October 10, 2019

Impeachment Update

“The White House declared Tuesday it will halt any and all cooperationwith what it termed the ‘illegitimate’ impeachment probe by House Democrats, sharpening the constitutional clash between President Donald Trump and Congress… Trump attorneys sent a lengthy letter to House leaders bluntly stating White House refusal to participate in the inquiry.” AP News

Also on Tuesday, “Gordon Sondland, the U.S. European Union ambassador, was barred by the administration from appearing in a closed-door session with three House panels investigating Trump’s entreaties to Ukraine.” AP News

Polls indicate that the public currently supports impeachment by a margin of 49%-43%. FiveThirtyEight

See past issues

From the Left

The left opposes a full House vote, and is critical of Trump’s refusal to cooperate with Congress, arguing that it is legally dubious and a violation of the separation of powers.

One law professor states, “An impeachment inquiry is not a dinner invitation. It is not something one can decide whether or not to accept. The president, like other American citizens, is subject to Congress’ subpoena power. Let’s not confuse the president’s refusal to comply with a right to refusal.”
Sean Illing, Vox

“Mr. Cipollone’s letter presents the president as the judge of whether a congressional inquiry into impeachment is constitutional. That obviously can’t be right. Not only would that violate the principle of separation of powers; it also would effectively put the president in ultimate control of the impeachment process.”
Noah Feldman, New York Times

“[The] letter offers a more sophisticated twist on Trump’s Twitter feed, on which the president defended blocking Sondland’s testimony because ‘unfortunately he would be testifying before a totally compromised kangaroo court, where Republican’s rights have been taken away, and true facts are not allowed out for the public to see.’ But charging that your opponents are mean isn’t a legal defense… Democrats have been warning with more and more urgency that the Trump administration’s response to an impeachment inquiry might represent obstruction of justice… [The White House] missive sprawls over eight pages, but its message can be boiled down to just five words: You’re damn right we’re obstructing.”
David A. Graham, The Atlantic

“The president does not get to decide which congressional actions are legitimate and, therefore, which congressional commands he accepts. If he has a specific claim that his circumscribed right to executive privilege should prevent the turnover of a particular document or the testimony of a particular witness, he should make a case-by-case argument. Instead, he has essentially claimed that he can ignore Congress if he so chooses. And, in true Trumpian fashion, he insists that his lawlessness is constitutionally approved while those legitimately endowed with the power to hold him to account are betraying the nation’s founding document. In fact, the Constitution unambiguously empowers the House to conduct an impeachment, and it grants the president no authority to impede it.”
Editorial Board, Washington Post

“It’s one thing for Republicans to argue that there was no explicit quid pro quo in Trump’s telephone conversation with the Ukrainian president. It’s quite another for them to agree that the president should be free to engage in witness tampering, destruction of evidence, and obstruction of justice, or that the legislative branch should be powerless to exercise its constitutional authority against the executive branch. Indeed, the more partisan the Republican, the easier he or she will find it to imagine that a corrupt Democrat at some point will occupy the White House. Should that dark day come to pass, wouldn’t they then regret having given Trump free rein?... By redefining the crisis as an existential debate over the limits of presidential power, Trump may be in danger of losing those Republicans who still think of themselves as constitutional conservatives.”
Geoffrey Kabaservice, The Guardian

Regarding the issue of a formal vote to launch an impeachment investigation, many argue that “holding a vote now may… limit the efficacy of the subpoenasalready churning through the justice system—or at least give Trump’s litigators an argument for starting over… If a vote is taken now, the president’s lawyers are likely to argue that the prior requests were thus not included in the impeachment inquiry… Such a vote may also limit the House investigators in what they can investigate… it is important that the House not limit itself to abuses of power already known, as all indications suggest the impeachable conduct will continue… Finally, a vote requires difficult political choices… many red and purple district Democrats may be waiting to see what evidence emerges from the House investigations before determining whether impeachment is warranted. A party-line vote now—or one with some Democrats voting against—gives Trump ammunition to call the investigation partisan and to further refuse to cooperate.”
Molly Claflin, Slate

The Constitution makes it clear the House has the ‘sole’ discretion to impeach and the Senate has the ‘sole’ ability to hold a trial. In other words, impeachment is purely a function of the legislative branch; not the executive, and not the judicial… Even if Trump and Republicans keep hammering their argument about precedent, there’s no sign in the letter they will take Democrats to court to try to dictate how the inquiry plays out… That’s probably because they know the courts will likely stay out of it: In past cases challenging impeachments (mostly of federal judges), the courts have upheld Congress’s right to impeach and have a trial… In short, the White House’s precedent claims amount to a political ploy, not a legal one.”
Ella Nilsen, Vox

“Fifteen current Republican senators served in the House or Senate during the Clinton impeachment. All but one of those — Sen. Susan Collins of Maine — voted either to impeach Clinton or to convict him and remove him from office. I’d challenge any of them to explain why they deemed Clinton’s behavior so bad and are so unmoved by Trump’s.”
Ruth Marcus, Washington Post

From the Right

The right is calling for a House vote to authorize the impeachment inquiry, and accusing Democrats of hypocrisy regarding congressional subpoenas.

