‘Our Jerry’ Stands Between Trump and an Impeachment Inquiry; What Will He Do?

By Michael McDowell

With the question of impeachment in the air and a familiar adversary in the White House, Congressman Jerrold Nadler, Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, may be a critical figure in bringing about the denouement of the Trump presidency.

Yet even as he once again assumes a starring role in national politics, for many Upper West Siders, Rep. Nadler remains “our Jerry”—a familiar face at the synagogue, a representative ready to engage constituents on Broadway, a patron of neighborhood restaurants (he likes Bella Luna, at 88th Street and Columbus; his wife Joyce prefers La Mirabelle, at 86th and Columbus; that evening, he had a table at Shun Lee).

Nadler is a formidable interlocutor who seems to recall the entirety of his political career; though he states that he does not have a photographic memory, he possesses a remarkable command of names, dates, case law, and the byzantine particulars of legislative machinery. Known to be an avid reader, he may have already finished Israeli author Yuval Noah Harari’s “21 Lessons for the 21st Century,” the book he said he was reading when he sat down with his district director Rob Gottheim and the West Side Rag for an interview at his New York offices earlier this month.

When we spoke, the Judiciary committee’s first oversight hearing was still a few days away. In that hearing, acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker’s punchy attitude surprised the committee. “Mr. Chairman, I see that your five minutes is up,” he jabbed, as Nadler pressed him on the Mueller investigation.

The congressman smiled. After a brief back-and-forth about committee rules, Nadler continued his line of inquiry. “Answer the question please.”

In our interview, Nadler was emphatic that oversight of this administration is long overdue.

“I can’t think of a period in American history where you didn’t have oversight as in the last couple years. The Republicans, it’s not that they went easy on the administration, they ran interference for the administration. You have to do oversight of the administration in power, whomever it is at the time. Are they behaving honestly? Are they using appropriations properly?”

Those eager for censorious action, however, may be disappointed by Nadler’s judicious approach — one that has sometimes kept him from storming the barricades in the past.

In the late 1960s, Nadler determined he could not support sit-ins at Columbia, which he attended, because he thought protestors had “no right to forcibly prevent students and faculty who disagreed with [them] to go into the buildings—a civil liberties position.” Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) had sought to close Columbia following the discovery of the academic institution’s involvement in the Vietnam War.

This sort of dynamic has played out in his career before. Although he organized an effective political machine in support of efforts like the Dump Johnson campaign in 1967 and the ‘Clean for Gene’ campaign for Eugene McCarthy, in 1968, Nadler declined to hold hearings to impeach President Bush in 2007-2008, when he chaired Judiciary’s Constitution Subcommittee.

“People were pushing me to hold hearings to impeach Bush and I refused to do so, in fact they were threatening me with a primary because I refused to do so, because I didn’t see that there was any possibility of a serious impeachment…all you’re going to do is take the oxygen out of the contest for the democratic presidential nomination.”

In 1998, during the impeachment of President Clinton, Nadler quoted Benjamin Franklin, who measured the magnitude of impeachment as such: a “substitute for assassination,” reserved only, in Nadler’s view, for “abuses of presidential power that undermine the structure or functioning of government or of constitutional liberty.”

Does he still feel the same way today?

“My perspective is exactly the same, then and now. Impeachment is a defense of the republic against the presidential aggrandizement of powers, against the destruction of the separation of powers, against the destruction of liberty. It is a defense; it is not a punishment. Impeachable offenses and crimes are a different question.”

Do Trump’s actions constitute impeachable offenses?

“It depends what they are. They may very well be. I have said that there’s really a three-part test for impeachment. Number one: did the president commit an impeachable offense? Number two, assuming he did, is it important enough? You’re not going to impeach a president for light and transient causes, even if technically you could. So, number two, is it really important? Do you really have to do this?”

He continued.

“James Wilson, I think, said at the Constitutional Convention, what if someone rigged the election for president? What if someone fraudulently procured the office? That would certainly be an impeachable offense. Although it’s a general rule that you should not be impeached for something you did before you’re president, if, before you’re president you do something to subvert or rig the election, or to fraudulently procure your election, that’s impeachable.”

The third part of the test?

“You don’t want to tear the country apart. It shouldn’t be partisan…Before you start the formal impeachment proceeding, you must have sufficient evidence of such gravity, of such weight, of deeds so terrible, that you believe that when all the evidence is laid out, a good fraction of the opposition voters, not of the senators necessarily, will say they have to do it.”

Do you think we’re going to get there?

“I don’t know,” Nadler answered, after a pause.

What about in the case of a Supreme Court justice, like Brett Kavanaugh?

