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!

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.

SoCS: going nuts

This week, the city of Washington DC has been going nuts.

There is, of course, the ongoing political battle in Congress regarding the impeachment investigation of the president. There have been more depositions this week and there was a vote in the House of Representatives laying out the rules for the next phase of the process, which will include public, televised testimony. I was a child when the Watergate investigation was going on in the Nixon administration and still remember some of the members of Congress from those hearings. Unlike the Watergate hearings, though, these will be held only in the House. The Senate committees are controlled by Republicans and they aren’t about to investigate a president of their party. I find this disappointing because there was at least some bipartisan cooperation between the parties during both the Clinton and Nixon impeachments. (Nixon resigned before he could be impeached.)

There was, though, a happier reason for people in the nation’s capital to go nuts. The Washington Nationals won the World Series! It had been many decades since a Washington baseball team won a championship. They succeeded my favorite team, the Boston Red Sox, who won the Series last year. I remember how I felt when Boston won their first World Series in decades in 2004, so I expect Washington fans feel similarly. I appreciate the Nationals team spirit. They way they pulled together and supported each other led to their victory. It was the first time that neither team won a game in their home stadium; at four of the Nationals wins were in Houston. That was really amazing! Congratulations to the Nationals! Thanks for giving Washington something positive to go nuts about!
*****
Join us for Linda’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday. The prompt this week was “nuts.” Find out more here:  https://lindaghill.com/2019/11/01/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-nov-2-19/

uncharted territory

I can’t even count how many times during the Trump campaign and presidency I have heard historians, policy experts, and commentators say that we are in “uncharted territory.” It’s bewildering as each new scandal breaks, only to be swallowed up by the next one.

The story that has been breaking over the last few days is that a whistleblower from the intelligence community went to the inspector general with an issue of concern. The inspector general found the issue credible and urgent and, as statute dictates, told the (acting) Secretary of Homeland Security who was supposed to send the information on to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, who have oversight duties. Instead, he brought the concern to the executive branch, in this case to the White House and the Department of Justice. He is now refusing to pass the information on to the committees because the person under question is not part of the intelligence community, even though the  statute is clear that the information must be handed over regardless of who is the subject.

Partial information about the case has been sussed out by the press. Apparently, the whistleblower was alarmed by a pattern of behavior by the president toward Ukraine. Part of the problem seems to be that Trump pressured the president of Ukraine to launch an investigation of former vice-president Joe Biden and his son; Joe Biden is one of the top tier Democratic contenders vying to run against Trump for the presidency in 2020. Trump now admits discussing the matter with the president of Ukraine, although he says he didn’t “pressure” him. If, however, the allegation is true that DT did pressure the Ukrainian president, he could be investigated for extortion, campaign finance violations, and courting foreign influence in a US election. He could also be charged with obstruction for not turning over evidence in a Congressional investigation.

And this new issue is on top of the possible obstruction of justice acts described in the second half of the Mueller report.

And the emoluments case wending its way through the courts and under investigation by the House.

And keeping members of his cabinet and staff, present and former, from cooperating with document requests and testimony, which is also obstruction.

And he hasn’t turned over tax returns for himself and his businesses, despite valid Congressional requests and New York state court subpoenas.

This is not a complete list.

The level of corruption is staggering.

What is needed at this point is for Congressional Republicans to step up and hold the president accountable for his actions. It is their duty to uphold the laws of the United States. So far, almost no Republicans have supported Congressional investigation which could lead to impeachment and removal from office. You can be sure that if a Democratic president had engaged in any of the actions that Trump appears to have taken, the Republicans would have investigated and impeached him/her long ago. During the 2016 campaign, there were Republicans saying that they would file articles of impeachment immediately after Hillary Clinton was sworn in as president, although it isn’t clear what grounds they thought they had. That Congressional Republicans are failing to hold Trump accountable only because he is a Republican is unconscionable and un-American.

What happens next? Who knows?

We are in uncharted territory.

after the report

Nana is dozing in her recliner, so I thought I would try to do a quick post on my reactions so far to the redacted release of the Mueller report. With everything going on in my family life, I haven’t been able to read all 400+ pages, but have seen excerpts and analysis from lawyers and investigative/legal reporters, which I have found very helpful.

As longtime readers may recall, I was very concerned about Russian hacking and interference in the 2016 US presidential election, even before the voting took place, so volume one of the report, which details the Russian attacks, is chilling. It reveals how extensive the attack was, confirming that it reached millions of potential voters, some of whom were targeted with particular posts or ads because of where they lived, their race, and other personal factors. It also deals with the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and other campaign systems with release of materials to the public, as well as attempts to hack voting systems.

I am very concerned that Congress has not done enough to help the FBI and the states and localities identify potential weaknesses, especially in technology systems, and rectify them for the 2020 race, which has already started with many candidates declaring their intent to run in the party primaries. We need to be prepared for both similar attacks and for different kinds of attacks from Russia and from other countries. This should not be a partisan issue at all; people across the political spectrum should all be committed to protecting our national security and our freedoms.

