October 25, 2019

Impeachment Update

Editor's note: We couldn’t be more proud of one of our teammates, Isaac Rose-Berman, who penned his first op-ed this week in USA Today: “How college students can bridge American divides: 'Study abroad' in Alabama or New York.” Please give it a read, and share far and wide!

“A top U.S. diplomat testified Tuesday that President Donald Trump was holding back military aid for Ukraine unless the country agreed to investigate Democrats and a company linked to Joe Biden’s family… William Taylor described Trump’s demand that ‘everything’ President Volodymyr Zelenskiy wanted, including vital aid to counter Russia, hinged on making a public vow that Ukraine would investigate Democrats going back to the 2016 U.S. election.” AP News

On Wednesday, “Republicans briefly brought the Democrat-led impeachment investigation to a halt when around two dozen GOP House members stormed into a closed-door deposition with a Defense Department official.” AP News

See past issues

From the Left

The left supports the impeachment inquiry and believes Taylor’s testimony has strengthened the case against Trump.

“Trump’s defenses have failed on every side. Though the president was reportedly adamant that the exchange not be called a quid pro quo, it doesn’t matter what it was labeled, since it apparently was, in fact, a quid pro quo. Nor does the excuse that Trump was simply trying to use American leverage to fight corruption stand up. The president was seeking to aid his own personal reelection prospects using American statecraft as leverage—a clear abuse of power. (It’s also still possible that the administration broke the law by trying to hold up the funds.) Nor can the president claim ignorance of the scheme, since multiple witnesses have attested to his personal involvement.”
David A. Graham, The Atlantic

“At this point, it’s undisputed that Trump ordered his ‘lawyer’ Rudolph W. Giuliani to set up a separate, quasi-official Ukraine policy, which Rudy did with his (allegedly criminal) friends, to coerce Ukraine into helping Trump’s reelection. Along the way, Trump withheld military aid from Ukraine, attempting to get the country to mount a probe of Biden that would produce something damaging — or at least provide a justification for Trump to publicly proclaim that Biden was corrupt…

“It’s indicative of how brutal this process has been for the administration that the president and his advocates can’t seem to decide on what the defense of him is supposed to be. Are the allegations all fabricated? Did Trump not pressure Ukraine to dig up dirt on Joe Biden to help his reelection campaign, or was it completely fine that he did so? Was there no quid pro quo, or are quid pro quos good?”
Paul Waldman, Washington Post

Many note that “more than 40 House Republicans who sit on all three of the committees overseeing the inquiry — the Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, and Oversight panels — have been able to ask questions and review the testimony of all the witnesses who’ve been deposed. Moreover, as House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff has explained, the current depositions have been private to prevent coordination between witnesses. Additionally, he’s said that hearings on these subjects will eventually be public and transcripts of the current depositions will be released…

“Republicans, however, are still trying to make the argument that the inquiry process is flawed… They’re pushing this narrative even as they shy away from engaging in the substance of allegations against Trump, a sign that it’s become their main — and potentially only — line of defense.”
Li Zhou, Vox

“Many of the reasons for grand jury secrecy apply equally to the impeachment inquiry. One is to protect the integrity of the investigation. Secrecy prevents witnesses from reviewing the testimony of others and tailoring their own testimony to be consistent or ‘get their stories straight.’ It also prevents targets of the investigation from engaging in obstructive acts in response to the testimony, such as witness intimidation or destruction of evidence. Volume Two of the report by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III provides ample reason for Congress to be concerned about this president’s potential willingness to attempt to obstruct an ongoing investigation…

“Republican protests about the process seem to suggest that the president might be removed from office entirely through a secret proceeding — albeit one in which Republican committee members are participating. But there will be public presentations in due course. Before a final vote on any articles of impeachment, the House committees will need to present publicly the evidence that supports those articles. And at any trial in the Senate, the president will have the full array of rights to be represented by counsel and to confront the witnesses and the evidence against him.”
Randall D. Eliason, Washington Post

