the other side

Because I want to be informed, even when it is scary, I listened to the first day of Trump’s defense in the impeachment trial.

It was puzzling.

A lot of what the president’s team spoke about wasn’t related to the case. It seemed that they were bringing up a lot of different issues in order to distract from the evidence that the House managers had presented over the three days of their presentation.

There were also a number of instances in which the defense would quote a certain person’s testimony and say, because that person didn’t know a certain piece of information, then it must not be true, failing to note that another witness or piece of evidence did provide that information. They also complained about there not being proof of such-and-such, which would be either proven or disproven if the administration hadn’t blocked all document requests and subpoenas for testimony.

It’s also confusing when the president’s lawyers try to draw parallels between this impeachment investigation and prior ones that had had a justice department investigation prior to Congressional proceedings. Other things are just strange, such as the defense saying that Congressional committees need a vote in the House before issuing subpoenas and/or document requests. Congressional committees routinely issue document and testimony requests in their oversight investigations.

If I, a citizen with no legal training, can notice these things, how can the senators, many of whom are lawyers or who have staff with legal expertise, fail to notice these problems?

I don’t know if the president’s team will make more sense in the next two days of the trial or not, but their first day is not at all convincing.
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and so it begins…

Yesterday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi signed the articles of impeachment and named seven impeachment managers, House members who will act as prosecutors in the Senate trial. The managers ceremoniously walked the articles through the Capitol to the Senate Chamber, starting a 24-hour clock in which the trial must begin.

Much is being made of the way Speaker Pelosi signed the bill, using a different pen for each letter. That is often done when signing historic legislation, so that people who are important to that piece of legislation have a memento of it. I remember the ceremony when President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act in this fashion; one of the pens went to the head of the Catholic hospitals who had publicly advocated for passage of the bill.

Some have questioned the solemnity of the procession through the Capitol building, but this is part of the Congressional tradition, seen most recently after the impeachment of President Clinton. Among the House managers, who will act as prosecutors in the trial, are Representatives Adam Schiff and Zoe Lofgren. Rep. Schiff is a former prosecutor who is chair of the House Intelligence committee, which is conducting an ongoing investigation of the Ukraine situation at the heart of the impeachment articles. This is the third impeachment on which Judiciary committee member Rep. Lofgren has worked. As a law student, she assisted the Judiciary committee in drafting the articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon. She was a member of the Judiciary committee during the Clinton impeachment.

Speaker Pelosi has been criticized for not sending the articles to the Senate immediately after the House passed them in December, but, at that point, Congress was getting ready to adjourn for a long holiday break. During the break, more evidence in the case became public and even more has come to light in recent days. This is important particularly if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocks new evidence at the trial. It has also given the public a chance to see more of the evidence, which puts pressure on senators to actually consider the evidence instead of voting only by party.

Today, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts will swear in each senator to “do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws.” Some senators, most notably Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham, have stated publicly that they are not impartial. Other senators have made a point of not reading the depositions and testimony gathered by the House. There is a question of whether or not there will be new evidence accepted or if there will be subpoenas for additional witnesses to testify. The House investigation was impeded by the White House and the rest of the executive branch, which refused requests for documents and testimony, even when it had been subpoenaed. A few officials chose to honor the subpoenas on their own and gave valuable testimony to the House investigation. Some documents were released through Freedom of Information requests from non-governmental organizations. The way the president and his staff have treated legitimate requests from Congress seems to me to prove the second article of impeachment, obstruction of Congress.

I hope that, now that the time has come, each senator will treat their oath seriously. If they do not, I hope that they will either not run for re-election or will be defeated if they do. The public deserves a full and fair trial. If the president is not removed from office, “we the people” need to know the extent of the evidence against the president and his team, including the vice-president, in order to inform our voting decisions in November.

The senators should also soberly consider the impact of their decisions in this case on the country’s future. The president has publicly called on foreign powers to interfere in both the 2016 and 2020 elections. Evidence already available supports this. A vote against the first article of impeachment means that the senator believes that an attack on our national sovereignty is not a “high crime or misdemeanor” – or is only a high crime or misdemeanor if the president is not a member of their party. A vote against the second article of impeachment means that it is okay with that senator for a president to defy all requests for documents and testimony, making constitutionally mandated oversight of the executive branch by the Congress impossible. It means that there is no longer a system of checks and balances among the three branches of government and that the president can get away with any action, however illegal, immoral, or unethical it may be – again, presumably, if the president is a member of your party.

