The so-called “public” phase of the Democrat impeachment inquiry in the House began this week, but there has never been any mystery about what it would reveal. House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff has systematically leaked all of the incriminating testimony his committee has gathered about President Trump’s Ukraine policy in the secret hearings he has held over the last six weeks. The public hearings are designed by the Democrats as a public relations show intended to convince voters that there is a compelling reason to impeach Trump, even though he has not committed a specific federal crime.
Instead, Trump is being impeached because Democrats accuse him of having abused his power as president for personal political gain, when he asked the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, in a July 25th phone call, to launch a corruption investigation into the activities in the Ukraine of former Vice President Joe Biden, and his son, Hunter Biden, who was paid $50,000 a month to sit on the board of natural gas corporation owned by a notorious Ukrainian businessman.
The allegation originated in a complaint filed by an anonymous Democrat whistle-blower with the inspector general of the federal government’s intelligence community. Based entirely on second hand information, the whistle-blower accused Trump of having made Zelensky an improper offer to release $391 million in frozen U.S. military aid for Ukraine in return for Zelensky’s agreement to announce the launching of a corruption investigation in Ukraine that would damage Biden’s credibility as a 2020 candidate for president.
Democrats accused the Trump administration of trying to suppress the whistle-blower’s complaint in an effort to cover up Trump’s offer. But after the White House unexpectedly released a rough transcript of the Trump-Zelensky phone conversation, it became clear that Trump did not offer Zelensky an explicit quid pro quo. Trump did ask the president of the Ukraine to open the investigation as a favor, but without promising anything specific in return. This undercut the accusation by the Democrats, who had committed themselves to launching an impeachment process before they learned that the transcript did not contain the smoking gun evidence of Trump’s guilt they had expected.
President Trump announced that he would release the transcript of an earlier April 12 phone call he had with Zelensky on April 12 to congratulate him after he was declared the winner of Ukraine’s presidential election.
SCHIFF CONTROLLED SECRET HEARINGS
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi formally announced the impeachment inquiry on September 24, and gave Schiff complete control over the secret hearings, which his Intelligence committee conducted jointly with the House Foreign Affairs and Government Oversight committees. They interviewed more than a dozen diplomats and national security officials in a secure meeting room in the basement of the Capitol, where even lawmakers must check their cellphones at the door.
The State Department and other White House and government officials called to testify had some knowledge of the White House policy towards Ukraine. Some said that they thought it improper for Trump to pressure Zelensky into launching a corruption investigation into the Bidens. Others who did not want to testify fought the House subpoenas they received in court.
Schiff prevented the Republicans on those committees from mounting a defense of Trump and from releasing testimony from the secret hearings that would exonerate the president. Republicans complained that Schiff was denying the president and his defenders the right to due process and was acting improperly by keeping them out of the loop on witness schedules, copies of subpoenas or opening statements. “I would just state that if we’re going to continue this circus, I, at least, would like to know what time the circus begins,” Congressman Devin Nunes, the ranking Republican on the Intelligence Committee, said at one point.
At the same time, Schiff and the committee’s Democrat staff provided the media with a steady stream of leaked snippets of “secret” testimony carefully selected to portray Trump and his policies in the worst possible light. Republicans began complaining to the media about the one-sided ground rules of the secret committee hearings. Dozens of Republicans stormed one of the closed-door hearings to jam up the proceedings last month. And GOP members tried to force an Oversight Committee hearing to adjourn because it was taking place at the same time as one of the depositions.
When the Republican complaints began to gain traction with the public, Pelosi changed course. She announced that Democrats would begin following the ground rules followed in previous impeachment proceedings, by taking a House vote to formally authorize the impeachment process and conduct open hearings in which Republicans would have more of an opportunity to mount a defense of the president.
REPUBLICANS PREPARE THEIR DEFENSE OF THE PRESIDENT
“Leader [Kevin] McCarthy, ranking member [Devin] Nunes and Jim Jordan are taking preparation efforts to heightened levels with a work-around-the-clock mentality,” Congressman Mark Meadows, one of Trump’s closest allies on Capitol Hill, told a Politico reporter.