Finally, it’s worth noting that “[at the time the constitution was written] ‘misdemeanors’ did not mean then what it means now. In 1828, Webster’s defined it as ‘ill behavior; evil conduct; fault; mismanagement.’ It wasn’t a light crime, but an abusive act… InFederalist 65, Alexander Hamilton argues that impeachment concerns abuses primarily ‘political’ in nature. It’s easy to read that as a tautology: Of course a politician’s offenses will be political in nature. A clearer way to put his point is that impeachable offenses are those that endanger the political system itself…

“Offenses that endanger the system — that undermine elections, that corrupt the functions of government, that break constitutional boundaries — cannot be left to elections because they warp elections. That is, of course, what we are seeing today. Donald Trump’s plan was explicitly to force a statement from the president of Ukraine saying that his political rival Joe Biden was under investigation for corruption. If the scheme had worked — and it nearly did — the election itself would have been compromised… abuse of power is precisely the kind of offense that counts as a high crime and misdemeanor, whether or not the abuse in question is criminal.”
Ezra Klein, Vox

“Trump’s defenders will say this evidence is all circumstantial. But circumstantial evidence is not weak evidence: it’s simply evidence based on the circumstances in which an act of wrongdoing is committed — such as the license plate of a car that speeds away from a bank just after that bank is robbed. Criminals are convicted on such evidence all the time. They will also say that there’s no explicit quid pro quo proposal here. But… ‘even when a corrupt deal is struck implicitly, the government can still prosecute extortion on a quid pro quo basis. Circumstantial evidence can be enough to prove a criminal exchange.’…

“In the absence of an explicit quid pro quo over restarting aid, the context and circumstances are what will become the focus of the investigation. There is enough here to support impeachment. Whether it is also enough to convince Republicans and lead to removal is another matter.”
Noah Feldman, Bloomberg

Some suggest that Congress “remove Trump from office, so that he cannot abuse incumbency to subvert the electoral process, but let the American people make the judgment on whether or not he gets a second term… Removing Trump from office for the remainder of his term would disable him from abusing presidential power again and protect the integrity of the electoral process from inappropriate interference. At the same time, letting him run for a second term would permit the American electorate to decide whether Trump, despite his attempt to subvert the system, should have another chance… Decoupling removal from disqualification lowers the stakes and changes the constitutional calculus. As long as Trump can run again, Republicans cannot hide behind a claim that they are [the] ones protecting voter choice by opposing impeachment.”
Edward B. Foley, Politico

From the Right

The right condemns the impeachment inquiry and calls for transparency.

From the Right

The right condemns the impeachment inquiry and calls for transparency.

“If Trump committed an impeachable offense — if convincing evidence emerges from a fair House process that is subject to close examination by the Senate — serious Republicans will say so. But the #NeverTrump chorus of maybe two dozen Republican TV talking heads doesn’t count as ‘serious Republicans.’ They don’t count because they have never mounted anything like a good-faith attempt to understand the motives of the 90 percent or so of the GOP that is rock solid in supporting Trump…

“If a quid pro quo involving Trump is established, and the agreement it refers to was the leveraging of military or civilian aid to Ukraine for assistance in the investigation of the attack on the 2016 presidential election, that would not be illegitimate. It would be of a piece with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation, which involved least a dozen requests for assistance from foreign governments by Mueller and his staff. If the aim of a negotiation was to lever information on the operations run against the United States in 2016, it’s a legitimate ask.”
Hugh Hewitt, Washington Post

“Who in Washington has the moral authority, the political intelligence, and the patriotism to see the country through this episode in a way that fortifies our institutions rather than undermines them, that leaves the country better off rather than damaged, that builds trust instead of pissing it away? Answer: Nobody. Trust is not an option. That leaves us with the second-best option: surveillance… conducting these affairs in secret will corrode what little public confidence remains in the ability of Washington to actually see to the business of governing… Nancy Pelosi must end the secret hearings and closed-door depositions, and put the process, the politics, and the evidence before the public.”
Kevin D. Williamson, National Review

“People engaged in impartial investigations aimed at finding the truth don’t violate every precedent and standard of due process set during previous presidential impeachments… There is nothing wrong with holding hearings behind closed doors as long as there is due process. During the Nixon impeachment much of the evidence was presented in closed-door sessions. But there was not a flood of leaks from those executive sessions, as we are seeing today. And unlike today, the minority could issue subpoenas, and the president’s counsel was present to cross-examine witnesses and present evidence… If the facts are on the Democrats’ side, they have nothing to fear from transparency and due process.”
Mark Thiessen, Washington Post