“When we get time—the FBI background check was a farce. The [FBI] never interviewed the principals: you have 20 or 30 witnesses saying, ‘here I am, interview me, please,’ and they didn’t [interview them]. That was a farce. The Senate was willing to accept that farce, and that’s unfortunate, but they did. We have to look into this question, not with the view of undoing what the Senate did, which we can’t undo, but with the view toward making sure that the FBI cannot take instructions from the President, or a nominee, or the Senate Majority Leader, and not do a background check in a future situation.”

A year ago, Nadler told Upper West Siders that Trump “presents the greatest threat to constitutional liberty and the functioning of our government in living memory.”

Those familiar faces in the synagogue who wonder how we’re going to get through this, those constituents on Broadway who are concerned for the future of the country—what does he say to them now?

“We get through this by staying involved, being active politically, supporting civil rights and civil liberties and due process—due process above all else. Supporting the immigrants and all others who are being victimized by the administration, and getting involved politically at every level.”

This is a two-part interview. Stay tuned for the second installment tomorrow.

NEWS | 44 comments | permalink
    1. UWSHebrew says:

      Loudmouth hack. Trump will not be impeached and will likely be re-elected.

      • AC says:

        You are absolutely correct!

      • EGF says:

        Unfortunately I have to agree with you. Living in NYC, its easy to think the rest of the country is as progressive as we are.
        Other than NY & CA the rest of the country is conservative and their votes will re-elect him without a doubt.

      • B.W. says:

        YOU have a lot of nerve calling someone a “Loudmouth” but I am sure WSR won’t allow my comment, because nobody dare criticize the UWSHebrew.

        • UWSHebrew says:

          B.W., over half of what I post on WSR is not printed. For example, I wrote a lengthy statement regarding the non-punishment of Ilhan Omar and the apparent embracement by the current Democratic party of views that are typically thought of as anti-American, but WSR would have none of it. So B.W., WSR keeps me on a tight leash…as abhorrent as I am to you, in reality I am much more “offensive” to your progressive sensibilities. But, I’ll keep trying, and thankfully, some of my neighbors on here share many of my views.

      • David says:

        YES!!!

      • Jay says:

        It’s certainly *possible* Trump will win again, and it’s a possibility that should be taken seriously, it’s far from a fait accompli and probably not even the most likely outcome.

        I agree with being mindful of how we live in a bubble but Trump lost the popular vote in 2016 against a pretty flawed and widely disliked candidate, so “the rest of the country is conservative” (setting aside whether Trump is even “conservative”) doesn’t reconcile with the data.

        It’s dangerously naive to assume he’s eaily beaten, but also self-defeating to assume he’s unbeatable.

    2. Scott says:

      Still trying to figure out how “progressives” like Nadler square their support for Israel with anything remotely progressive. And now they’re trying to shut down Ilhan Omar.

      • soldier says:

        Progressives supporting Hamas-friendly CAIR, Farrakhan and numerous bloody dictators – that’s fine with you. But Israel for some (very very old) reason – no way. That figures. By the way, Rep. Omar insulted not Israeli but American Jews. There is a name for that, ends with -ism.

    3. BillyNYC says:

      The Republicans and this jerk… so called Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker are a disgrace to America… What a shame… so sad… A 8 year set back.

    4. Catherine Brooks says:

      Terrific interview, especially important chance to listen to Nadler’s thought processes on impeachment, now such a partisan cliche, rarely broken down into its historic aim. An especially welcome one-on-one with Nadler, who’ll play a critical role in the next few months but has never been that expansively covered in the media. Better than a town hall meeting where you can’t get this thoughtful engagement. Great get, great questions, great write-up.

    5. John McDowell says:

      This is excellent journalism. It’s important to have the words of this key player.

    6. Glen says:

      I cannot see the benefit of impeachment in the House without a guarantee of conviction and removal in the senate. As the old saying goes, “If you strike at the king, you’d better kill him.”

    7. jerry says:

      I don’t think the Rag is a place for the Punch and Nasty cistern that has become our national polotics

    8. ZoomZ says:

      If this is what “our Jerry” wants to do as the head of the committee, he’s going about his job all wrong.
      No way will they’ll be able to impeach Trump.
      And instead of legislating it’ll be endless, and fruitless investigation.
      A waste of time, and a sure way to help the dems lose the 2020 election.

      • nycityny says:

        You mean the way the endless and fruitless Republican investigations of Hillary Clinton (emails and Benghazi) caused them to lose the 2016 election? If only the Democrats incur the same fate…

        • ZoomZ says:

          Yes, of course, same as the GOP investigated Hillary.
          Except – HRC was NOT investigated by a Special Council the way Trump is, and had she been, she’d still be sitting in a cell counting the millions she made giving speeches to big wigs on Wall Street, and even more $$$, selling 20% of our uranium to Russia and getting over $100 million to the foundation from the Russians.
          Talking Russian collusion – she’s the one.

