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President's distractions aren't working

The House of Representatives' impeachment inquiry into President Trump's actions in a phone call with the president of Ukraine is getting increasing support from Americans. That is unsurprising, given the spreading investigation and the president's response to it.

Polling done in the last week of September showed the numbers who agree with the impeachment inquiry rising steadily to the point where those in favor equal or surpass the number of respondents who say they are opposed. A newer USA Today/IPSOS poll released Thursday showed a 45 percent-45 percent split.

Overnight polling isn't completely reliable, and its samples are relatively small, but the results jibe with what we sense. People know instinctively that good government in a democracy relies on rule of law and civil discourse. As this week has progressed, Americans are seeing an increasingly stark contrast between the widening deliberative actions of the House committees conducting the impeachment inquiry and the rantings of the president. That is to say, the House Democrats are maintaining the tradition of civility in confrontational matters while President Trump has no such compunctions.

The president gives the impression of feeling cornered. He has responded to the cascade of developments with threats and epithets in tweets and on-camera comments. His own advisors and the members of his party, the Republicans in Congress, are keeping a mostly civil tone, but underneath lies the reality that the president is in trouble and his intemperate, rabble-rousing outbursts aren't going to do their own situations any good.

The House leadership is wise to go full steam ahead on the inquiries; the nation's business is inevitably going to suffer until the determination of whether there will be articles of impeachment. However, once the committees are ready to schedule hearings, deliberations must be handled with gravity and no rush to judgment. That is the only hope that a majority of citizens will have confidence in the results.

As the nation saw during the Watergate hearings that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon, every discovery in an impeachment inquiry leads to others besides the president himself. Each time investigators find cause to examine a point, the effect is to involve a person or persons, and each new effect can be a cause to investigate further. White House staff may increasingly have to choose between the president and their own defense. This will produce leverage for the committees in questioning witnesses, even if they have to issue subpoenas to get people to appear, as it seems they will.

And even if there were to be no vote to impeach, legal action against more Trump aides is a clear possibility. Investigation in any such cases would normally be the responsibility of the Justice Department under the attorney general. We urge Attorney General William Barr to recuse himself from the whole inquiry immediately. His name comes up repeatedly, not only uttered by the president during the Ukraine call but in connection with political requests to the government of Australia. He cannot head an impartial investigation if he is liable to be a material witness.

One of the president's most unpresidential acts in a week filled with name-calling and wild attacks was his tweeting of a prediction from a conservative pastor that removing him from office would "cause a Civil War like fracture in this Nation from which our Country will never heal." Besides the enormous narcissism that shows, it is the kind of distraction he creates to change the conversation. In case that wasn't enough, he suggested a political investigation Thursday by China, whose regime is repressing a democratic movement in Hong Kong and with whom the president has been conducting a trade war.

The attempts to distract will keep coming, but more and more Americans see that the impeachment inquiry is the conversation that the nation must have to get past the fractures the president himself encourages.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.


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