To help with Trump’s public defense, McCarthy temporarily assigned Congressman Jim Jordan to the House Intelligence Committee. Jordan is the ranking Republican member on the House Oversight Committee, whose members participated in the secret hearings, but were excluded from the public hearings.
Republicans see Jordan as a capable messenger and effective questioner. He temporarily replaces Arkansas Republican Congressman Rick Crawford, who voluntarily gave up his seat on the intelligence committee for the duration of the public hearings.
“Jim Jordan has been on the front lines in the fight for fairness and truth,” McCarthy said. “His addition will ensure more accountability and transparency in this sham process.”
“[He] has been at all these depositions and been part of it, so we wanted to add him for the short time period that the Intelligence Committee becomes the impeachment committee,” McCarthy explained. “We’ll add Mr. Crawford back on when it’s over.”
McCarthy also accused Schiff and his Democrat committee staffers of trying to obfuscate their involvement with the whistle-blower before he filed his complaint against Trump.
“This has been orchestrated, and if it goes out longer, we will find the lies, we will find out how they calculated the truth, we’ll find more about the whistle-blower’s attorney and others,” McCarthy said. Republicans have complained that the whistle-blower’s attorney, Mark Zaid, is a highly partisan Democrat who in a series of tweets in 2017 predicted a “coup” against President Trump and promised to “get rid of him.”
Trump renewed his objections to the impeachment effort, telling reporters on the White House lawn last week, “They shouldn’t be having public hearings. This is a hoax.” He also called the testimony given in the hearings so far “all third-hand knowledge.”
The witnesses who were called by Schiff to testify in the public hearings this week included William Taylor, the chargé d’affaires to Ukraine, and George Kent, another top State Department official overseeing U.S. policy toward Ukraine. Both had testified last month behind closed doors, that Trump and his allies had politicized U.S. policy in Ukraine at the expense of national security.
A third witness was Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who was abruptly removed from the post in May at the request of Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who told the president that she was undermining his policies toward Ukraine. She had previously complained in testimony before Schiff’s committee that an informal group of advisors led by Giuliani was unduly influencing Trump’s policy towards Ukraine, and was seeking to advance Trump’s political interests at the risk of weakening Ukraine’s ability to resist Russian military aggression.
NO DIRECT EVIDENCE AGAINST TRUMP
Republicans are emphasizing that none of the impeachment witnesses ever heard directly from President Trump that he was offering the Ukrainian a quid pro quo. “The Democrats have been extremely creative in connecting the dots between witnesses and motives without any firsthand accounts being used,” said Congressman Meadows, who has also argued that there is “no linkage” between the president and a quid pro quo.
Republicans also point out that the alleged corrupt bargain between Trump and Zelensky was never implemented. Trump eventually ordered the delayed U.S. military aid to be sent to Ukraine, even though Zelensky never launched the corruption investigation of the Bidens that Trump asked for.
CNN reported that the Republican staff of all three committees involved in the secret hearings prepared a detailed memo outlining a four point strategy for mounting the president’s defense.
The four points are:
- The July 25 call summary “shows no conditionality or evidence of pressure.”
- “President Zelensky and President Trump have both said there was no pressure on the call.”
- “The Ukrainian government was not aware of the hold on U.S. assistance” during the July 25 call.
- The hold on the U.S. military assistance to Ukraine was lifted on September 11.
SCHIFF REJECTS REPUBLICAN WITNESSES
Before the public hearings began, Nunes submitted to Schiff a list of witnesses the Republicans want to testify to assist their defense of the president. The list included Hunter Biden and his business partner Devon Archer, who was also involved with the Ukrainian Burisma gas company; the still unnamed whistleblower; the researcher Nellie Ohr of Fusion GPS, which commissioned a Steele dossier which accused the Trump campaign of conspiring with Russia and included information which originated in the Ukraine; and Alexandra Chalupa, a Ukrainian American who worked with the Democratic National Committee.
Republicans also asked to call two witnesses who have already testified behind closed doors: National Security Council official Tim Morrison and former Ukraine envoy Kurt Volker, each of whom corroborated parts of the whistleblower’s complaint while also providing some cover for Republicans.
Nunes argued that witnesses such as Biden and Archer would “assist the American public in understanding the nature and extent of Ukraine’s pervasive corruption, information that bears directly on President Trump’s long-standing and deeply-held skepticism of the country.”
