Donald Trump will likely become the third American president impeached by the House of Representatives. It’s a not coup, or an attempt to undo the democratic results of the 2016 election. Those are nothing more than Trump’s talking point defense.
But the spectacle being broadcast from our nation’s capital isn’t remotely close to remedy for “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors” envisioned by our Constitution.
Our founders would also be stunned by Trump’s demands that the whistleblower’s identity be exposed. Doing so not only violates the law, it tramples on a tradition they unanimously endorsed a decade before the Constitution was ratified.
In July, the Senate unanimously passed a resolution declaring July 30 “National Whistleblower Appreciation Day.” It aimed to ensure “that the Federal Government implements the intent of the Founding Fathers, as reflected in the legislation” enacted on that date in 1778. That law declared “the duty of all persons in the service of the United States” was to report “any misconduct, frauds or misdemeanors committed by any officers or persons in the service of these states, which may come to their knowledge.”
That’s exactly what the whistleblower believed had happened during a phone call between Trump and the Ukrainian president and the subsequent handling of the call transcript. The Trump appointees who reviewed complaint believe the whistleblower acted in good faith.
Trump and his defenders don’t see it that way. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, said it seems “like a political setup.” And Trump wants everyone to believe the whistleblower is “highly partisan,” has a “conflict of interest and involvement with a Democrat Candidate” and “should be exposed and questioned properly.”
Aside from the fact that neither of them knows who the whistleblower is, any party member complaining about another person’s political bias is a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black. More to the point though, it’s a dereliction of duty when any White House or Congressional staffer witnesses serious misconduct but doesn’t report it because they want to protect their boss and/or their party.
Now Trump’s attorney has gotten into the act. In an eight-page letter explaining why he won’t cooperate, Pat Cipollone wrote the “highly partisan” House inquiry “violates fundamental fairness and constitutionally mandated due process” and “basic rights guaranteed to all Americans,” including the rights to cross-examine witnesses and call witnesses.
That’s not a valid legal argument. The inquiry is not a trial. It’s the fact-finding stage of an investigation. If articles of impeachment are presented to the full House, their vote to impeach is like a grand jury indictment. It would be at the Senate trial that the Republican majority can ensure those basic rights are respected.
Trump won’t complain about that chamber’s partisan bias leaning his way. It won’t matter to him that senators like Graham have already failed their constitutional duty by arguing the president hasn’t done anything wrong before they’ve been presented with the full evidence.
If this were a real trial, it’s not only their party membership that would disqualify every Senator from serving on the jury. The publicity surrounding this circus has tainted everyone.
The founders didn’t ratify the impeachment clause expecting this kind of chaos could occur. Because in their day, newspapers and word of mouth were the main sources of information.
News traveled too slow to turn a constitutional crisis into daily fodder depicting two vastly different political realities as we’re seeing today.
We’d be here even if Trump had lost to Hillary Clinton in 2016. Indeed, two months before the election, Republican Congressman Mo Brooks of Alabama suggested an impeachment inquiry into her missing emails was justified. And if she refused to comply with Republican subpoenas about that, or inquiries about Uranium One and the infamous Steele dossier, that alone would have been cause to impeach her before the 2018 midterm election.
In response to Cipollone’s letter, Democrats ought to abandon the rule changes unilaterally implemented by the House Republican majority in 2015. They should ask the full house to vote on commencing with the inquiry. Once that resolution passes, they can issue their subpoenas. And if Trump refuses to comply, every member of Congress should stand by their oath to defend the Constitution, impeach him and remove him from office.
• Rich Moniak is a Juneau resident and retired civil engineer with more than 25 years of experience working in the public sector. He contributes a weekly “My Turn” to the Juneau Empire.