          • nycityny says:

            You weren’t talking about the Special Counsel in your original post. You said that congressional Democrats investigating Trump would lead to their loss in 2020. I pointed out that the Republican congressional investigation of Hillary did not lead to a Republican loss in 2016. You know, apples to apples comparison.

            Hillary probably isn’t in jail because all that GOP investigating revealed nothing. Not even after her 11 hour single-day testimony.

    9. Sherman says:

      I’m no big fan of Trump but it would be nice if Nadler had the courage to denounce the overt anti-Semitism, er, excuse me, anti-Zionism, of the new “progressive” flank of the Democratic Party.

    10. Independent says:

      He’s not my Jerry. I’m a 38 year old woman and have never voted for him, abhor his “progressive politics” and certainly do t feel like he speaks for me.
      Ugh. Politicians. At least in the case of Trump he’s Wasting his time and energy which means less time and energy for other “work”

    11. Rob G. says:

      “OUR” Jerry? Nice editorial piece, WSR!

      • UWSHebrew says:

        Rob G. you mean he’s not yours? He’s not mine? We’re all not UWS buddies and we don’t embrace each other when we meet at a Bar Mitzvah? How can this be?

        • Rob G. says:

          Exactly. I don’t know if it’s intent or sloppiness, but I feel like the WSR has strayed away from unbiased reporting and into mouthpiece territoty. This was evident in their “coverage” of the tiny opposition of the Gilder Center expansion.

          Granted this piece was an interview but at the very least, someone should have put a leash on the offensive “Our Jerry” portion of the headline.

    12. UWSresident says:

      Excellent interview. Thanks for the directness of it. I, for one, think we should skip the impeachment process and focus on 2020.

    13. Doug Garr says:

      I’ve already emailed Nadler and said to the aide reading this that he should put The March issue of Atlantic on his desk and tell him to spend 20 minutes reading the cover story, The Case for Impeachment. Then maybe he’ll put it on the desks of his colleagues on the House Judiciary Committee. I hope anybody who reads this comment will do the same.

    14. RickiLS says:

      Thank you for this excellent interview with Jerry. He is a most thoughtful, serious,intelligent,knowledgeable and decent man. He is what we want in our public life and in the Congress. The trolls who insult him in these comments are the ones who seem lacking in those very same qualities.

    15. Jose Habib says:

      He’s a clown. I trust Trump more than him.

    16. Ben David says:

      This disgraceful Congressman does not care about his district AT ALL. No concern for local problems. Screw the Upper West Side; it’s all about being obsessed with President Trump. Jerry, if you want to get rid of the President, run against him in 2020 or find a candidate who can beat him — it shouldn’t be that difficult to beat a president with one of the lowest approval ratings ever. In the meantime, how about doing something for your UWS constituents?!

      • nycityny says:

        Nadler is a US representative of this district, not a city councilman. He represents us as part of the federal government, not local. If you want a pothole fixed you don’t call your congressman.

        Nadler’s district is overwhelmingly liberal (despite the preponderance of comments from conservatives here) and his view of issues very much mirrors his district’s. That’s why he keeps getting re-elected – he does his job of espousing the ideas of most of his constituents, including me.

    17. Karen Bruno says:

      Trump 2020!

    18. Westsidegirl says:

      He needs to be focused on banning cow farts!

    19. David says:

      “Our Jerry” is a pompous windbag who is beyond the point of retirement readiness! Ever mindful of promoting himself, he now sees the opportunity to appear before the cameras and “expose” supposed wrongdoings on the part of President Trump. It will avail him naught, despite his determination to do so!

    20. Chrigid says:

      How can we get Trump to resign? Seriously, impeachment will be a bigger and badder circus than what we’re living through now, and he’ll still be president during the proceedings. And unless Mueller has something that will finally convince Trump’s base that they backed the wrong guy, we’ve gotta find something that will make him resign.

    21. Not My Nadler says:

      “Our Jerry” my arse. He sure isn’t mine. Never voted for him and never will. But it sure shows where the WSR stands.

      • CGK says:

        Well, you are certainly in the minority. Our Jerry wins every two years with a huge majority.

        Proud to be represented by him.

    22. NPC57e26BZ0_ says:

      Orange man bad

    23. Janet Fried says:

      I oppose impeachment of Donald Trump at this time. If evidence were to surface of abuse of power then that would be a matter to consider at some future time. It will be too disruptive to the workings of government and needed legislation so necessary for the health of our country both economical and morale; ie election tampering,,climate controll, health care, income inequality and infrastructure.Just vote the
      worst president we have ever had out of office.