The second part of the report is about possible obstruction of justice by the President. It makes it clear that no charges were filed because it is Justice Department policy not to indict a sitting president. Mueller also made it clear that he could not gather all the evidence needed, as the President and several other key figures were not able to be interviewed by the investigators. However, the report lays out details of possible counts of obstruction, which could be taken up by Congress as part of their investigations (which could lead to the filing of impeachment charges) or which could be charged by the courts after Trump leaves office. The statute of limitations for most of the actions taken by the president is five years, so if he leaves office during his first term or fails to win a second term, court charges could be brought for obstruction of justice.

The question of whether the House of Representatives will move toward impeachment is open. It’s complicated by the fact that the Mueller investigation was focused on Russian interference, but there are investigations on-going in other areas, among them illegal campaign contributions, emoluments, and financial crimes. Trump is trying to block them by ignoring subpoenas, not providing records, and not allowing even former staff to testify to Congress. It’s plausible that this could cause additional impeachment charges of obstruction for not cooperating with a Congressional investigation.

Additionally, people have to be aware that the standards for impeachment are different than they are for court trials. For example, one of the impeachment charges against President Nixon was lying to the American people. There isn’t a specific law against this, but it is considered a “high crime or misdemeanor,” which is the Constitutional impeachment criteria.

Some people say that Congress should just wait until the 2020 election, but I disagree. I’m afraid if these things aren’t investigated, with impeachment charges filed if found appropriate, it will look as though anyone who is elected president can get away with breaking laws and ethical codes for four years without consequence.

That is a terrible message to send. We, the People of the United States, deserve better.

more unsettled

Last week, I wrote about how unsettled I was, for both personal and societal reasons.

It’s worse now, particularly on the political front.

With the Manafort verdict and the Cohen guilty pleas and the immunity deals for Pecker and  Weisselberg, the possible legal jeopardy for the Trump family and businesses has increased. The president has tweeted multiple threats against the Justice Department and especially against Attorney General Jeff Sessions. There has been public discussion about the possible issuing of presidential pardons, but those only apply to federal charges and it is likely that the state of New York will bring more tax and financial charges against the Trump Foundation, businesses, and family members. Meanwhile, the Mueller investigation on Russian election and political interference continues and no one knows when the next indictment or plea deal will be announced.

It makes my head spin.

Although I was a preteen at the time, I remember this same unsettled feeling during the final stage of the Watergate scandal before Nixon resigned. Despite the public revelation of evidence of corruption and coverup, many of Nixon’s supporters among the electorate were adamantly against his impeachment or resignation; it took the intercession of Republican Congressional leaders to convince Nixon to resign rather than put the country through impeachment of the president and subsequent Senate trial.

I have no idea how our current predicament will resolve. I pray that it will be just and peaceful and lead to healing and reconciliation in the country, but I fear that it will not.

Senator John McCain died yesterday, leaving a long and distinguished record of public service, as a Navy officer, including five and a half years as a prisoner of war, a member of the House of Representatives, a Senator for over thirty years, and a presidential nominee. Tributes to him, his courage, and his service are pouring in from across the country from people across the political spectrum. It saddens me that part of the obituaries and coverage is dedicated to Donald Trump’s personal animus against and disparagement of Senator McCain.  Given that history, DT’s current condolences ring hollow.

May John rest in peace and may his legacy live on in his family, friends, and colleagues.

SoCS: panic-inducing problems

Panic must be setting in.

Why else would I be up writing this post at 2 AM?

With DT’s inauguration less than a week away, more and more information is emerging about Russia’s influence in the election, and, even worse, about possible collusion between the campaign and Russia and about the threat that our incoming president could be blackmailed by Russia.

The problem is compounded by the fact that DT won’t release tax returns and won’t divest his business holdings, so there is no way to know if he owes money to Russian oligarchs or banks – or how many other countries or financial institutions may have financial power over him.

Further compounding of the problem is that many of his cabinet and staff picks have not completed financial disclosures and ethics agreements and that some may be confirmed despite that.

DT is also phenomenally unpopular. Public opinion polls show him with the lowest approval ratings of any incoming president and the approval rating for his transition is even lower.

Our Constitution does not prepare us for this situation. The Congress could impeach and try the president if their investigations show he committed high crimes or misdemeanors, but Vice President Pence would be implicated as well. If they were both out of office through resignation or trial, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan would become president in a nearly impossible governing situation.

Is it any wonder I am having trouble sleeping?
*****
Join us for Linda’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday and/or Just Jot It January! Today’s prompt was to base a post on a word beginning with the letter P. (I started with panic, but wound up more with problem and president.) Find out how to participate here: https://lindaghill.com/2017/01/13/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-and-jusjojan-jan-1417/

 

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