President Donald Trump’s biggest problem in the impeachment battle is that the facts aren’t on his side. The White House’s own memo shows him pressuring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate Joe Biden on flimsy corruption allegations. If that wasn’t enough, Trump publicly urged both Ukraine and China to open investigations into the Bidens last week. Texts from U.S. diplomats at the time questioned whether there was a quid pro quo with Ukraine, perhaps involving a White House visit or the un-freezing of military aid.
There doesn’t seem to be a good explanation. Inviting foreign regimes to sabotage domestic political opponents for personal gain is an impeachable offense. Even Trump’s strongest surrogates and sympathizers have struggled to offer a defense of his actions on the merits that survives scrutiny. And for all of his ire towards the anonymous whistleblower whose complaint ignited the firestorm, the most damning evidence to date has come from the administration’s own records of what happened.
That helps explain why White House Counsel Pat Cipollone sent an eight-page letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other top Democrats to declare that the executive branch would not co-operate in the impeachment proceedings. As a legal document, the letter is an embarrassment. As a political statement, it largely recounts what the president’s Twitter feed says on a daily basis. As a defense against impeachment, it amounts to little more than a white flag.
Much of the letter is a partisan broadside against House Democrats in general. ‘President Trump and his Administration reject your baseless, unconstitutional efforts to overturn the democratic process,’ Cipollone wrote. ‘Your unprecedented actions have left the President with no choice. In order to fulfill his duties to the American people, the Constitution, the Executive Branch, and all future occupants of the Office of the Presidency, President Trump and his Administration cannot participate in your partisan and unconstitutional inquiry under these circumstances.’
Cipollone does not repeat the president’s most incendiary attacks on the House from recent weeks: namely, that the impeachment inquiry amounts to a coup and that Democrats risk a civil war by continuing with it. But he conveys the same gist by arguing that any attempt by Democrats to impeach Trump would be illegitimate and unconstitutional. To that end, Cipollone raises a series of procedural complaints about the Democrats’ approach to impeachment. Rather than negotiate with the House about that process, he tries to dictate how it should conduct Trump’s impeachment inquiry.
‘To comply with the Constitution’s demands, appropriate procedures would include—at a minimum—the right to see all evidence, to present evidence, to call witnesses, to have counsel present at all hearings, to cross-examine all witnesses, to make objections relating to the examination of witnesses or the admissibility of testimony and evidence, and to respond to evidence and testimony,’ the letter states. ‘Likewise, the Committees must provide for the disclosure of all evidence favorable to the President and all evidence bearing on the credibility of witnesses called to testify in the inquiry.’
This is misleading, to say the least. The House’s role in the impeachment is analogous to that of a grand jury. Pelosi and Adam Schiff are not the president’s judges; they are his prosecutors. Trump will have plenty of opportunities to defend himself—to offer evidence, to call their own witnesses, to cross-examine the House’s witnesses, and more—if he goes on trial before the Senate. Whether Cipollone’s assertion comes from deception or incompetence is unclear. ‘It’s as though the White House is unfamiliar with the difference between impeachment in the House and trial in the Senate,’ Michigan Representative Justin Amash quipped on Twitter. ‘It’s also as though the White House is unfamiliar with the Constitution generally.’
Read the rest of this article at the New Republic.