Last week, President Donald J. Trump complained that he would be getting “no lawyer” and “no due process” during the House impeachment hearings, set to begin Wednesday.
The irony of course is that if Trump is unhappy with how the impeachment process is unfolding, he has mostly Republicans to blame. After all, they are the ones who have written the rules that impeachment investigations follow.
After weeks of Republican demands for a vote on an impeachment resolution, the House of Representatives did just that and approved, along party lines, a resolution that establishes the procedural guidelines for the impeachment investigation of Trump. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff announced that public hearings will commence Wednesday.
The impeachment process Democrats just approved, and which Trump will doubtless spend the next several weeks slamming publicly, is the same process Republicans have used to govern their oversight investigations during the past three decades. The GOP has controlled the majority of the House's investigative powers for 20 of the last 25 years. (And I spent five of those years working at the House Oversight Committee as a spokesperson and a senior adviser under the chairmanship of Republican Darrell Issa, R-Calif.)
Trump might label this an attack on “due process,” but his fight isn’t with Speaker Nancy Pelosi or Schiff, it’s with the Republican-led investigative committees who instituted this precedent during their investigations of President Bill Clinton’s administration in 1997 and 1998. That practice was extended in the 112th, 113th, 114th and 115th congresses.
For all Trump’s griping about lawyers, the House impeachment inquiry isn’t a trial at all. But the reason he won’t have a lawyer representing his interests in the hearings is because Republicans made a point to continue the procedure during the Benghazi investigation. During that investigation, Republican committee members approved rules specifically stipulating that “counsel … for agencies under investigation may not attend.”
We’ve seen this pattern of Trump and Republicans objecting to rules they created consistently throughout the impeachment investigation.
In recent weeks, House Republicans have extended a lot of energy and rhetoric railing against “closed-door depositions.” Yet, according to a report released by congressional investigative experts at Co-Equal, a group intended to help Congress remain a check on the executive branch, House Republicans conducted depositions of more than 140 administration officials during their impeachment inquiry of Clinton. While the Trump administration has tried to obstruct the current impeachment investigation by blocking witnesses from appearing for depositions, during the Benghazi inquiry alone, House Republicans took testimony from more than 60 career employees who served under President Barack Obama.
Even much of the authority to conduct depositions for investigations stemmed from Republicans. Republicans first gave this authority to a congressional committee during the Clinton investigation, then expanded it to the House Oversight Committeein 2011, and again in 2014 as part of the Benghazi probe, again in 2015 to include four additional committees, and finally in 2017 to include all House congressional committees. (Previously, “depositions had been authorized by the House only for specific investigations.”)
Interestingly enough, the effort to expand deposition authority to all congressional committees was spear-headed by Reps. Jim Jordan and former Rep. Mike Pompeo who said, “The ability to interview witnesses in private allows committees to gather information confidentially and in more depth than is possible under the five-minute rule governing committee hearings. This ability is often critical to conducting an effective and thorough investigation.”
This is the same Pompeo, who, as secretary of state, has refused to cooperate with the congressional investigation and the same Jordan, who, as the ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, has labeled the impeachment investigation a “sham process.” Jordan has yet to explain how this process is a “sham” when it’s being conducted under the very rules and powers that he specifically helped enact when he thought Hillary Clinton was going to be the president of the United States.
Trump officials such as White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, acting-Office of Management and Budget Director Russ Vought, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and Pompeo have refused to testify in a blatant act of obstruction, and yet, Republican chairs took 141 depositions from Clinton officials, including from two White House chiefs of staff, two White House counsels, the vice president’s chief of staff and the first lady’s chief of staff.
The bottom line is Trump and his Republican defenders can continue their embarrassing crusade against the rules and procedures that Democrats are using, but the inescapable fact is those very rules and procedures were authorized and utilized by Republicans first. When the impeachment hearings begin Wednesday, congressional Democrats would be wise to remind Trump and his faithful servants that if they are looking for someone to blame, they need only to look in the mirror.
- Kurt Bardella is an NBC News THINK contributor and served as the spokesperson and senior advisor for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee from 2009-2013.
This piece was first published by NBC Think.
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