The right is calling for a House vote to authorize the impeachment inquiry, and accusing Democrats of hypocrisy regarding congressional subpoenas.

“What’s really unprecedented is this: House Democrats are pursuing impeachment without holding a vote to authorize an official impeachment inquiry. Impeachment is a political, not legal, process, and Democrats can rewrite the rules if they like. But the more political impeachment becomes, the more it justifies a political response from the White House, and the less credibility impeachment will have with the public. The reasons for not holding a vote on opening an impeachment inquiry appear to be self-interested and craven, which only underscores the White House’s point. Authorizing an impeachment inquiry would give the Republican minority the right to call its own witnesses and otherwise participate in the investigation…

“Schiff has already been caught lying on TV about staffers on his own intelligence committee being in contact with the Ukraine-call whistleblower before the formal complaint that led to the current impeachment efforts was filed… Impeachment is a gravely serious step to take, as it threatens to overturn the will of voters. So far, Democrats aren’t taking the impeachment process seriously. So they should not be surprised that Trump isn’t taking it seriously, either.”
Editorial Board, New York Post

“If there is to be an inquiry about invoking this most solemn and consequential of the House’s powers, the House must vote to conduct it. It is not for the Speaker and her adjutants to decree that there is an inquiry. If the inquiry is to be legitimate, the House as a whole must decide to conduct it. Members of the House are the representatives of the sovereign — the People. In November 2020, the People are scheduled to vote on whether Donald Trump should keep his job. If Democrats, who control the House, truly believe the president has committed impeachable offenses and is so unfit for his duties that we can’t wait just 13 months for the sovereign to render that verdict, then they should vote to conduct an impeachment inquiry. If they are afraid to vote on it, then they shouldn’t be doing it.”
Andrew C. McCarthy, National Review

“There have so far been two hearings in the House Democrats' effort to impeach President Trump over the Ukraine matter. Both have been held in secret. One was [last] Thursday, the other Friday, and the public does not know what was said in either. Two more are scheduled for this week and will be held behind closed doors, too…

“The American people deserve to know precisely why one party in the House proposes to remove the president. They deserve to know the facts behind the Ukraine matter. It is simply inconceivable that a party could seek to remove a president but say to the American people, in essence: Trust us, we've got good reason. The impeachment proceedings should be opened up — now.”
Byron York, Washington Examiner

“Mr. Cipollone is trying to make a political point about the unprecedented secret and unfair way the House is proceeding on impeachment, and on that he’s entirely correct… We don’t recall Democrats fretting when Mr. Clinton made executive-privilege claims that were more sweeping than Nixon’s during Watergate. The media that now profess horror at Mr. Trump raised not a whit of concern when Attorney General Eric Holder denied documents to Congress and was held in contempt. Just politics, they said then…

“If Mrs. Pelosi does choose to brawl over documents, she’s likely to win in court more than she loses. The House in its impeachment power can seek evidence from the executive, and the courts are likely to agree when its requests are reasonable and related to the alleged offenses being investigated. But Mr. Trump may also sometimes prevail if the House is issuing kitchen-sink subpoenas that jeopardize his ability to conduct foreign policy or communicate freely with advisers. No one should be surprised if the White House chooses to fight back, and hard, when Democrats are trying to remove Mr. Trump from office and brand him as ‘impeached’ for 2020. The Pelosi Democrats are fighting ugly, and Mr. Trump is fighting ugly back.”
Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

“The president of the United States and his administration should not refuse to cooperate with a House impeachment effort in any way, shape or form. But we didn’t get here overnight… back in 2012, a lot of people thought it was just fine if an administration and its officials refused to turn over documents because they thought the members of Congress investigating them were a bunch of partisan hacks. When Holder defied Congress, a lot of people cheered. When Congress held him in contempt, a lot of people thought Holder should wear it as a badge of pride…

“Back then, we could have had a broad bipartisan consensus that even the biggest, dumbest partisan hack is entitled to the full powers and authorities of the office. We could have all agreed that even if a committee chairman has a bigger axe to grind than Paul Bunyan, that didn’t make compliance with requests for documents, subpoenas, or testimony optional…

“But congressional Democrats and their allies in the media didn’t make that choice. They established the argument that some defiance of Congressional subpoenas is okay, as long as the executive branch believes that the Congressional investigators are being unfair. And now, here we are.”
Jim Geraghty, National Review

A Moderate's Take

Democrats are playing Trump’s game. Trump has no policy agenda. He’s incompetent at improving the lives of American citizens, even his own voters. But he’s good at one thing: waging reality TV personality wars against coastal elites. So now over the next few months he gets to have a personality war against Nancy Pelosi and Jerrold Nadler... This political brawl will leave Trump victorious.”
David Brooks, New York Times

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