House Democrat leaders unveiled two proposed articles of impeachment against President Trump on Tuesday. The articles allege “high crimes and misdemeanors,” based on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. These charges focus on the president’s dealings with Ukraine. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff spoke for a few minutes about the proposed articles of impeachment at a morning press briefing. They then departed without taking any questions.
Jerrold Nadler, in his capacity as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, made the formal announcement of the impeachment articles. He said that the president committed an impeachable offense by exercising “the powers of his public office to obtain an improper personal benefit while ignoring or injuring the national interest.” After President Trump got “caught,” in Nadler’s words, he “obstructed Congress fully, without precedent, and without basis in law.”
Adam Schiff spoke after Nadler at Tuesday’s press briefing, playing the role of head of the House Intelligence Committee’s fact-finding portion of the impeachment proceedings. He claimed that the evidence of wrongdoing by President Trump compiled by his committee was “overwhelming” and “non-contested.”
The articles of impeachment themselves, signed by Jerrold Nadler, are slightly more than eight pages long. Article I is entitled “Abuse of Power.” Article II is entitled “Obstruction of Congress.” They track the unsubstantiated charges about Ukraine that the House Democrats have been pedaling since September. They are narrowly focused on Ukraine in order to keep moderate Democrats, who were elected from districts that President Trump won in 2016, in the fold. Even so, there is an oblique reference in Impeachment Article II to “President Trump’s previous efforts to undermine United States Government investigations into foreign interference in United States elections.” Nadler and Schiff almost certainly wanted more explicit references to the Mueller investigation and alleged obstruction of justice in connection with that investigation, but this was as close as they managed to get.
The House Judiciary Committee is expected to vote to recommend the two articles of impeachment later this week with few, if any, minor changes. A group of about 10 vulnerable House Democrats has reportedly been mulling a censure resolution rather than impeachment. This is a pipe dream, however, with the Trump-hating firebrands in charge. A floor vote as early as next week will almost certainly result in approval of the articles after some perfunctory debate. The Senate will then conduct a trial to determine whether to convict President Trump on the two charges included in the articles and have him removed from office. The flimsy record presented by the House Democrats is highly unlikely to persuade anywhere near enough Republican senators to secure the two-thirds vote required for conviction and removal.
Impeachment Article I charges that President Trump used the “powers of his high office” to solicit “the interference of a foreign government, Ukraine, in the 2020 United States Presidential election.” Article I alleges that the president engaged in “a scheme or course of conduct for corrupt purposes in pursuit of personal political benefit.” The article claims that this scheme or course of conduct “included soliciting the Government of Ukraine to publicly announce investigations that would benefit his reelection, harm the election prospects of a political opponent, and influence the 2020 United States Presidential election to his advantage. President Trump also sought to pressure the Government of Ukraine to take these steps by conditioning official United States Government acts of significant value to Ukraine on its public announcement of the investigations.” Article I further charges the president with using “the powers of the Presidency in a manner that compromised the national security of the United States and undermined the integrity of the United States democratic process.”
Nothing has changed the fact that the evidence Schiff’s committee has compiled as the “factual” underpinnings of the abuse of power impeachment article is neither “overwhelming” or “non-contested,” as Schiff would like us to believe. To the contrary, the evidence, if you want to call it that, is both very underwhelming and highly contested. It is based in part on the Democrats’ own self-serving reading of selected portions, taken out of context, from a call memo of President Trump’s July 25, 2019 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, which President Trump voluntarily released. The Democrats also relied on hearsay evidence and presumptions presented by supposed “fact” witnesses who had no direct communications with President Trump. Ambassador Gordon Sondland was the one fact witness who spoke directly with President Trump and asked the president what he wanted from Ukraine. Ambassador Sondland testified that the president said he wanted “nothing” from Ukraine except for them to do the right thing, and that he said he was not looking for any quid pro quo. Moreover, as President Trump tweeted, “Both the President & Foreign Minister of Ukraine said, many times, that there ‘WAS NO PRESSURE.’”
President Trump has expressed perfectly reasonable explanations for his actions, taken in the national interest, that belie any claim of “corrupt” motive for personal gain. The president is understandably skeptical that Ukrainian corruption is largely a thing of the past. This would logically include the energy Ukrainian company Burisma, widely known for its long record of corruption, for whom Hunter Biden worked while his father was serving as vice president. President Trump is also understandably reticent to give away so much of American taxpayers’ money to Ukraine while European nations are not paying their fair share for Ukraine’s security. In any event, the pause in releasing the security aid was temporary. The Ukrainians received the aid with no strings attached relating to any announcement of investigations of Burisma or of alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 presidential election. And it defies belief that the Ukrainians, equipped for the first time with lethal anti-tank weapons by the Trump administration, suffered any imminent serious threat to their national security during the brief hold on the security aid.