Nunes told Schiff that “failure to fulfill Minority witness requests shall constitute evidence of your denial of fundamental fairness and due process.”
Schiff initially told Nunes that Democrats would evaluate the Republican witness requests, but warned that the public hearings “will not serve . . . as a vehicle to undertake the same sham investigations into the Bidens or 2016 that the President pressed Ukraine to conduct for his personal political benefit, or to facilitate the President’s effort to threaten, intimidate, and retaliate against the whistle-blower who courageously raised the initial alarm.”
Schiff later rejected the request to call Hunter Biden and the whistle-blower as witnesses, saying that he wanted to avoid “sham investigations into the Bidens” and protect the anonymous informant’s safety. Schiff also said that the secondhand information relayed by the whistle-blower in his original complaint is now “redundant and unnecessary,” given the “ever-growing body of evidence” from witnesses and documents, as well as the White House transcript of the call with Zelensky.
In response, Minority Leader McCarthy told Fox News that, “It is clear now more than ever, this is a calculated coup and it is being orchestrated by Adam Schiff. We are watching him orchestrate the takedown of a president.”
Republicans joined the president in calling for the whistle-blower’s identity to be made public, arguing that Trump has a right to confront his accuser. Congressman Nunes said the whistleblower should be identified because of his reported “bias against President Trump,” and that the whistle-blower should be required to say who “fed the information” that “led to a false narrative being perpetrated by the Democrats.”
Nunes also sent a scathing letter to Schiff demanding that the chairman give his own testimony in a private session with all three committees, in an attempt to clear up exactly what happened when at least one Schiff aide had secret contact with the whistle-blower before he filed his complaint to the inspector general about the July 25 Trump-Zelensky phone conversation.
“Although you publicly claim nothing inappropriate was discussed,” Nunes wrote in his letter to Schiff, “the three committees deserve to hear directly from you the substance and circumstances surrounding any discussions conducted with the whistleblower, and any instructions you issued regarding those discussions. Given that you have reneged on your public commitment to let the committees interview the whistleblower directly, you are the only individual who can provide clarity as to these conversations,” Nunes added.
Republican House Minority Leader McCarthy also said that Schiff was serving as “the fact witness, the prosecutor, the judge and jury. Adam Schiff now is dictating that only the chair and [ranking member Nunes] and staff will be allowed to question witnesses during the first 45 minutes of the televised public hearings,” McCarthy complained. “He is trying to control all of it.”
Republican Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana said in an interview that if Schiff and Pelosi “prevent the Republicans from calling their own witnesses, the American people are going [to] look at this and [say], ‘I get it. They’re going to give the president a fair and impartial firing squad.’”
Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky said, “If you can’t call Hunter Biden and you can’t call the whistleblower, that’s sort of a sham. That’s not really even a trial.”
Republican Congressman Will Hurd of Texas also called for Schiff to allow Hunter Biden to testify in the public hearing. Hurd, who has been critical of Trump in the past, said the impeachment inquiry “has been a partisan exercise from the very beginning” and that in past impeachment proceedings the defenders of the president had been allowed to call its own witnesses.
Trump also complained about Schiff’s suppression of Republican witnesses.
“Corrupt politician Adam Schiff wants people from the White House to testify in his and Pelosi’s disgraceful Witch Hunt, yet he will not allow a White House lawyer, nor will he allow ANY of our requested witnesses,” the president tweeted. “This is a first in due process and Congressional history!”
WHAT DEMOCRATS NEED TO PROVE
According to CNN political analyst Julian Zelizer, Democrats need to convince the American public that Trump deserves to be impeached because he crossed a red line by politicizing his conduct of foreign policy far more than previous presidents have done, and that the scandal is not simply about Ukraine but rather about the presidential abuse of power.
While most House Democrats want Trump impeached, they still need to prove that their effort to remove the president is justified to the rest of the American public before they vote to approve formal articles of impeachment.
Republicans congressional leaders are determined to do everything possible to refute the Democrats’ case and expose the public hearings as a witch hunt inspired by the Democrats’ refusal to accept the results of the 2016 presidential election.
