The ‘impeachment inquiry’ hearings so far

The first week of hearings have revealed quite a lot about the current proceedings. What is beginning to emerge is a clearer look at the actual case, the forces behind the inquiry, and an infuriating abuse of process propelling the whole inquiry. Here are several revealing takeaways.

  1. The importance of Due Process: The universally accepted standards of due process in a trial provides for rights of the accused including the right to counsel, the right to call witnesses, the right to face your accuser and the right to cross-examine prosecution witnesses. The Judicial system in the United States is an adversarial procedure where two sides present their cases and question each other’s claims. In the end, the jury looks at the evidence and the arguments and renders a judgment. The rights of the accused protect more than simply the accused from an unfair conviction. They also protect the rights of the public to have a process that is capable of finding the truth from competing claims and narratives. The society has an interest in fairness and justice. A trial is not simply about accused and accuser. The society as a whole is a stakeholder in the process.

While the impeachment inquiry is not actually a trial, the public’s interest in a fair process is more extreme in this case than in any other. What we have seen so far is a process which is aimed at putting the prosecution’s case in the best possible light. The president is not allowed counsel; his defenders are not allowed to call its own witnesses without the consent of the chair; they are not allowed to pursue their own narrative of the case; the Democrats have provided selective leaks to the public before the public hearing in order to prejudice the public; the Democrats have blocked the use of as yet unreleased transcripts which the defense would like to use to question the prosecution sides hand-picked witnesses, and it is presided over by a chair whose bias against the president is only exceeded by his sanctimonious tone.

This is a process that is clearly designed with the goal of removing the president or at least hurting his chances for re-election.

  1.  The facts of the case: The transcription of President Trump’s phone call to President Zelensky on July 25 makes it very clear that he wanted Ukraine to assist the US in finding out the role of Ukrainian officials who may have interfered in the 2016 election on behalf of his opponent, Hillary Clinton. In a widely viewed video, Joe Biden had boasted about forcing the Ukraine government to fire a prosecutor who was investigating the company that had hired his son, Hunter Biden, to a lucrative position on its Board of Directors. The phone call reference to looking into Hunter Biden is pretty clearly a reference to Biden’s statement and a request to see if there was anything corrupt in Biden’s actions.

The fact of the requests is not in dispute and President Trump has been emphatic in his belief that there was nothing untoward about his requests. The only question for an honest inquiry is whether there was an American interest in the requests and if the legitimacy of the requests was suspect, does the transgression rise to the level of an impeachable offense. In order to decide whether the requests were proper, it is necessary to present witnesses and documents that can shed light on these issues. The House of Representative in a completely partisan vote passed a set of rules designed to guarantee that these issues will never be addressed. Instead, the committee has limited the inquiry into whether Trump considered the investigations important and forbade any inquiry into whether the request for the investigations may have been proper. Such a process is a staged show trial designed to sell the president’s removal to a dubious public. It is not a search for truth.

  1. The players pushing the impeachment are threefold. The first are the Democrats led by Schiff “The Sanctimonious” and Pelosi “The Prayerful” who are intent on returning the power and prerogatives of the presidency to the Democratic Party and its allies. The second is a collection of identity groups that want to place themselves and their allies in the Federal Judiciary and the departmental bureaucracies in order to further their aggressive agendas. Finally, there is the permanent Washington bureaucracy that believes that Donald Trump is so unfit for public office that it is their patriotic duty to undermine his administration and, if possible, remove him from office. The importance of this third group in the process can be seen from the list of witnesses that the committee is permitted to interview. For a justification of this position read David Brooks’s article “in praise of Washington Insiders.”  In some sense the media is a fourth group pushing for impeachment but realistically they are indistinguishable from the first two.

It is unclear how this will all turn out.  A lot can happen in 2020 but if 2016 tells us anything, the only thing that is predictable is that the year will be unpredictable. At this point it would appear the Democrats are set on voting for impeachment in the House. There is little reason to believe that the Republicans will get a fair chance to present their case to the American people before the process goes over to the Senate where the president’s defenders will have a better chance to present their side. The Democrats hope that by stacking the deck in the House, they can create enough public support that some of the Republicans in the Senate will be pressured to vote for conviction. I think that is unlikely and the most likely result is that the American people will get to decide by the ballot in November 2020.

Image credit: Donkey Hotey (croppped)

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