With a twist in the Impeachment saga developing around Representative Devin Nunes meetings with Ukrainians in 2018 to dig up dirt on Joe Biden and his son Hunter, a question is starting to creep into many Democrats’ minds: Why is the House rushing the impeachment process and not scheduling any further hearings?
After all, Ambassador Sondland only recently implicated the president during his testimony on Wednesday. It would make sense to follow up on that implication with more hearings and by calling more witnesses to testify before the House Intelligence Committee. Last week, the New York Times Editorial Board wrote, “Right now, the House Intelligence Committee has not scheduled testimony from any witnesses after Thursday. That is a mistake.”
But the New York Times is wrong. The one thing the Democrats should not do is wait for these developments to play out before pushing the impeachment process to the Senate. The reason is simple: the Senate hearing, which would be overseen by the Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts, has far more power than the House to compel witnesses to testify under oath. This line of reasoning was first proposed by Josh Marshall on Talking Points Memo.
It is certainly tempting to extend the hearings to see if more evidence could add weight to arguments for impeachment that might persuade the Senate. At the moment, Americans are waking up to the possibility that members of the House GOP have directly participated in the very acts that the president is being impeached for while at the same time denying that these actions and events ever took place on live television in front of the entire nation. Should Nunes and others in the GOP leadership become implicated in the Ukraine scandal, the Democrats will quickly arrive at a very delicate and crucial turning point in the history of American politics: namely, the decision of how to deal with a corrupt House GOP that is protecting a president from impeachment while engaging in impeachable acts.
In order to understand what options the Democrats have at their disposal, and why the Democrats should push the process into the Senate trial as quickly as possible, it would help to first understand how the Nunes scandal is developing, what the House already knows about the Ukraine scandal, and then how the impeachment process would play out under normal circumstances if it went to the Senate sooner rather than later. That foundation will provide insight into whether or not the Democrats will be able to escape the current expected path of passing the impeachment article in the House and losing the impeachment vote in the Senate.
Let’s get started. Again, it is tempting to want to schedule more hearings in light of the Nunes developments over the weekend. The first hint that trouble was brewing around Rep. Nunes came during the testimony by Dr. Fiona Hill when Rep. Eric Swalwell noted Nunes’ connection to Lev Parnas.
Swalwell: You caution members of in committee perhaps peddling any Ukrainian conspiracy theories that could benefit Russia. And I want to ask you if you have heard the name Lev Parnas of Ukraine, someone in this investigation who was influencing president Trump and Rudy Giuliani about some of the debunked conspiracy theories you referenced earlier.
Hill: I have heard his name yes.
Swalwell: Are you aware Mr. Parnas was indicted October 10 for making foreign contributions to republicans in U.S. Elections.
Hill: I'm aware.
Swalwell: Are you aware of the daily beast story reporting the Lev Parnas has been working with ranking member Mr. Dmunz and his overseas investigations.
Hill: I'm not aware.
Swalwell: I ask unanimous consent to put into the record the report from the Daily Beast from yesterday. First, two appraises reading Lev Parnas an indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani helped arrange meetings and calls in Europe for representative Devin Nunes in 2018. His lawyer told the daily beast. Derrick Harvey participated in the meetings, which were arranged to help Nunes’s investigative work. McMan didn't specify what the investigations entailed.
Chairman: Without objection.
Swalwell: Mr. Chairman you have been falsely accused by the ranking member as being a fact witness. Now, if this story is correct, the ranking member may have been projecting and in fact, he may be the fact witness if he is working with indicted individuals around our investigation...
Following this intriguing statement by Swalwell, new information confirmed the story that Nunes had traveled to Ukraine to dig up dirt on Biden in 2018. Fox News then invited Nunes on the air to answer questions about his whereabouts. But of course, he refused to say anything about whether or not he had traveled to Ukraine last year, only deepening suspicions that he had. If Nunes had, in fact, traveled to Ukraine to dig up dirt on the Bidens, that could mean that Nunes is himself a key errand boy for President Trump along with Giuliani.
At the same time, in a separate development, 100 pages of documents were released over the weekend detailing how last Spring, Rudy Giuliani went around regular channels to reach Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with information about unproven Ukraine conspiracy theories. They spoke by phone for 4 minutes about the information. The document dump mentions the Bidens more the 80 times. This development directly links Pompeo to Giulian’s efforts to undercut Ambassador Yovanovitch.
