The impeachment inquiry into President Donald J. Trump begins a new chapter this week with the House Judiciary Committee’s first round of hearings on Wednesday. The committee first focused on the “constitutional grounds for presidential impeachment,” and heard from a panel of impeachment experts on the topic. On Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced she was asking the House Judiciary Committee to proceed with drafting articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump.Pelosi is pushing full speed ahead with impeachment. This despite the fact that lawmakers (and the American public) have yet to hear from President Donald Trump, senior administration officials or his lawyers during this process.
From the start of the impeachment investigation, Democrats put themselves at a disadvantage by making it known they wanted to conclude the entire process by the end of the year. Some Democrats were reportedly concerned about the impeachment process stretching into the presidential primary season, prompting recent headlines like, “Dems sprint to the impeachment finish line.” Speaker Nancy Pelosi, could, of course, take more time if needed. But even the perception of this timeline gives Trump the chance to effectively run out the clock.
This problem was spelled out by George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, the Republicans' witness during Wednesday’s House Judiciary Council hearing. Turley argued that this impeachment was “slipshod” and rushed. “This is not how you impeach an American president,” Turley said. Defenses have not been considered, and witnesses have not been subpoenaed, he argued.
Similarly, White House counsel Pat A. Cipollone wrote in a letter to House Judiciary Chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., that the committee has “given no information regarding your plans, set arbitrary deadlines and then demanded a response, all to create the false appearance of providing the president some rudimentary process.”
As things stand, Trump is playing both sides. On the one hand, he insists he would “love” to have White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former Energy Secretary Rick Perry, former national security advisor John Bolton and White House counsel Don McGahn testify on his behalf. On the other hand, Trump claims the timing of the hearing was purposefully unfair: “The Do Nothing Democrats purposely scheduled an Impeachment Hoax hearing on the same date as NATO. Not nice!”
Meanwhile, the White House sent a letter to Nadler accusing the Democratic congressional majority of initiating a “baseless and highly partisan inquiry” that “violates all past historical precedent, basic due process rights and fundamental fairness.” The White House specifically accused House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., of attempting to “concoct a false narrative” through the use of “closed-door depositions hidden from both the president and the American public.”
As has become par for the course, Trump and his Republican defenders are completely ignoring facts and recent history, but the expedited impeachment timeline is helping them. For better or worse, impeachment will be won or lost in the court of public opinion.
Unfortunately, Democrats seem so preoccupied with their self-imposed timeline that they’ve completely squandered an opportunity to galvanize public opinion in favor of impeachment. Polls show support for impeachment is almost exactly where it was before the hearings began. The pace of hearings and witnesses has been hard for even the most seasoned journalists to keep track of. How can the American people be expected to follow the testimonies of career diplomats when they’re crammed into a relentless marathon of hearings featuring hours and hours of testimony?
The pre-Thanksgiving hearings in front of the House Intelligence Committee produced witnesses who were compelling, credible and objectively terrible for Trump. But the career civil service employees were relatively unknown to the public. By withholding some of the biggest people — namely, his Cabinet members and lawyers — from testifying, Trump is dampening the prime-time weight of these proceedings.
He knows that Democrats have no appetite to delay proceedings and thus allow the courts to rule on his unprecedented use of executive authority. This is presumably why they didn’t hold Mulvaney in contempt of Congress for defying their subpoena. Trump also knows that if these officials appear under oath, ratings will go up, consumption will be massive and public opinion will continue to erode.
Trump absurdly claims to be blocking the testimony of his senior aides because he is “fighting for future presidents and the Office of the President.” Never mind the reality that Republican chairs took depositions of the most senior officials in the Clinton White House, including two White House chiefs of staff, a deputy chief of staff, two White House counsels, a chief of staff to the vice president and a chief of staff to the first lady.
In fact, according to the nonpartisan congressional oversight watchdog group Co-Equal, more than 90 White House officials have testified before Congress in hearings, depositions or transcribed interviews dating back to the Nixon administration.
Trump’s blockade of Mulvaney, Pompeo, Bolton, Perry, McGahn, etc., has absolutely nothing to do with protecting the presidency. To counter, Democrats should stop worrying about concluding impeachment before the holiday break and instead focus on building the case for why the American people need to hear from the officials Trump is blocking. The impeachment report released by the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday night revealed new communications between Giuliani, the White House budget office, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., and Giuliani associate Lev Parnas. Will there be time to follow up?
Hearing from some of these big names could help sway public opinion, but just as important, they have vital firsthand knowledge and should not be allowed to duck scrutiny. No matter how long it takes, Democrats need to use every option possible to compel these officials to testify.
- 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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