Abuse of Power, Burisma, Donald Trump, Due Process, Hunter Biden, Impeachment, Joe Biden, John Durham, Mitch McConnell, Nancy Pelosi, Nixon vs. United States, Obama administration, Obstruction of Justice, Steele Dossier, Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, Walter Nixon
To avoid defections in their ranks, House Democrats had to pare back so much on the counts for impeaching Donald Trump that they laid bare the raw political motives for bringing the action. Not that their motives needed clarification. They’ve been dying to find grounds on which to impeach Trump since the day of his election. They also know the Senate will not remove Trump from office. Now, the real point is to stain the President as he seeks re-election, and that should strike anyone as an illegitimate purpose.
The two impeachment counts, abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, are flimsy. Proof of the first would require infallible mind-reading skills. It’s doubtful that the Democrats are any better at that than their inability to follow the simple facts of the case. During the controversial phone call with Ukrainian President Zelensky, Trump clearly expressed interest in whether the Ukraine would investigate possible interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and whether the Bidens had been involved, given their involvement with Ukrainian organizations that may have had connections to the Steele dossier. That’s a fair question and a legitimate area of inquiry for the chief executive. It can’t be helped that Joe Biden happens to be running for the Democrat presidential nomination in 2020, as if running for office was enough to absolve one of crime.
The second impeachment count against Trump relies on vacating the constitutional privileges accorded to the chief executive, privileges to which President Obama, and others before him, generously availed themselves (also see here).
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi now has opted to delay transmitting the impeachment articles to the Senate. She said it was important for the House to wrap up their proceedings quickly, so much so that her party could not be bothered to bring a court challenge against Trump’s assertion of executive privilege. But now, Pelosi insists that she must be assured the Senate trial will be conducted “fairly”, as if the proceedings in the House were remotely fair to the President.
One of the House Democrats’ own expert witnesses asserts that the President’s impeachment is not official until the articles are transmitted to the Senate. That might be, but he overlooks the Supreme Court’s 1993 ruling in Nixon vs. the United States in which the Court said that no trial is required for the Senate to acquit anyone impeached by the House, and it may do so without judicial review. So, the Senate can acquit the President now, without a trial and without waiting for Speaker Pelosi to transmit the “charges”, should Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell decide to bring it to a vote. Of course, he might not want to as a matter of optics as well as pressure from an incensed Trump to air all of the laundry.
Like the misguided impeachment itself, Pelosi’s motive for holding the transmittal in abeyance is political. Democrats, quite possibly unaware of the Senate’s power under Nixon, and facing their comeuppance, might hope the public forgets the charade that took place in the House and blame Republicans for an “unfair” Senate process that would let Trump off the hook. Or, Pelosi might be hoping for a weakening of Republican resolve on establishing rules for a trial in the Senate, but even that calculation is chancy. It’s even possible Pelosi imagines she can delay the transfer through the 2020 election, hoping to use the House impeachment again and again as a cudgel with which to batter Trump’s re-election chances. Fat chance!
Or is the delay a form of damage control? Does it have something to do with Joe Biden’s vulnerability? He is perhaps at greater risk under a Senate impeachment trial of Trump than Trump himself. Biden is the one who gloated publicly of how he cowed the Ukrainians into dropping an investigation of Burisma, the gas company for which his son Hunter was a board member, by threatening to withhold loan guarantees. Quid Pro Joe!
Biden’s has stated that he would not comply with a subpoena to appear before the Senate in the matter of the Trump impeachment, apparently confusing Trump’s status as the executive with privilege with his own status as an out-of-office candidate for the Democrat nomination. Oh, wait! Now Biden says he would appear after all! Is the contrast between Trump’s phone conversation with the Ukrainian President and Biden’s gloating admission pertinent? You bet!
Or perhaps Pelosi believes it’s unwise to hand the impeachment counts over to the Senate with John Durham’s investigation still hanging in the balance. Durham is looking into the efforts of U.S. intelligence agencies to spy on the Trump campaign in 2016. An ill-timed and damaging outcome for the Obama Administration could make the impeachment trial into a catastrophic event for Biden and other Democrats.
The Democrats’ have brought their longstanding lust for impeaching Trump to fruition only to find that they’ve miscalculated. First, Trump is practically guaranteed an acquittal, so the whole effort was and is a waste of time. Second, public opinion is far from rallying to the Dems cause. According to Gallup, Trump’s approval now is higher than Obama’s at the same point in his presidency, and support for impeachment hasn’t responded as the Democrats had hoped. In fact, if anything, support has eroded, especially in swing states, and the effort has strengthened Trump’s base of support. I would argue that it’s much worse for Democrats than the polls show. Many anti-Democrats, like me, actively avoid participating in polls. That’s partly because the framing of questions is often biased, and partly because I don’t want to be bothered. Finally, the Democrats seem not to fathom the political risks they face with impeachment: 28 Democrat representatives from districts Trump won in 2016 may now face stiffer odds against reelection in 2020, having cast their votes for impeachment. More critically, there are severe risks of a Senate trial to the Bidens, potentially other Obama Administration officials, and the Clintons.
Note: An acknowledgement goes to the Legal Insurrection blog and A.F. Branco for the cartoon at the top.