House Democrats are taking to their fainting couches over the impeachment of President Trump. They’re underscoring the “seriousness” of their effort, speaking in hushed tones of a “constitutional crisis,” or raging about the need for the president to be “held accountable” and “order to be restored.”
They do all of this, meanwhile, against a backdrop of an “impeachment inquiry” that effectively is tossing parliamentary order out the window, upending every impeachment precedent on the books.
Even the New York Times has admitted that “Democrats are deviating in key ways from the way the House launched the two presidential impeachment inquiries of the modern era.”
It starts with the fact of the impeachment inquiry itself. In both the Clinton and Nixon administrations, the House Judiciary Committee’s investigation into potentially impeachable offenses was given credibility by full votes in the House.
House Democrats have had no such vote. Probably because House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) knows it would fail.
Rather, Democrats kicked off this process with a press conference in July, glibly declaring they’d actually been investigating for months, so now they were going to take six weeks of vacation before returning to this very urgent matter.
While the House Judiciary Committee took a party-line vote in September to adopt a resolution that begins some kind of impeachment investigation, it is unclear what that actually authorized.
Leading Democrats have called it both an “investigation” and an “inquiry” and the Committee’s Chairman, Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) added more confusion when describing the process as “not necessarily called an impeachment inquiry. That’s a made-up term without legal significance. It is, however, what we are doing.”
OK, then. Ready, fire, aim!
Moreover, there were substantive rule changes laid out in the resolution adopted by the Judiciary Committee which blow established precedent out of the water and have significant ramifications for this and future presidents’ ability to defend themselves.
For starters, the resolution prohibits members of Congress not serving on the Judiciary Committee from reviewing materials received in executive session (that is, behind closed doors)—including depositions, interviews, letter requests, subpoenas, and even grand jury information.
In other words, if the full House ever holds a vote to impeach the president, nearly all of the members voting will do so without being able to see any of the documents that were used to justify proceeding.
It is a gross violation of fairness, transparency, and the legislative process, not to mention common sense. It is also a blatant violation of House rules, which consider all committee documents the “property of the House,” and require that all members “have access thereto.”
The Judiciary Committee’s resolution also limits the ability of the president’s lawyers to respond to information given to the committee in closed session. This upends precedent from both the Nixon and Clinton impeachments, which afforded the counsels of each president specific procedural rights.
As Jason Pye and Bob Barr pointed out recently, the Republican House allowed Clinton’s counsel to review and respond to evidence received by the committee—and to cross-examine witnesses. “The provisions will ensure that the impeachment inquiry is fair to the President,” said the committee at the time. Ah, the halcyon days.
Secret Rules, Secret Evidence
The resolution adopted by the House Judiciary Committee Democrats will only allow Trump’s counsels to respond to information or testimony received during open session.
But we’ve seen very little of anything in open session, as Democrats are conducting most of their investigations in secret.
This again upends precedent from both the Nixon and Clinton impeachments. More insidiously, it suggests that Democrats think they can get away with impeaching a duly elected, sitting president on the basis of secret evidence, gathered in secret proceedings, while being selective about the evidence they allow the public to see—that is, only the evidence that supports their narrative.
Former U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations, Kurt Volker, recently testified before the committee, behind closed doors. Following that hearing, some text message transcripts Volker provided the committee were leaked, selectively, to the Washington Post. However, Volker’s own testimony, published by The Federalist, contradicts the narrative of the few text messages that Democrats chose to release. The full slate of texts, which presumably provide context for the texts that were leaked, remain behind closed doors.
The testimony of the intelligence community’s inspector general was also held secretly, without the public able to read his testimony, or hear his process for handling this and other whistleblower complaints, or listen to members of Congress question him. This is critically important testimony for the public to hear, as the rules handling whistleblower complaints were apparently changed to accommodate this current complaint.
And just this week, the Washington Post revealed that Democrats are also attempting to keep secret the identity of the whistleblower whose complaint started this whole circus. Rep. Adam Schiff (D.-Calif.), Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee is contemplating having the official testify away from Capitol Hill, or allowing only staff to attend, or obscuring his image and voice.
The Wall Street Journal echoed both the absurdity of this maneuver and the profound concern this should raise for the integrity of the process.
The key witness in an attempt to depose an elected President would testify without the American public getting a clue about how he is or what his motivations might be. Impeachment isn’t a criminal proceeding . . . But you’d think that annulling the 2016 vote of 63 million Americans would be significant enough to demand witness transparency and a chance for both parties to test his knowledge and credibility.
If Democrats Aren’t Taking this Seriously, Why Should Anyone Else?
There are few clear rules that govern the process of impeachment, which means that in the wrong hands, the process can be used primarily for political gain.
From a process standpoint, both the Nixon and Clinton impeachments were structured to avoid this. Proceedings were transparent to all House members, and to the public. The presidents were both afforded due process rights mirroring those of a defendant in a criminal complaint.
This was all done to imbue the process with seriousness and credibility, instead of political intrigue and partisan angling. This is the exact opposite of the clown show we are witnessing in this Democrat-controlled process.
There is a reason Pelosi hasn’t held a full House vote on this issue. It’s because the votes aren’t there. It’s the same reason all of the evidence against the president is discussed and held in secret. Allowing full transparency runs the risk of unraveling the one-sided narrative the Democrats are straining to build. Just trust us, they say.
The longer Democrats persist in this manner, the more the nature of this “impeachment inquiry” is revealed to be what it truly is: a shameless, partisan, baseless, groundless, farce of a process.