The adage goes that if politicians didn’t have double standards, they’d have no standards at all. But the double standard at play in the current impeachment farce is even more egregious than normal.
First is the pre-vote “impeachment inquiry” that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) launched unilaterally on September 24, contrary to every prior presidential impeachment inquiry, which all proceeded only after a formal vote of the full House (as arguably is required by the Constitution, which assigns the sole power to impeach to “the House of Representatives,” not to a single member or a single committee).
Next, again contrary to precedent, the inquiry is being led by the House Intelligence Committee, where it can be held in secret, rather than by the Judiciary Committee, which usually has formal jurisdiction over such matters.
Then there is the skewed set of rules that largely deprives Republicans of authority to call and question witnesses—at least, when their proposed witnesses and line of questioning would be likely to blow holes in the false narrative that has been carefully crafted by Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.).
And there is an utter lack of bipartisan support—again, contrary to historic practice. The vote in the House this week in favor of the House resolution directing various committees “to continue” their impeachment inquiry was entirely partisan (231 Democrats and one independent), while the vote against was bipartisan (albeit with only 2 Democrats joining the 194 Republicans).
Contrast that with the bipartisan cooperation that Republicans afforded to the minority Democrats during the Clinton impeachment proceedings. Ranking member John Conyers thanked Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde at the outset of those hearings for his “many untold efforts . . . including providing Democrats the Watergate rules of operation which [Democrats] sought.” “You know as well as I,” he added, “that whatever action this committee takes must be fair, it must be bipartisan, for it to have credibility. The American people deserve no less, and history will judge us by how well we achieve that goal.” The House vote to launch the Clinton impeachment inquiry included 31 Democrats, yielding a strong bipartisan vote of 258-176.
But the double standard on the procedures pales in comparison to the double standard on the merits of the claim that Trump’s conduct warrants impeachment. The key allegation offered up by a “whistleblower” who had no first-hand knowledge of the call, and repeated in one fashion or another in formal testimony by others, is that the President “is using the power of his office [by, among other things, withholding military aid] to solicit interference from [Ukraine] in the 2020 U.S. election.”
That allegation is a risible distortion of President Trump’s July 25 call with Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky, which we now know because the president released the official record of the call, compiled by several White House intelligence officers whose duty it is to make the official record of such calls. No mention was made in the call of military aid, much less the withholding of military aid. And no mention was made of the 2020 election. There was a discussion about Ukranian assistance in helping with the ongoing investigation of supposed Russian interference in the 2016 election, largely because Ukraine now has custody of the Democratic National Committee server that the Russians supposedly hacked.
And there was a brief discussion about continuing an investigation into potential criminal conduct by the Ukranian energy company, Burisma, on whose board Joe Biden’s son sat (in a very lucrative, $1-2 million or more/year no-work position), the prior investigation of which was shut down after Ukraine was notoriously threatened by then-Vice President Biden to fire the lead prosecutor or lose over $1 billion in U.S. loan guarantees. It is quite a stretch to claim, as the whistleblower did, that this discussion was a “solicit[ation of] interference . . . in the 2020 U.S. election.”
But let’s assume that even the mention of an investigation into matters involving Joe Biden’s son might yield evidence of corruption that could negatively impact Biden’s prospects in the upcoming Democrat primaries and, perhaps, in the general election. The position taken by the whistleblower, that looking into such corruption would be improper, would effectively place Biden above the law. Hasn’t the mantra emanating from Democrats ever since Trump was elected been that “no one is above the law”? Apparently, that’s a standard that applies only to one side, not the other.
Or consider this. Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman testified this week (at least, according to his leaked opening statement) that he “did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen.” Of course, requests for foreign government cooperation in criminal investigations of U.S. citizens are routine. Such cooperation is even specifically part of a “Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters” treaty that former President Clinton negotiated with Ukraine back in 1998, and which the Senate ratified in 1999.
Giving him the benefit of the doubt, perhaps Vindman meant merely that it would be improper to have a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen involved with a political campaign of the opposition party. But here, the double standard is even starker.
As is by now well known (and certainly should be known to Vindman himself), the Obama Administration not only sought but obtained extensive cooperation from “a foreign government”—the same one, actually, Ukraine—to “investigate a U.S. citizen,” namely, Paul Manafort, who had strong ties with, and was about to become campaign manager for, President Trump and his presidential campaign.
Early in 2016, Ukranian prosecutors flew to Washington, D.C., to meet with officials from the FBI, Justice Department, State Department, and National Security Council. As Andrii Telizhenko, a political officer at Ukraine’s embassy in Washington, told a reporter from The Hill, U.S. officials stressed that they wanted Ukraine to revive an investigation of payments allegedly made to Manafort by the prior government in Ukraine, an investigation that had been closed two years earlier. Nazar Kholodnitskiy, Ukraine’s chief anti-corruption prosecutor, told that same reporter that soon after the January 2016 Washington meetings, he found that Ukrainian officials were effectively meddling in the American presidential election. A Ukranian court reached the same conclusion last December, holding that two Ukranian officials, including Serhiy Leshchenko (a member of the Ukranian Parliament), had violated Ukranian law by leaking (what turned out to be a likely phony) ledger of payments made to Manafort that led to “interference in” the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
This is all about to come out with the looming release of the inspector general’s report on the origins of the phony “Russia Collusion” inquiry, of course, so maybe this double standard is simply a desperate attempt to inoculate the wrong-doers in that scam from what one hopes will be forthcoming indictments. On the other hand, perhaps the use of the investigative tools of the U.S. government, particularly when used in collaboration with foreign governments, should be off-limits to either side.
But again, there’s that double standard thing, because there is substantial evidence that the Obama Administration, using opposition research paid for by the Hillary Clinton campaign (illegally laundered through the campaign’s law firm, I might add), relied on a former British spy, using highly-placed Russian sources, to obtain FISA warrants to spy on the political campaign of the opposition party.
Even if Trump did everything the whistleblower claimed, his conduct pales in comparison to that, which should be considered one of the greatest political scandals in American history. That’s a double standard that is hard to swallow no matter how common double standards in politics may be.