“Did Bill Taylor deliver the smoking-gun testimony House Democrats need to justify their drive for impeachment? Or did GOP Rep. John Ratcliffe ‘destroy’ the former Ukraine charges d’affaires in two minutes flat, as Nunes claimed last night?… The only way to really know what happened is to see the transcripts, and the serial leaks out of the SCIF make Schiff’s security arguments a bad joke… No one should trust any of these reports until we see the transcripts. In fact, no one should put any confidence in this process until it gets conducted openly, honestly, and fairly. House Republicans might have been conducting a stunt this morning, but the purpose of that stunt is spot-on. The House Democrats’ star-chamber approach is an affront to justice and due process, and their conduct in using selective leaks to goose public opinion from these proceedings is nothing short of despicable.”
Ed Morrissey, Hot Air

“Should we believe Taylor or the men, such as Ambassador Gordon Sondland, who offer conflicting accounts?… All fair observers must take Taylor’s account for what it is: a single account by a single diplomat who believed Trump was behaving improperly… We have no reason to doubt the honesty or accuracy of Taylor, a West Point graduate and lifelong civil servant. But we do have reason to be skeptical of every new hero celebrated by the ‘resistance’ media… in light of [the] recent history of public servants and much-praised frauds who made Trump’s life difficult, we hope he will understand if we approach his testimony against Trump with measured skepticism. Too much is at stake simply to take the New York Times’ word on his integrity.”
Editorial Board, Washington Examiner

Some argue, “Yes, the so-called Resistance has wanted Trump’s 2016 victory annulled, canceled, made moot, or overturned… Yes, professional bureaucrats and members of the broader intelligence community have transgressed their duties in trying to contain or subvert the administration… Yes, recent presidents have also transgressed the Constitution on matters of foreign policy in ways I think oughtto be impeachable, even if Congress doesn’t. Yes, Ukraine, under its previous government, more or less tried to interfere in the 2016 election and felt quite sheepish about it… [but] Trump brought this scandal on himself. Nothing compelled him to believe Rudy Giuliani’s theories about Ukraine. His campaign or other surrogates could have dug up and shoveled dirt on Joe Biden and his son. There is plenty to go around.”
Michael Brendan Dougherty, Washington Examiner

Others note, “I’d hate to be a Democratic member of Congress trying to convince Joe Sixpack that this is a whole new ballgame. The transcript shows Trump being Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky trying to ingratiate himself with the big dog by, for instance, mentioning that he stays at Trump hotels. Trump’s conversation is typically scattershot, wandering all over the field, leaving a reasonable listener puzzled about what the takeaways are supposed to be…

“I think Joe Sixpack’s response is going to be a hearty shrug. After all that has emerged about Trump so far, his approval rating is closely tracking Obama’s approval at the same point in his presidency. To get Mr. Sixpack’s attention you are going to have to do better than this.”
Kyle Smith, National Review

President Trump should be happy. As much as Warren is articulate, obviously intelligent, and energetically supported by Democrats, she would also be far easier to defeat than Joe Biden… Considering Trump's economy, the president is well placed to defeat Warren.”
Tom Rogan, Washington Examiner

A libertarian's take

“After adding in the ultra-millionaire’s tax and factoring in the other capital taxes Warren wants to levy — on financial transactions, on unrealized capital gains, on corporations — we’d be asking every billionaire to hand over more than two-thirds of their total wealth over a 10-year period. If the government actually managed to collect it, their fortunes would rapidly erode — and so would tax collections. The plan might be a good way to smash wealth, but it’s a terrible way to fund the nation’s health-care system…

“If Warren makes it to the White House, and tries to pass a plan, the Congressional Budget Office will eventually attach more reasonable numbers, with more defensible assumptions, sparking an even more spectacular political blowback than the one that greeted Friday’s announcement. Outside of the progressive Twitterati, there isn’t necessarily an enormous constituency for spending $20.5 trillion to herd every American into a national health insurance program; there would be even less support for spending what Warren’s plan would actually cost.”
Megan McArdle, Washington Post

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