That kind of political expediency may save a Congressperson’s seat for now, but will most likely be judged harshly by history.
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war

Last night, I put on the television before getting ready for bed, finding out the breaking news that the US had killed General Soleimani, considered the most powerful person in Iran after the Ayatollah, along with a leader of Hezbollah and several others in Iraq.

Having seen the news, I could not go to sleep, so I watched the coverage as more information was trickling in. I, along with millions of others, fear even more violence in the Middle East, including the possibility that the US and Iran may be at war.

In the United States, only Congress can declare war. It appears that there was no advance warning of this attack to the Democratic leaders in Congress. I’m not sure if Republican leaders were informed or not. No one knows what will come next. Will there be a request for authorization to use force against Iran? Will Trump believe that, as commander-in-chief, he can do whatever he wants, even without the support of Congress – or anyone else, for that matter?

Early this morning, I saw the burnt remains of the vehicles that had carried Soleimani and his entourage after the drone strikes.

Later in the day, B, T and I went to see Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.  There were plenty of battles and burnt wreckage.

I prefer wars that take place a long time ago in a (fictional) galaxy far, far away to those happening anywhere here on earth.
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following impeachment

While I wasn’t able to watch all the impeachment testimony and debate and read all the reports, I was able to digest major chunks of it. There is a lot of factual evidence supporting the now-passed articles of impeachment. Even the Congressional Republicans weren’t often trying to dispute the testimony of the fact witnesses, instead arguing about process or trying to advance debunked conspiracy theories to muddy the waters.

It’s discouraging how little many people, including some in government, understand about the Constitutional process of impeachment by the House and trial in the Senate. Impeachment is roughly equivalent to a grand jury indictment in the judicial system. It is a vote on whether or not there is sufficient evidence in support of the article of impeachment to warrant a trial. Unlike a criminal trial, impeachment does not require a specific “crime” as misconduct, corruption, and ethics violations often don’t fit neatly into legal frameworks. One of the differences in the Trump impeachment compared to proceedings against Clinton and Nixon is that most of the investigation happened within the House committees themselves. In the Nixon and Clinton investigations, there was extensive investigation by the Justice Department that was passed on to the House; in Trump’s case, the Justice Department refused to investigate and the White House refused to honor subpoenas for testimony and documents, hence the second article of impeachment for obstruction of Congress.

The two articles of impeachment passed by majority vote in the House, so President Trump has been impeached. Period. The articles of impeachment not having been conveyed to the Senate yet is irrelevant. If the Senate acquits at trial, it does not erase the impeachment.

When the Senate does hold the trial, all the senators are sworn in as triers of fact by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, who is the presiding officer. House members will act as prosecutors and the president’s lawyers will be defense attorneys. In order for there to be removal from office, 2/3rds of the senators must vote to convict.

One of the appalling things that has happened is that some of the senators, including the Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have publicly stated that they are not impartial. What will happen when they are asked to swear an oath to deliver “impartial justice”? Will there be consequences if they swear to it without intending to follow through? I can’t imagine they will recuse themselves rather than lie in taking the oath.

I do hope that the trial will be full and fair with relevant documents and testimony. All the senators and the public should hear the facts of the case. Although I know that it is unlikely that 2/3rds of the senators will vote to convict, it is important for the voters in the next election to know what has happened and for history to have an accurate record.

on both sides of the pond

This is a politically eventful week for both the US and the UK.

I just finished reading the articles of impeachment against Donald Trump. I was a bit surprised that there are only two, given that there is also a body of evidence to support obstruction of justice regarding the 2016 election interference investigation and an emoluments case. The emoluments case is wending its way through the judicial system. The obstruction of justice cases could be brought under a different attorney general at any point within the five year statute of limitations. The thinking of the House Judiciary Committee majority seems to be to keep the articles narrowly focused to be able to present a more concentrated set of facts for the impeachment vote in the House, which is like an indictment, and for the trial in the Senate. The second article of impeachment is obstruction of Congress. Given that this is ongoing. blatant, and unprecedented in scope – and clearly a breach of Constitutional separation of powers – it is going to look as though senators who vote against that article are not taking their own Constitutional role as jurors seriously.

Meanwhile, in the UK, where I happen to be at the moment visiting family, the airwaves are filled with news of the UK Parliamentary election, which could well determine if and how the exit of the UK from the European Union happens. It is a mess, given that Russia also interfered in the Brexit vote, so it is not necessarily reflective of the will of the people. It is even more complicated in that the United Kingdom might itself break apart in the aftermath of leaving the EU. Scotland and Northern Ireland, and even Wales, could well vote to succeed, leaving England on its own and no United Kingdom at all.

