White House and Democrats fight over rules for impeachment

October 9, 2019

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., left, speaks with media members with Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., after they spoke about lowering the cost of prescription drug prices Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019, at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

WASHINGTON  The U.S. Constitution gives the House "the sole power of impeachment" but it confers that authority without an instruction manual.

Now comes the battle royal over exactly what it means.

In vowing to halt all cooperation with House Democrats' impeachment inquiry, the White House on Tuesday labeled the investigation "illegitimate" based on its own reading of the Constitution's vague language.

In an eight-page letter, White House counsel Pat Cipollone pointed to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's failure to call for an official vote to proceed with the inquiry as grounds to claim the process a farce.

"You have designed and implemented your inquiry in a manner that violates fundamental fairness and constitutionally mandated due process," Cipollone wrote.

But Douglas Letter, a lawyer for the House Judiciary Committee, told a federal judge Tuesday that it's clear the House "sets its own rules" on how the impeachment process will play out.

The White House document lacked much in the way of legal arguments, seemingly citing cable TV news appearances as often as case law. And legal experts cast doubt upon its effectiveness.

"I think the goal of this letter is to further inflame the president's supporters and attempt to delegitimize the process in the eyes of his supporters," said Stephen Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas.

Courts have been historically hesitant to step in as referee for congressional oversight and impeachment. In 1993, the Supreme Court held that impeachment was an issue for the Congress and not the courts.

In that case, Walter Nixon, a federal district judge who was removed from office, sought to be reinstated and argued that the full Senate, instead of a committee that was established to hear testimony and collect evidence, should have heard the evidence against him.

The court unanimously rejected the challenge, finding impeachment is a function of the legislature that the court had no authority over.

As for the current challenge to impeachment, Vladeck said the White House letter "does not strike me as an effort to provide sober legal analysis."

Gregg Nunziata, a Philadelphia attorney who previously served as general counsel and policy adviser to Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, said the White House's letter did not appear to be written in a "traditional good-faith back and forth between the legislative and executive branches."

He called it a "direct assault on the very legitimacy of Congress' oversight power."

"The Founders very deliberately chose to put the impeachment power in a political branch rather the Supreme Court," Nunziata told The Associated Press. "They wanted this to be a political process and it is."

G. Pearson Cross, a political science professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, said the letter appeared to act as nothing more than an accelerant on a smoldering fire.

"It's a response that seems to welcome a constitutional crisis rather than defusing one or pointing toward some strategy that would deescalate the situation," Cross said.

After two weeks of a listless and unfocused response to the impeachment probe, the White House letter amounted to a declaration of war.

It's a strategy that risks further provoking Democrats in the impeachment probe, setting up court challenges and the potential for lawmakers to draw up an article of impeachment accusing President Donald Trump of obstructing their investigations.

Democrats have said that if the White House does not provide the information, they could write an article of impeachment on obstruction of justice.

It is unclear if Democrats would wade into a lengthy legal fight with the administration over documents and testimony or if they would just move straight to considering articles of impeachment.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who is leading the Ukraine probe, has said Democrats will "have to decide whether to litigate, or how to litigate."

But they don't want the fight to drag on for months, as he said the Trump administration seems to want to do.

A federal judge heard arguments Tuesday on whether the House had undertaken a formal impeachment inquiry despite not having taken an official vote and whether it can be characterized, under the law, as a "judicial proceeding."

The distinction matters because while grand jury testimony is ordinarily secret, one exception authorizes a judge to disclose it in connection with a judicial proceeding. House Democrats are seeking grand jury testimony from special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation as they conduct the impeachment inquiry.


For 1st time, Joe Biden calls for Trump to be impeached

Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign event, Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019, in Rochester, N.H.

ROCHESTER, N.H. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said Wednesday for the first time that President Donald Trump must be impeached for abusing the powers of his office to help his own reelection.

Biden made the remarks as part of a blistering 25-minute speech in New Hampshire, departing from his usual campaign pitch and signaling that he will aggressively confront Trump as the president faces an impeachment inquiry rooted in his unfounded accusations that the former vice president and his son had nefarious dealings in Ukraine.

Trump is "shooting holes in the Constitution," Biden said, by asking foreign powers to find dirt on the Bidens and then refusing to cooperate with the resulting House impeachment inquiry.

"This is a president who has decided this nation doesn't have the tools, the power, the political will" to punish bad behavior, Biden said, cataloguing a litany of Trump's actions that the former vice president said warrant impeachment.

The speech comes after two weeks of uneven responses from Biden as he and his advisers debated internally the best way to handle Trump's broadsides. Biden had alternated between muted dismissals at a series of fundraisers and more aggressive public displays, urging reporters to "ask the right questions," promising he'd beat Trump "like a drum" and using a campaign rally in Reno, Nevada, to hammer the president. His New Hampshire speech, though, was his most thorough, visible retort to date, with his impeachment call timed at midday to ensure that it carries the news cycle.

"He's not just testing us," Biden said. "He's laughing at us."

Before Biden had concluded in New Hampshire, Trump retorted via Twitter. "So pathetic," he wrote, to see Biden calling for his impeachment. The president maintained that he had done nothing wrong.