Initially, when Democrats won control of the House last November, Speaker Pelosi and House Judiciary chairman Jerry Nadler stated that any impeachment effort is doomed to fail if it does not also have the support of a significant number of congressional Republicans. So far, no Republican in either chamber of Congress has endorsed the impeachment effort, and while Democrats have the simple majority of votes they need to pass articles of impeachment in the House, removing Trump would require his conviction by a two-thirds vote of the Senate, where Republicans hold a majority of the seats, and have already come out publicly in the president’s defense.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham spoke for his GOP colleagues when he expressed his opinion of the impeachment effort in a comment to an Iowa radio station over the weekend: “I made my mind up. There’s nothing there.”
Other Republican leaders have also echoed Trump’s accusations that Democrats are conducting a “witch hunt” designed to overturn a presidential election simply because they didn’t like the outcome.
“As we hear more testimony … it’s actually getting easier to defend the president from a standpoint there is no linkage between aid [and investigations],” Congressman Mark Meadows said, but Democrats look at the same body of evidence and reach very different conclusions.
“He went on a telephone call with the president of Ukraine and said ‘I have a favor though’ and then proceeded to ask for an investigation of his rival,” California Democrat Congressman Jackie Speier, a member of the Intelligence Committee, said in an ABC News interview. “This is a very strong case of bribery.”
To make their case, Democrats are relying on the testimony of government officials with long and distinguished careers in the foreign service, but no name recognition in the general public. All of the prominent Trump administration figures who have been asked to testify by the Democrats, including Rick Perry, John Bolton and Mick Mulvaney, have refused to appear, citing executive privilege and the blatant political bias of the Schiff-run impeachment proceedings so far.
DEMOCRATS USING FAULTY ASSUMPTIONS
Wall Street Journal commentator Holman Jenkins writes that he considers Trump to be “a gadfly president, out of sync with many of the policy emanations of his own administration.” He adds that there is little doubt that when the public hearings are over, House Democrats will be easily able to produce the 218 vote majority needed to pass articles of impeachment and send them to the Senate, where Trump will stand trial.
Jenkins believes that, “It probably doesn’t matter much what the charges are. In some sense, that’s where impeachment should land: The charges matter less than whether, under the totality of considerations, a president should be removed before his term ends.”
But he warns that the impeachment case that Democrats are trying to make against Trump rests upon very three dubious assumptions:
- That Ukraine is our dear ally, in whose conflict with Russia we should become deeply engaged.
- That politics stops at the water’s edge. (Jenkins notes that it never did.)
- That the only relevant description of Joe Biden is “political opponent of Donald Trump” rather than a “former high official whose actions should rightly be scrutinized.”
MEETING THE CONSTITUTION’S STANDARD
Jenkins also agrees with former Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz that nothing that Trump did in delaying the delivery of military aid to Ukraine or asking for an investigation of the Bidens broke any federal laws. That makes it more difficult for Democrats to meet the Constitution’s requirement for removal of a president by impeachment, a vote by 2/3 of the Senate after a trial that he committed a “high crime or misdemeanor.”
Over the past three years, Dershowitz has been a outspoken critic of the legal arguments Democrats have used to justify their changing efforts to drive Trump from office. Dershowitz was once in demand by mainstream media outlets, such as CNN, as a liberal civil rights commentator Now he is regarded as persona non grata by those outlets because of his criticism of the methods being used by Trump’s enemies.
In a radio interview last week with East Coast radio talk show host John Catsimatidis, Dershowitz said that in his research of the federal statutes, he has been unable to find any crime that Trump has committed, that there is no legal basis for his impeachment, and that Democrat attempts to invent crimes which they accuse Trump of committing endangers the rights of all Americans. “Whether you’re from New York or the middle of the country, you should be frightened by efforts to try to create crimes out of nothing,” Dershowitz said.
MAKING UP NEW CRIMES A THREAT TO LIBERTY
“First they made up collusion… I searched the statute books. There’s no crime of collusion… with a foreign country. After that, they said obstruction of Congress [another crime that doesn’t exist]. In a desperate effort to try to find crimes [committed by] President Trump, they’re just making it up. And that means we are all in danger,” Dershowitz concluded.
