…Anyway, how do you Obstruct when there is no crime and, in fact, the crimes were committed by the other side? Justin is a loser who sadly plays right into our opponents hands!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 19, 2019
Although I don’t believe Trump should face impeachment (or indictments once he leaves office) over the findings in the Mueller report, he is baldly misrepresenting its actual findings. The report in fact didn’t clear Trump of obstruction. “If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice,” the authors write, “we would so state.” Regardless of the facts, though, it seems unlikely that Amash’s statement will have much if any impact on impeachment. By virtually all accounts, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has no interest in pursuing such a thing, preferring instead to leave the possibility out there as a sort of political flypaper that will torment the president until the 2020 election.
Trump’s dismissal of Amash’s opinion is characteristically swathed in personal attacks. But calling the five-term representative a “total lightweight” and a “loser” who simply attacks the president out of personal animus is as ridiculous as it is characteristic. Throughout his career, Amash has been a paragon of virtuous governance, routinely putting principle before party and sharing his reasoning for each vote he takes with via his Facebook page, whose catchphrase is “I defend liberty and explain every vote here.” This is a politician who has tangled with each Speaker of the House under which he has served, whether that person is a Republican (John Boehner and Paul Ryan) or a Democrat (Pelosi). He has consistently called for limiting the size, scope, and spending of the federal government (in March, he introduced legislation to kill the Import-Export Bank), an end to wars that have not been specifically (and constitutionally) authorized by Congress, and the end of mass surveillance of American citizens.
Amash’s public criticism of the president will doubtless fuel speculation that he may leave the Republican Party and seek the Libertarian Party’s presidential nomination. In March, he told CNN’s Jake Tapper that such a move was “not on my radar” but that he wouldn’t rule it out, either. “I think that it is important that we have someone in there who is presenting a vision for America that is different from what these two parties are presenting,” he said.
Earlier in the year, while speaking at the Students for Liberty annual international conference, he was less cagey:
Amash told Reason Editor in Chief Katherine Mangu-Ward in January that the ideal third-party candidate “wears Air Jordans” (he was wearing Air Jordans as he said this), and that the L.P. nominee “has to be very libertarian, because if you’re running in the Libertarian Party, you better be a libertarian.” However, “it has to be a person who is persuasive to other people, can bring Republicans and Democrats on board, or bring a large part of the electorate on board, because you can’t just appeal to diehard libertarians and win the election.”
I have no particular insight into Amash’s decision process, but it’s increasingly compelling to me that his best chance of changing the political atmosphere in the country is as a third-party presidential candidate rather than as an ideological minority in an electoral-minority party. Throughout his time in Congress, Amash has battled as much with his own party as with the Democrats and there is no evidence that the Republicans will turn back anytime soon to limited government on even a rhetorical level much less a substantive one (just 13 House Republicans voted against Trump’s patently phony national emergency declaration earlier this year). The GOP held a congressional majority in the House and Senate for most of the Bush years, a period in which government grew in every possible way (spending, regulations, overreach). The Party of Lincoln did not distinguish itself during the Obama years as a force for limited government, only as one for oppositional government, and one ultimately incapable of or uninterested in reducing spending, unwarranted wars, and the abrogation of civil liberties. Under Trump, the Republican Party has been shown to be almost completely without principle, quickly embracing economic protectionism, xenophobia, trillion-dollar deficits, and unchecked executive power as the new normal.
While little-known outside of libertarian circles, his own district, and Beltway policy-wonk groups, Amash brings with him an incomparable record as a member of Congress, one that is marked by principle over compromise. Running as a Libertarian would give him a national platform from which to articulate not simply a series of policy prescriptions but a broad vision of what 21st-century America should look like. His relative youth (he’s 39), his ethnicity (he’s of Palestinian and Syrian descent), and his religion (he’s an Orthodox Christian) place him squarely at the forefront of a country whose leaders will be younger and more culturally diverse (imagine a debate about the future with him, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Pete Buttigieg!).
Especially during an election cycle featuring Trump, Joe Biden, and a couple of other septuagenarian socialist-leaning candidates, the Libertarian Party—and the country—could do far worse than having someone like Justin Amash talking about a vision that embraces free markets, individual rights, limited government, tolerance and pluralism, and a social order characterized by mutual respect, trust, and charity.
Last April, Amash spoke at a Reason event about “Trump, Ryan, and the Stupidity of How the Government Spends Your Money.” Take a look below.