In a July 25 phone call to Ukraine's president, Trump asked for "a favor" of investigating Biden and his son Hunter, who previously served on the board of a Ukrainian energy firm that had drawn scrutiny in that country. A rough White House transcript of that call and a related whistleblower complaint prompted House Democrats to begin impeachment proceedings.

Without evidence, Trump insists Biden used his role as vice president to protect his son from corruption investigations when Biden pressed for the firing of the top Ukrainian prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, during President Barack Obama's second term. Ukrainian officials, including one Shokin successor, have disputed Trump's theories; the Obama administration's position was supported by many other Western governments, who saw Shokin as incompetent or corrupt.

Since the disclosure of Trump's Ukrainian telephone call, the president has publicly suggested China should investigate Hunter Biden's business dealings there, comments that Biden noted came with Trump "standing in front of reporters and cameras like I am at this moment."

U.S. election law forbids soliciting or accepting foreign aid in American elections. "It's stunning and it's dangerous because it directly threatens our democracy," Biden said of Trump's requests.

Biden on Wednesday again blasted Trump's "lies and smears and distortions," saying the president peddles them because he fears facing Biden in a general election.

"He's trying to create a campaign where truth and facts are irrelevant," Biden said, adding that the spectacle covers the president's "manifest incompetence."

But Trump advisers believe impeachment could help him politically, energizing his base and leaving some independents disenchanted with Democrats. The administration, however, has made clear it will not cooperate with Democrats on Capitol Hill and has been resisting requests for documents and testimony from administration officials all while keeping up the verbal assault on Biden.

"We're not going to let Donald Trump pick the Democratic nominee for president," Biden declared. "I'm not going to let him get away with it. He's picked a fight with the wrong guy."

But even with Biden's more assertive posture, questions remain about how Trump's tactics and the impeachment proceedings affect the Democratic primary.

Some Biden aides see the episode as underscoring his fundamental arguments about Trump, a point Biden himself nodded toward in New Hampshire. "When I announced my candidacy," he recalled, "I said I was running in order to restore the soul of America. That wasn't hyperbole."

Yet his advisers point to the 2016 presidential campaign, when Trump dominated media narratives of the Republican primary and the general election against Democrat Hillary Clinton with a barrage of attacks on his opponents that forced them to campaign on his terms. And they know the impeachment inquiry could last months and potentially never result in the Republican-led Senate removing Trump from office even if the Democratic-led House impeaches him.

In his speech, Biden noticeably did not mention the Senate or its potential role in deciding Trump's fate. But he did pledge not to campaign exclusively on Trump's turf, saying he wouldn't be distracted.

"None of these attacks are true, and I'm going to stay focused on your lives. That's what this election is about," he said, adding that the country "can't wait" for action on health care, education, gun regulations and the climate crisis. "The world can't wait for America once again to lead a stable, peaceful international order."

Biden got an enthusiastic reception, including from some New Hampshire voters who hadn't considered him their top choice in the nation's first presidential primary state.

"He spoke with conviction. He answered some of Trump's charges, and he got some good shots in at Trump," said Bill Hurley, a 71-year-old Democrat who named Biden his second choice behind Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

One undecided voter, Virginia Schonwald, a 63-year-old retired school librarian, said she Biden was "very fact-based and that he was forceful." She said she's now considering voting for Biden in the Democratic primary.

"I don't think I was when I got here," she said. "His speech made me more confident about him as a candidate."


GOP state senators running for Congress stand by Trump

MADISON Republican state senators running for Congress in Wisconsin are standing by President Donald Trump as Democrats launch impeachment proceedings.

But Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and state Sen. Tom Tiffany said Tuesday they continue to support the president. Fitzgerald is running for the 5th Congressional District while Tiffany is a candidate in the 7th Congressional District.

Fitzgerald calls the impeachment inquiry a "political witch hunt."

Tiffany says Democrats were needlessly conducting an impeachment inquiry.

Fitzgerald downplayed Trump's call for China to investigate political rival and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. Fitzgerald says Trump said it "off the cuff" and "I don't know that anyone would take it seriously."

The impeachment inquiry is also looking into efforts Trump made to get Ukraine to investigate Biden.

Fitzgerald says he thinks Trump's telephone call with Ukraine's president "was within the purview of what a president of the United States should be able to do with any foreign diplomat."


Johnson joins Republicans questioning Syria policy

OSHKOSH Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson is joining the chorus of Republicans questioning President Donald Trump's plan to withdraw troops from northeastern Syria.

The White House this week announced plans to move U.S. troops out of harm's way in northern Syria because it appeared Turkey planned to confront Kurdish fighters it claims are terrorists. Members of Congress from both parties said the move would betray longtime Kurdish allies and likely be counterproductive to American interests in the region.

Johnson, a Republican who sits on the Foreign Relations Committee, says it would be "unconscionable" to abandon the Kurds and would "send a terrible signal" to both America's friends and enemies. He says it's in the U.S. national security interest to maintain stability in the region.

 

 

Associated Press

 

Quantcast