On May 23, 2017, I delivered a commentary in which I tried to argue that attempting to impeach Trump was a waste of time --- and potentially would do more harm than good.
(Anyone who wants a copy of it can send me a message through WAMC-FM with their e-mail address.)
Well, I was wrong. I have watched the impeachment hearings before the House Intelligence Committee. I have listened very closely to the attempted Republican counters to the impeachment effort. I watched the first day of hearings before the House Judiciary Committee on December 4 and I saw on Thursday, December 5 the speech by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stating that the House of Representatives will begin receiving reports from the House Committees that have gathered factual information about Trump’s conduct with an eye towards drafting Articles of Impeachment for the full house.
I am now convinced that Trump must be impeached. I also believe if the Senate took its role seriously, even the Republicans would support impeachment as Republicans came to do the same when they forced President Richard Nixon to resign back in 1974.
[By the way, the entire House Intelligence Committee Report is available on line --- and there is a relatively short executive summary that should be easy reading for anyone. The pathetic Republican minority response to the fact witnesses that had testified for over two weeks ignores some very important elements of the testimony by the fact witnesses and makes many false claims. One of the most seriously egregious out and out lies is that the Trump Administration released the delayed funds to Ukraine after “thoughtful review.” There was no thoughtful review whatsoever – and the proof of this is that the famous phone call when Trump asked the President of Ukraine for “a favor” did not once mention corruption --- did not probe with the Ukraine President what his new administration was doing about corruption. (And this discussion of true anti-corruption activity were in the written talking points prepared for Trump by his staff. Of course he just ignored them --- maybe he never even read them!) Instead, the money was released when Trump learned that a whistleblower had – well – “blown the whistle!” And by the way, the famous phone call with Gordon Sondland where Trump stated “I want nothing! I want nothing! There is no quid pro quo!” occurred the very day that he learned about the whistleblower report. For the full texts of the reports from the House Intelligence Committee plus some analysis go to https://www.npr.org/2019/12/03/782759563/read-impeachment-inquiry-report-by-house-intelligence-committee]
The extraordinary flouting of the will of Congress involves refusal to cooperate in any way with the House Impeachment inquiry. The Constitution is clear that the House of Representatives is the sole determinant of HOW to conduct an impeachment inquiry. [See Article 1, Section 2, Clause 5 of the Constitution]. They chose to conduct the inquiry by requiring the testimony of a number of federal officials and former officials as well as the submission of documents for the House’s consideration. Trump and his cronies in the government have refused all cooperation. That refusal constitutes an obstruction of Congress and will undoubtedly be one of the Articles of Impeachment created by the Judiciary Committee. Then there was the cynical extortion of the government of Ukraine (holding up already appropriated funds designed to bolster Ukraine’s military) demanding activity to throw dirt on the man who Trump feared as his strongest competitor in 2020 --- former Vice President Biden --This committed the impeachable offense of bribery – one of the two “high crimes and misdemeanors” specifically identified in the Constitution.
I have come to the conclusion, notwithstanding my earlier opposition, that failure to impeach such a criminal President would be an abject surrender of our democratic form of government.
NOW, I am far from believing that our democracy is perfect. In both 2000 and 2016, the candidate who LOST the vote ended up being President because of our undemocratic Electoral College system of electing a President. We are one country, we should elect the President with one vote – not fifty separate votes. I assume most people know that the reason the electoral college was created and the reason Senators were initially indirectly elected by State Legislatures (a system for choosing Senators that was changed by Constitutional Amendment in the early 20th century) is because the founders distrusted the people. The Electoral College was to be composed of upstanding citizens who would actually decide who would become President. (Even today there is nothing to stop an elector from voting for a candidate other than the one he or she has pledged to support.)
In addition to our undemocratic method of electing a President, we have the recent successful widespread voter suppression in some states because the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder (570 U.S. 529) had gutted the Voting Rights Act.
Despite the deficiencies of our democracy, the solution is not to change our form of government to a Presidential dictatorship. Trump’s blatant disregard for what everyone thought were the norms of political competition and governance in our country must be fought --- and I say this even though the Senate will almost certainly vote to acquit him letting him claim vindication. Making our democratic form of government even less democratic is NOT the way to improve our system. Luckily because of a lot of hard work by a lot of people horrified by the first two years of Trump’s presidency, there is a Democratic majority in the House. On the morning of December 5, 2019, it was gratifying to see Speaker Pelosi argue that Trump’s behavior had left the Congress no choice.
