The impeachment proceedings in the Senate are in full swing, and John Bolton’s conveniently timed leak of allegedly new evidence from his book which is still under review by the National Security Council has stirred more enthusiasm for the Senate to call witnesses.
John Healy writes in the LA Times:
Still, if the Senate decides to not call witnesses, it is a reminder of the short-term thinking that pervades even such consequential issues as impeachment. Because even if they don’t think Trump should be removed from office, they shouldn’t buy the argument that a president can flatly withhold documents and witnesses from Congress unless the House conducts an impeachment process by the president’s rules. They’re setting a precedent here that will provide a road map for future obstruction.
Senators are only asked to “buy the argument that a president can flatly withhold documents and witnesses from Congress” because the Democrats who control the House chose not to wait for the judicial proceedings to compel those documents and witnesses.
In 1792, President George Washington declared that he didn’t have to provide internal documents demanded for a congressional investigation into a disastrous military loss by Maj. Gen. Arthur St. Clair to Native Americans. Since that time, there has been tension between the legislative and executive branches and their respective duties of oversight and faithful execution.
We have a well established system for litigating executive privilege. This process allows for considered weighing of facts within a fair legal system, and it works. But it isn’t fast.
Reagan asserted executive privilege during the Iran Contra Affair, the documents were still tied up in court 3 years later during Oliver North’s criminal trial, and were not released until 1993, seven years after the events in question. It took seven years to litigate Obama’s assertion of executive privilege over the documents associated with the “Fast and Furious” gun tracking program. Having the truth 3 years after Obama left office was not politically advantageous, but its difficult to argue that it wasn’t fair.
Trump’s call with Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, during which the alleged offenses occurred, took place on July 25, 2019. The whistleblower complaint came in August. The only precedent set by the Trump impeachment is the shallowness of the evidence, testimony, and legal record of the case.
Back to John Healy:
As Philbin argued Thursday, “If there’s both some personal motive but also some legitimate public interest motive, it can’t possibly be an impeachable offense…. There’s always some personal interest in the electoral outcome of policy decision, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”
The hole in that argument is the notion that there can be any legitimate public purpose in a president asking a foreign government to investigate a U.S. citizen who is that president’s political rival.
If this impeachment was about discovering a “legitimate public purpose”, then the Congress should be just as anxious to discover whether a prominent political figure was seeking personal enrichment from a foreign country in exchange for future political favors as they are to determine whether another prominent political figure used his current political position to compel a foreign power to investigate one of his opponents.
If there was corruption in the Biden’s dealings with Ukraine, then Trump’s actions serve a legitimate public purpose. If not, then Trump is guilty as charged.
However, the current impeachment circus has nothing to do with discovering the truth, it’s a circus with every player grasping for political and/or personal gain.