Two weeks of whirlwind public hearings have now passed. Public official upon public official, lined up to outline their knowledge of United States presidents attempts to either extort or to bribe the president of Ukraine to announce the commencement of an investigation into Hunter Biden’s involvement with a corrupt Ukraine company and a debunked conspiracy theory linking Ukraine to interference in the 2016 election.
Not one major White House official has appeared to testify. The White House has steadfastly refused to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry, directing top officials not to cooperate with congressional subpoenas whether for documents or for personal appearance and testimony.
Some 12 government officials have appeared to testify in open public hearings over the last two weeks. Their testimony has laid bare a president who unabashedly engaged the assistance of both government officials and private individuals in an effort to trade military aid for domestic political favors.
Congress decided not to pursue their subpoenas in court in order to compel witnesses to testify or the administration to produce documents on the basis of expediency, not wanting to drag the process out. And now, Congress has apparently decided to conclude its investigation and to refer the matter to the Judiciary Committee for the drafting of Articles of Impeachment.
One has to wonder, “Why?” There are obviously many more officials who could shed a much more damning light onto the president’s actions: Mick Mulvaney, Rudy Giuliani, Michael Pompeo and John Bolton. Apparently, Bolton would like to testify but Congress has decided not to issue a subpoena. Very questionable, in my opinion.
This morning on Meet the Press (November 24), Representative Adam Schiff, who chairs the Intelligence Committee and steered the public hearings, told Chuck Todd that the committee may move forward with its investigation while it prepares its report for the Judiciary Committee. It doesn’t make sense to me. I never wrote my trial brief until all the evidence was in.
Looking Back, Looking Forward
When all this started a couple of years ago, I started to investigate the impeachment process. I have written several blog posts on the subject. (Click the link or search “impeachment” on this site.) One of the preeminent sources on the subject is a book entitled To End A Presidency: The Power of Impeachment by Lawrence tribe and Joshua Matz. The book was published in 2018 and it is one of the few trusted resources on the impeachment process. In their book, in the chapter titled “Impeachable Offenses,” the authors write
In creating the impeachment power, the framers worried most of all about election fraud, bribery, traitorous acts, and foreign intrusion. Willful conspiracy with a hostile foreign power to influence the outcome of the presidential election directly evokes all of these concerns. Although the meaning of “high crimes and misdemeanors” is often open to dispute, here there is little room for serious disagreement. Needless to say, any such duplicity would be especially severe if it could be shown that the foreign power had assisted the winning candidate in exchange for promises to bend US policy in its favor.To End a Presidency, pp 59-60
. . .
These misdeeds involve an extreme and corrupt betrayal of the United States, and it would therefore be appropriate to impeach a president who owed any part of his election to them. Simply put, the president found to be engaged in such extraordinary treachery should never again be trusted to lead the US government or conduct its foreign affairs.
In our case, we have a president who implored the Russian government of Vladimir Putin to become involved in the 2016 presidential election. Every branch of the United States intelligence agencies have agreed that the Russian government did, in fact, engage in efforts to sway the 2016 election in favor of candidate Donald Trump.
Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller, III, after 22 months of investigation, was unable to uncover evidence that the president personally colluded with the Russian government in its efforts to interfere in the US election in 2016, but he did find, by substantial evidence, ten different incidents where the president obstructed the investigation into those efforts.
In the conclusion to Volume 2 of the Special Counsel’s report, Mr. Mueller writes:
Because we determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment [whether proof beyond a reasonable doubt existed that a crime had been committed], we did not draw ultimate conclusions about the president’s conduct. The evidence we obtained about the president’s actions and intent presents difficult issues that would need to be resolved if we were making a traditional prosecutorial judgment. At the same time, if we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the president clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, we are unable to reach that judgment. Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him. [mine]Mueller Report, Vol. II, p. 182
Congress chose not to press forward with an impeachment investigation based on the Mueller report. Then, on the day after Robert Mueller testified before Congress, the president, in a telephone call with Volodymyr Zelensky, the newly elected president of Ukraine, solicited Zelensky’s assistance, by having Ukraine President publicly announce the commencement of investigations into Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. This would cast doubt on Trump’s political opponent and thereby assist Pres. Trump with his reelection campaign efforts. Trump also wanted an investigation in to the 2016 election and the DNC server. In exchange Trump would invite Zelensky to a coveted meeting at the White House and he would release over $400 million in military aid which had been appropriated by Congress to assist Ukraine’s fight against Russian aggression.
A whistleblower with information about that July 25 telephone call, who was concerned enough about its impropriety, filed a complaint with the Inspector General for the Intelligence Community who found the complaint to be credible and urgent and forwarded the complaint to the Acting Director of National Intelligence. Then, on September 24, 2019, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who up to that point had been recalcitrant to begin impeachment proceedings announced the beginning of a formal probe. See the timeline here.
So Here We Are . . .
There are many more witnesses to call. There are scores of documents to collect. The Congressional inquiry has not even touched on the allegations of obstruction in the Mueller Report, and allegations of violations of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution have nowhere been addressed.
Trump’s team has hidden behind claims of absolute immunity to protect his inner circle from testifying and has asserted, so far successfully, that it extends to those who are no longer in his employ. He has exerted executive privilege on matters that are already in the public domain. His surrogates have openly defied Congressional subpoenas at the president’s urging. And yet, the House–how do I say this politely–hasn’t had the fortitude to stand up to these unlawful, and clearly wrong, assertions of privilege and immunity and disdain for legal process and the rule of law.
They have let the Tyrant run loose and free. Unchecked and unrestrained. They have chosen not to pursue the legal process which would set precedents for future administrations, that would help frame boundaries of acceptable vs unacceptable presidential behavior and exercise of power.
And where is the new presidential ethics legislation putting the president’s ethical footing on the same level as Cabinet officials?
Surely, They Have a Strategy . . .
If you figure it out, let me know.
Is the house “betting the farm” that the facts surrounding the July 25 telephone call will be sufficient to bring down this president?
Is the Speaker moving forward with only this allegation of bribery or quid pro quo knowing that it will not result in conviction in the Senate, while holding back other counts of obstruction and violation of the emoluments clause for impeachment proceedings post 2020 election?
Because one thing is clear: Republicans are bending over backwards to protect this president. They are ignoring the facts and the overwhelming weight of the evidence which has been brought forward thus far. They are putting party over country, and to what end is not yet clear.
What we do know is that we have a president who would be king. He prefers oligarchs over workers, and anything or anyone who would stand in the way of the wealthy, big banks, and huge corporations from compounding their wealth at the expense of the planet, the environment and people’s lives.
We can fix this.
IT’S CALLED THE BALLOT BOX.
In case you were wondering . . .