In response to the accusation that, in the case of Ukraine, Trump used U.S. foreign policy to advance his “personal political interests,” Jenkins’ response is “What president doesn’t?”
Jenkins concludes that, “Mr. Trump’s Ukraine actions are not illegal, and I doubt the sacredness of Ukraine policy matters to many Americans. But any reason is good enough if you believe an incompetent president should be removed for the sake of the country.”
THE QUESTION OF TRUMP’S COMPETENCE
On the question of Trump’s competency as president, Jenkins suggest that this should be determined by the results of his presidency, and that when compared to the first term records of other recent presidents, “Trumpism has not been half bad.” Despite the hysteria Trump provokes among his opponents and his inflammatory rhetoric, Jenkins believes that Trump has governed the country competently.
Jenkins blames Trump’s opponents for rejecting his legitimacy as president from the start, pushing fabricated allegations and plotting to impeach him even before he took office, for Trump’s thin-skinned sensitivity in defending his legitimacy and that of his 2016 electoral victory. Jenkins notes that Trump’s enemies “were not satisfied with opposing him. They sought to destroy him.” That is why he is determined to defeat them again by winning re-election to a second term, instead of declaring victory and walking away after compiling a respectable record of accomplishment in office.
A PROCESS THAT’S DOOMED TO FAIL
According to conservative commentator Andrew McCarthy, to legitimize launching the impeachment effort so close to a presidential election, Democrats “will need to convince the country that (a) it has grounds so extraordinarily serious that Trump must be ousted forthwith and (b) the procedures under which it impeached were fundamentally fair.
“I don’t think they have a prayer of demonstrating the former, such that two-thirds of the GOP-controlled Senate would be spurred to remove the president. (Trump’s approval rating among Republicans is hovering around 90 percent.) As for the latter concern, due process, there must be some and it must be meaningful — not because it is legally mandated, but because it is politically essential.
“This is why many of the more pragmatic Democrats knew impeachment was a bad idea. As a practical matter, they don’t have close to the votes to remove, so it’s doomed to fail. The public knows it’s doomed to fail and may well resent Democrats for gratuitously putting the country through it. If Trump is denied due process, the proceedings will look like a kangaroo court and Democrats will be blamed. And if Trump is afforded due process, the case he presents may damage Democrats come November.”
McCarthy expects Trump and his defenders to successfully argue that “that Democrats have conspired with like-minded officials in the bureaucracy, particularly in the intelligence agencies (including the FBI and the Justice Department), to paralyze and, if possible, shorten the Trump presidency.”
McCarthy argues that the anti-Trump conspiracy claim is all the more believable because “prominent Democrats and Trump detractors have been quite brazen in their public rhetoric about Trump.” Trump’s supporters can point to the failed two-year effort by Democrats to drive Trump from office based on false allegations that his campaign colluded with the Russians to disrupt the 2016 election in order to argue that the current Democrat allegation that Trump abused his power as president is similarly overblown and unprovable.
PELOSI FORCED TO ACT AGAINST HER BETTER JUDGEMENT
Earlier this year, party leaders such as Pelosi and Nadler warned their Democrat colleagues against launching an impeachment effort without sufficiently convincing evidence of Trump’s guilt. But the anger of the Democrat base over the failure of the Mueller probe and the media hysteria created by the first reports of the whistle-blower’s accusation, led Pelosi to announce the new impeachment probe before she even saw the transcript of the Trump-Zelensky phone call. She sidelined the more cautious Nadler, and put the impeachment process, which is usually under the jurisdiction of Nadler’s judiciary committee, in the hands of Schiff, who has been an outspoken public advocate for Trump’s impeachment over the past two years, based upon evidence he claimed to have seen against the president, but which he has never produced.
Democrats are committed to an impeachment process which is bound to fail in the Senate, and which could boomerang by creating public sympathy for a president who can claim that he is, for a second time, being subjected to an unfair investigation by political enemies. The success of the impeachment effort will not be determined by the verdict of the Senate after Trump stands trial, which is already a foregone conclusion, but by the verdict of the voters next November, who will have the final word about whether Trump deserves to remain in office. As much as Democrats hate him and can’t forgive him for winning, he has been a good president, the economy is humming along and he is commander in chief of a strengthened army.