These developments will no doubt require further investigations.
But here’s the thing: Pompeo, Giuliani, Parnas, and Nunes aside, from this point going forward, the Democrats technically already have everything they need to pass articles of impeachment. Specifically, they have four key statements from three key witnesses:
1. Taylor: “It’s one thing to try to leverage a meeting in the White House. It’s another thing, I thought, to leverage security assistance to a country at war dependent on both the security assistance and the demonstration of support - it was much more alarming. The White House meeting was one thing, the security assistance was much more alarming”
2. Sondland: “Was there a quid quo pro? As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and the White House meeting, the answer is ‘Yes’.”
3. Holmes: [In response to the question from staff counsel, “So you heard President Trump ask Ambassador Sondland ‘Is he going to do the investigation?’”] “Yes, sir... [Ambassado Sondland] said, ‘Oh yeah, he’s gonna do it. He’ll do anything you ask.’”
3. Hill: “[Sonland] was being involved in a domestic political errand and we were being involved in national security foreign policy, and those two things had just diverged.”
Those four statements alone are enough to pass articles of impeachment. So the question now is this: Should the Democrats wait for more information related to these new developments in the hopes that the case for impeachment will grow stronger, or should they follow Schiff’s lead in moving quickly to push the process to the next stage in the Senate? After all, the Democrats have already discovered all of the evidence that would be needed under regular circumstances to secure impeachment, yet there is no sign of change in the political math on Capital Hill. No Republicans in the House or the Senate have shown any signs of flipping to support impeachment.
It is important to note that technically, ‘Impeachment’ as such is just the first stage in a two-part process that could result in the removal of the president from the White House. The impeachment process will occur in the House and go one for any length of time. Democrats have so far signaled that they would like to have the impeachment process wrapped up before Christmas, but as new evidence comes to light in the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation, such as anything having to do with Ukraine or if Trump’s financial records are released, the House may extend the investigations for as long as necessary. That being said, Rep. Schiff has signaled to Jake Tapper on CNN that he would like to pass articles of impeachment on to the Senate within the next month or two even if the investigations in the House Intelligence Committee continue.
The House Intelligence Committee is currently drafting a report which will be sent to the House Judiciary Committee. The House Judiciary Committee will review the findings and then formally recommend articles of impeachment to the Senate. At that point, the Senate will hold a trial.
The Constitution has this to say about the structure of the Impeachment trial in the Senate: “The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two-thirds of the Members present.”
With Chief Justice Roberts presiding, the Senate would have the power of the courts to enforce subpoenas sent to officials whom the Senate wishes to have testimony from. Currently, the House only has the power of convention and precedent to compel witnesses to testify, and Trump has effectively blockaded the House’s subpoenas. The only recourse the House has would be to try each subpoena in the courts, which would waste tons of time simply drown the impeachment investigation in endless litigation. But the Senate would not have to worry about such time-wasting since the Chief Justice presides. The highest judge in the land can simply compel people to testify and Trump would have no recourse to defy him.
The New York Times listed several key officials that could be compelled, writing, ”You know what would help clarify some of these issues? Sworn testimony from the many key players in this scheme who have yet to appear before Congress, despite the fact that nearly all of them have been subpoenaed: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; Mick Mulvaney, acting chief of staff; Mr. Perry, the energy secretary; the former national security adviser, John Bolton; Attorney General William Barr; John Eisenberg, the National Security Council lawyer; officials from the Office of Management and Budget; and, of course, Mr. Giuliani and his bagmen Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman. While they are at it, Congress could invite Mr. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence to testify.”
They are correct insofar as the NYT editorial board says that Congress should get these people to provide sworn testimony. But the board is wrong that the House should try to compel their testimony. The board even notes that “nearly all of them have been subpoenaed,” but they provide no rationale for how the House would actually enforce the subpoenas if they opt to delay advancing the process to the Senate. No, the best move would be to push the process to the Senate and hope for the best. The American people deserve a full investigation, and they deserve to hear what each of these officials has to say. But the House is clearly not able to provide that result. Only the Senate can do it. While it is true that the Senate is controlled by Republicans, the officials who are subpoenaed by the Senate will at least not be able to stonewall Congress. If the Republicans in the Senate thwart America’s chance to hear from them, they will suffer the consequences at the ballot box during the next election. That is the best way forward.