Make no mistake about it. The behavior documented in the House Intelligence Committee hearings by the various fact witnesses amounts to bribery and abuse of the office of the Presidency. He extorted the President of Ukraine --- a government heavily dependent on US economic and military assistance --- to announce publicly that his government was opening a corruption investigation into former Vice President Biden. Contrary to the dishonest claims of Republican Trump enablers, the CNN interview to make that announcement had already been scheduled when the whistleblower blew the whistle and Trump quickly released the funds. Only then did that interview get cancelled.
[By the way --- I know that much of what I said in the radio commentary and much of what is written here is known by many listeners and readers already. Nevertheless, I believe such information and analysis bears repeating even to those who already know the facts. It is my hope that at least some of this information will be useful to all who read it (or heard it) and that for some listeners/readers this will all be useful.]
Let me briefly give readers some ammunition in arguments they may have with friends, relatives or just plain acquaintances who happen to have drunk the Trump Kool Aid. First, impeachment by the House is like a Grand Jury deciding whether to indict someone. The potential defendant’s lawyers are not permitted inside the Grand Jury room, even if the potential defendant is a witness. So when the House Intelligence Committee began deliberations, their first round of testimony was also in secret and Trump’s lawyers were not permitted to attend. However, unlike Grand Juries where every word of testimony is secret and where every word in deliberation is secret, the House Intelligence Committee had public hearings and released the transcript of all the witness testimonies that had previously been given in secret.
At those House Intelligence Committee hearings, the Republican opponents of impeachment had a chance to call their own witnesses and ask questions of the fact witnesses. Instead of attempting to call witnesses that would rebut the testimony against Trump, they tried to muddy the waters by calling people who had nothing to say about Trump’s actions. For example, they wanted to call the Whistleblower. Aside from the obvious ploy to figure out a way to “out” the whistleblower, the testimony of the whistleblower would have been redundant. All he/she did when lodging the complaint with the Inspector General was report what he had heard second or third hand. The Committee actually heard from first hand witnesses to Trump’s behavior (one witness listened to the famous phone call – Lieutenant Colonel Vindman ) or individuals who carried out his orders (Ambassador Gordon Sondland) .
The Republicans also wanted to call Hunter Biden. This was a transparent attempt to continue Trump’s effort to throw dirt on one of his rivals – Hunter Biden’s father, the former Vice President. Even if what Hunter Biden did was to trade on his father’s prominence to gain a cushy job on a corporate board (believe me there are hundreds, perhaps more, “place holders” on corporate boards there for their prominence with no expertise in that particular enterprise) that wasn’t illegal. So what the questioning would do is divert attention from what Trump did. When the Republicans got around to questioning the fact witnesses it was clear they had no counter-arguments to the facts that had been presented.
Now the venue moves to the House Judiciary Committee. On Monday, December 8 they will begin hearing testimony from the various Committees that have been gathering evidence relevant to the creation of Articles of Impeachment. Here Trump’s own attorney can participate. That attorney can call witnesses, cross-examine government witnesses and Trump himself can testify in his own defense if he wants. It appears that they will instead continue to refuse all participation --- claiming they want a “fair trial” in the Senate.
Finally, if the entire House votes to impeach Trump – which is the same thing as an indictment – the trial in the Senate presents ample opportunity for Trump’s side to call witnesses to counter the accusations made by the Articles of Impeachment voted by the full House.
[I have to interject a tremendous sense of disappointment that even a well know trial attorney and Law Professor, Alan Dershowitz, has gone onto television to claim that the first round of Judiciary Committee Hearings was a “violation of due process” because it was so “one-sided.” If we remember that all the actions in the House in launching an impeachment investigations and voting out Articles of Impeachment are akin to a Grand Jury deliberation, that reveals Dershowitz’s assertion as legal nonsense. The due process occurs at trial – not before a Grand Jury. There the prosecutor rules the roost with no chance for any rebuttals by defense attorneys. (In fact there is a well-known joke that a good prosecutor can get a Grand Jury to indict a ham sandwich if she/he wanted to!) The place for a full adversarial example of due process is at the Senate trial.]
Don’t let Republican gaslighting keep you from understanding what happens when the House votes for Impeachment and the Senate takes up the case and tries Trump for the behavior described in the Articles of Impeachment. Indictment then trial.
[For a detailed “take” on the Hearings before the Judiciary Committee featuring the four Law Professors, see https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/12/06/law-seminar-in-the-hearing-room-impeachment-day-six/ The writer takes a decidedly “left of liberal” position but his recognition that no matter how left wing you are, it is essential to join with any allies available to beat Trump fits my position perfectly.]
Michael Meeropol is professor emeritus of Economics at Western New England University. He is the author with Howard and Paul Sherman of the recently published second edition of Principles of Macroeconomics: Activist vs. Austerity Policies.
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