Impeachment Article II charges that “Donald J. Trump has directed the unprecedented, categorical, and indiscriminate defiance of subpoenas issued by the House of Representatives pursuant to its ‘sole Power of Impeachment’… President Trump thus interposed the powers of the Presidency against the lawful subpoenas of the House of Representatives, and assumed to himself functions and judgments necessary to the exercise of the ‘sole Power of Impeachment’ vested by the Constitution in the House of Representatives.”
Schiff’s committee made the decision to rush its investigation. It elected not to use its subpoena power to secure the testimony of critical witnesses with first-hand knowledge, much less seek relief from the courts to compel such testimony or the production of additional documents the Democrats claim they needed. In order to justify his committee’s superficial fact-finding, Schiff claimed it would take too long to wait for such court decisions. Schiff said at the Tuesday morning press briefing, “The argument ‘why don’t you just wait’ amounts to this: Why don’t you just let him cheat in one more election? Why not let him cheat just one more time? Why not let him have foreign help just one more time?”
The second article of impeachment charging the president with obstructing Congress thus boils down to Schiff’s “we can’t afford to wait” argument. The House Democrats contrived a phony “emergency,” claiming the sky will fall on next year’s presidential election if they do not proceed immediately with impeachment. Then these chicken littles cried foul when President Trump pushed back on their sweeping demands. They bootstrapped an obstruction of Congress charge onto their abuse of power charge. According to the House Democrats’ theory of their case, the president must either waive his right to judicial review of the congressional demands or be charged with a made-up offense of obstruction of Congress.
The House of Representatives is part of a co-equal branch of the federal government. It is not superior to the executive branch or to the judicial branch. The House does indeed have the “sole Power of Impeachment,” as the second impeachment article recites. But it does not have the sole power to compel the president to genuflect every time that Pelosi, Schiff, or Nadler mouth the word “impeachment.” We do not have a parliamentary system in the United States. If separation of powers and checks and balances are to mean anything, the president is entitled under the Constitution to have the right to a judicial hearing before he must submit to the House’s demands he believes have crossed the line. As George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley warned the Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee during his testimony last week, “Basing impeachment on this obstruction theory, would itself be an abuse of power…by Congress.”
The House leadership’s presentation of their two proposed impeachment articles came a day after Nadler conducted a nine-hour public hearing in which the Democrats tried to lay out the lame partisan case they are bringing against President Trump. At the same time, Nadler denied Republican requests to present witnesses of their own and even muscled through a majority vote denying the Republicans’ request for a brief recess. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Schiff did not present and defend in person his own committee’s majority report that the Judiciary Committee will supposedly rely upon in making its impeachment recommendation. Schiff ducked testifying under oath and being subjected to cross-examination. Schiff left that thankless task to the House Democrats’ Intelligence Committee counsel Daniel Goldman. Schiff was perfectly happy instead to stand before the cameras at Tuesday’s press briefing with his customary spin, refusing to even take any reporters’ questions.
Monday’s House Judicial Committee hearing was largely a rehash of arguments we have heard before, this time as recited by lawyers for both political parties. We learned virtually nothing from this yawnfest. The one dramatic exchange occurred when Representative Doug Collins, the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, challenged Goldman on a subpoena-related issue. Rep. Collins wanted to know who ordered the matching of phone numbers obtained in a subpoena of AT&T phone records with journalist John Solomon and Representative Devin Nunes of California, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee. He also wanted to know who decided to disclose their names publicly in the Intelligence Committee majority report. “Who ordered it? You or Mr. Schiff?” Rep. Collins asked Goldman, who refused to directly answer the question. Republican Representative James Sensenbrenner, a former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, expressed outrage. “This is a major step in the surveillance state getting out of control,” he said.
The Democrats have been searching since President Trump’s inauguration, if not before, for some excuse to impeach him. They have flitted from one pretext to another, ranging from emoluments and President Trump’s business dealings to the Mueller investigation before finally landing on Ukraine. Their proposed articles of impeachment, to borrow from William Shakespeare, are “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” In the process, they have committed their own abuses of power. They are seeking to overthrow the results of the 2016 presidential election and use impeachment as a partisan weapon to improperly influence the 2020 election. The Trump-hating Democrats are shredding the Constitution they so pompously claim they are protecting.