Donald pro quo

Trump Impeachment Inquiry: What happens now?

Trump Impeachment Inquiry: What happens now?
U.S. President Donald Trump (Photo: Alex Edelman/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Every day there are new developments in the impeachment inquiry facing Donald Trump. None of them are what he wants for Christmas, let alone something to be grateful for on Thanksgiving Day.

The House of Representatives Intelligence Committee has completed its work, at least for now. The majority party’s committee staff should already be hard at work drafting its report, in order to deliver their recommendations to its counterpart committee, the Judiciary Committee, the body that would actually issue any articles of impeachment, effectively the analogue to a grand jury indictment.

Those articles would then go to the full House of Representatives for a simple majority vote, the passage of which would trigger the actual trial in the Senate. For that, the chief justice of the United States would preside. In this trial, an attorney for the House of Representatives would prosecute the case and a representative of the president would defend him. The usual rules are that individual senators may not directly ask questions during the trial and individual witnesses are not called for further testimony. The collected senators thus act as a very full bench of 100 judges.

Thereafter, the vote would be taken, and if two-thirds of senators “present and voting” vote to convict, the president leaves office and the oath of office is immediately given to the vice-president, who takes over – the nuclear codes football and everything.

At least at this point, there seems no way the Democrats will be able to sway 20 or so Republican senators to their point if those Republican senators remain wedded to presidential support, regardless of the weight of evidence already in front of everyone. (Some GOP senators have continued to cling to the fairytale that the Ukrainians or Martians could have done the original electoral interference, thereby giving the Trump administration a slender reed to lean on in defence of its handling of aid to Ukraine.) Accordingly, such an outcome means the US would be governed by an even angrier, even more vindictive president, positioned to swing randomly at all his enemies real and imaginary, except for those who are actual dangers to the nation.

However, as this is being written, Washington is gearing up for the expected ruling from the federal district court for Washington that, per The Washington Post’s “Power Up” newsletter, “might compel the biggest name yet to testify in the impeachment inquiry against President Trump. US District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson said she would rule no later than the end of the day on Monday [roughly midnight Monday in Johannesburg] on whether Trump’s former White House counsel Donald McGahn is compelled to appear after a subpoena from Congress.

House Democrats are considering whether articles of impeachment should also include obstruction of justice allegations detailed in special counsel Robert S Mueller III’s report — and the Judiciary Committee wants McGahn to testify for hearings that extend beyond the Ukraine probe. Jackson fast-tracked the hotly-anticipated ruling in the lawsuit filed by the House, after the committee asked for a decision on McGahn, whom Democrats call one of the ‘most important’ witnesses of Trump’s possible obstruction of justice, before the end of the impeachment investigation.

Tea leaves: Jackson, an appointee of former president Barack Obama, expressed frustration during oral arguments in October over the Trump White House’s blanket claim that Congress cannot force current and former top presidential aides to answer questions or turn over documents — and suggested that she’d rule in favor of the House. ‘So what does checks and balances mean?’ Jackson asked a Department of Justice lawyer at one point. ‘How can the legislative actually exercise oversight with respect to the executive, unless it has some ability to enforce its inquiries?’ ”

This decision could obviously have major implications for the potential articles of impeachment, as well as for the fundamentals of constitutional interpretation in the US. This is because the decision will inevitably be appealed by one side or the other, and thus it is likely appeals will end up going all the way to the Supreme Court. In fact, the highest court “has never addressed the issue of executive privilege in the face of a congressional demand for information,” according to the non-partisan, authoritative Congressional Research Service. Now, presumably, it would.

At this point at least, the Intelligence Committee has wrapped up its hearings and testimony. But, if the appellate courts agree McGahn must testify if summonsed, that committee’s schedule (or the Judiciary Committee’s plans) would almost inevitably change, delaying the current overall schedule. And if McGahn must testify, can subpoenas for former National Security Adviser John Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, and the Office of Management and Budget’s Mick Mulvaney be far behind?

Meanwhile, the White House has been sent scrambling as it has been reported that a whole slew of documents and emails has been pulled together, documenting how White House senior staffers debated (writhed, and agonised) the legitimacy of the “hold” on the armaments for Ukraine, especially as they tried to come up with a coherent after-the-fact justification for holding back that aid in accord with the president’s shifting sands of argument.

But there has been still more stirring of this pot. There are also reports Republican Congressman Devin Nunes met with Ukrainians associated with the old regime, and therefore some Rudy Guiliani connections, while Nunes was in Europe on other business. You can be sure he was not trying to build support for arming Ukraine and getting to the end of this mess. Given Nunes’ vociferous attacks on witnesses at the Intelligence Committee hearings (and the Bidens and Democrats more generally) as the ranking Republican committee member, one should wonder how much juice for his rants came from those conversations, rather than his listening to the evidence being presented.

Still, at this point, while it seems an almost foregone conclusion the impeachment would be voted for, it similarly seems a conviction will not be approved. Such an outcome would almost certainly make the president’s status (and his emotional roller coaster of a rattletrap, directionless foreign policy and his obsequiousness before Vladimir Putin, among other authoritarians) a hot button topic during the Democratic primaries – and then on into the general election campaign. But it is even possible Donald Trump will succeed in generating a bit of a sympathy vote to go along with the mindless worship of his cultish core supporters, in November 2020, from all of this. DM


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