finished and unfinished

The opening statements are finished.

The presentations from the House managers (the prosecutors) and the President’s counsel (the defense) are finished.

The two days of questions from the senators and answers from the teams are almost finished.

Tomorrow, there will be votes to consider hearing from witnesses and obtaining documents from the executive branch. The vast majority of US voters want there to be witnesses and documents as part of the trial. Many of us have been called to jury duty and know that fair trials always have witnesses and documentary evidence. Unlike presidential impeachments of the twentieth century, this one was not preceded by a special or independent counsel investigation, so there were not tens of thousands of pages of documents, depositions, and testimony already assembled. In the current impeachment, this was compounded by the blanket assertion of the president that he did not have to turn over any documents or allow any testimony from anyone in his administration. This is totally unprecedented. During the impeachment investigation of Richard Nixon, he directed all of his staff and Cabinet to testify before the Congressional committee and turned over documents. Some of the staff went to prison because of their wrongdoing. When the Oval Office tapes were revealed and Nixon tried to not turn them over as evidence, the Supreme Court quickly ruled that they must be turned over to the Congress. Hiding evidence of a corrupt act is also a corrupt act.

Still it appears that the Republicans want the trial finished this week before the Super Bowl, the Iowa caucuses, and the President’s State of the Union address.

If the Republicans vote to not have witnesses called and vote to acquit, the trial will still feel unfinished. More evidence will come out in the days and weeks ahead and people will rightly ask why the evidence was not presented at the trial. They will also rightly ask if the senators upheld their oath to do “impartial justice.”

When things are left unfinished, there is a sense of unease.

I think uneasiness lies ahead for the US.
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Following prompts is not required, but I chose today to use the prompt “finished.” Find out more about Just Jot It January here:  https://lindaghill.com/2020/01/30/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-30th-2020/

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.

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.