I know I keep saying “Yikes!” in my posts, but it bears repeating.

Yikes!

One-Liner Wednesday: Presidents

“Stated simply, the primary takeaway from the past 250 years of recorded American history is that Presidents are not kings. This means that they do not have subjects, bound by loyalty or blood, whose destiny they are entitled to control.”
~~~ U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson in her 120-page opinion that former White House Counsel Donald McGahn must comply with a Congressional subpoena
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Badge by Laura @ riddlefromthemiddle.com

testimony

I have spent (a lot of) hours over the past two weeks listening to testimony in the Trump impeachment inquiry.

I was particularly impressed with Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, and Dr. Fiona Hill. They were all knowledgeable and forthright, despite attacks on them personally by the president and his allies. The White House instructed nearly all the witnesses not to testify, even though they were under Congressional subpoenas. It was brave of them to appear, first in closed door depositions and later in public testimony.

Some of the Republicans complained about the closed door depositions, but they proved to be very valuable. It meant that each witness could share what they knew without being influenced by another person’s testimony. As it turned out, most of the witnesses’ recollections jibed with all the others, except for EU Ambassador Sondland, who amended his deposition after reading some of the others’ when they were released publicly. For the record, it is not true that Republicans were shut out of the depositions. There were three committees involved and the Republican members and their legal counsel had equal opportunity to question the witnesses. Some also complained that the White House lawyers were not involved, but their role will come later, if there is a trial in the Senate. The House is investigating possible articles of impeachment, which are like an indictment in the courts. The House committees are, essentially, acting as a grand jury would in gathering evidence and deciding to bring charges or not. Defense lawyers do not take part in grand jury proceedings.

Because the (hours and hours of) deposition transcripts were released prior to the public hearings, it was assumed that the hearings would be pretty routine, highlighting certain aspects of the depositions. However, new information emerged. One noteworthy incidence of this was when Ambassador Bill Taylor testified that a member of his staff had told him that he had overheard a phone call dealing with Ukraine between Ambassador Sondland and President Trump. This led to the staff member, David Holmes, flying from Kyiv to Washington to give a deposition and public testimony about it.

Another big surprise was when Ambassador Sondland acknowledged very plainly that there had been a quid pro quo; the administration in the US had withheld military aid and a promised White House meeting for the new Ukrainian president in order to get him to announce in public that he was launching an investigation of former US vice-president Joe Biden and his son Hunter, as well as an investigation of Ukrainian interference in the 2016 US presidential election, despite abundant evidence and indictments of Russian, not Ukrainian, operatives. The president and many of his allies have been saying for weeks that there was no quid pro quo, so such a frank admission from Sondland was startling.

Sondland was full of surprises. Another big one was that he implicated President Trump, Vice-president Pence, acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as all being “in the loop” about the situation. He also said that the president was directing their actions, which demolished the theory that some individuals were doing these things as rogue elements.

It would be helpful if documents, such as memos, contemporaneous notes, and call records, were available to the committees, but the White House is refusing all requests for documents, as well as blocking witnesses from testifying. This is bad. It seem like a coverup and obstruction of Congress/justice. Obstruction appeared in articles of impeachment for presidents Nixon and Clinton.

I was also perturbed by some of the statements and questions from the Republican members of the committee. They sometimes listed as facts things that are not. They kept asking about things that are not relevant to the impeachment inquiry and already debunked conspiracy theories.  They also insulted some of the witnesses by asking questions about unpatriotic behavior without any basis in fact. I remember during the Watergate hearings that there were Republican members of Congress who took their responsibilities very seriously, even though Nixon was also a Republican. In particular, I remember Senator Howard Baker.

Interestingly, Intelligence Committee chair Representative Adam Schiff in his at times impassioned closing remarks asked “Where is Howard Baker?” At the moment, no Republican members of Congress appear to be fulfilling their Constitutional role to discover and act on the truth, as Howard Baker did. Rep. Schiff concludes his remarks invoking the recently deceased Representative Elijah Cummings, “We are better than that.”

I hope we, as a country, are still able to uphold the Constitution and our highest ethical principles. If Republicans can’t imagine themselves as above partisanship, perhaps they can imagine how they would have reacted had President Obama acted the way President Trump has and then lied about it. During the eight different Congressional investigations into what happened in Benghazi, the Obama administration provided documents and testimony over and over, even after it was clear there was no conspiracy or crime involved. How would Congressional Republicans have acted if the Obama administration had stopped cooperating? Are they treating the Trump administration’s lack of cooperation in the same way? If the answer is no, they need to look at their duties to the country and their oath of office and consider if they are fulfilling them.