Senator Chuck Schumer issued another demand last Sunday for more witnesses and documents as impeachment moves to the Senate. He’s undercutting House Democrats’ claim of a “rock-solid case” against President Donald Trump. “The case we have, if presented to a jury, would be a guilty verdict in about three minutes flat,” boasts Judiciary Committee chair Jerry Nadler.
That’s a joke.
Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell calls the Dems’ case the “the thinnest basis” for impeachment “in American history.”
And Dems know it. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is refusing to send the articles of impeachment over to the Senate to begin the trial. She claims she’s pressuring McConnell into calling additional witnesses. Her arm-twisting is “absurd,” McConnell says. “Frankly, I’m not anxious to have the trial. If she thinks her case is so weak she doesn’t want to send it over, throw me into that briar patch.”
McConnell suggests that “the prosecutors are getting cold feet.”
Christmas week, America is in the midst of the witness wars. McConnell is proposing that House Dems, and then White House lawyers, make their arguments to the senators. The trial could be wrapped up in a couple of weeks, unless senators decide, after hearing the arguments, that they need to hear witnesses.
But Schumer wants more witnesses guaranteed upfront. After 17 witnesses, more than 8,000 pages of testimony and legal arguments, 106 House staff members working full time, six high-paid outside lawyers, and millions of dollars spent to produce a party-line vote in the House to impeach, Senate Democrats want another long, drawn-out spectacle.
They’re not outsmarting anyone except themselves. The witnesses they’re seeking are unlikely to show, no matter what political tricks the Dems try. Meanwhile, national support for impeachment is steadily falling, and every day Dems spend on impeachment lessens their chances of unseating Trump in November.
Schumer wants four White House officials including acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and ex-national security adviser John Bolton to testify. But Democrats lost their chance to bring in these witnesses by voting to impeach.
Close advisers to any president are protected by executive privilege. That’s not a Trump invention. Presidents including George Washington have said “no” when Congress demanded access to evidence of White House decision-making. President Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder was especially aggressive about asserting privilege. The Constitution creates three equal branches of government, and the president has a duty to protect his branch from congressional overreach. When these two branches clash, the federal courts act as the referee.
True usually, but House Dems took a short cut. When Trump refused to provide certain witnesses, House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff balked at “a lengthy game of rope-a-dope with the courts.”
It was a shortsighted move. Once House Dems voted to impeach, they lost any chance to have the federal courts order Trump’s advisers to appear. The Supreme Court ruled in 1993 that judges cannot interfere in impeachment trials because the Senate has “the sole power” over them. In fact, minutes after the impeachment vote, federal appeals judges asked Congress to show why its case to compel the testimony of former White House lawyer Don McGahn isn’t abruptly ended because “the articles of impeachment render the case moot.”
With the courthouse doors slammed shut on impeachers, they’re trying to strong-arm McConnell into calling witnesses, but they’re forgetting that McConnell cannot negotiate away executive privilege. It’s not his to surrender.
Meanwhile, Nancy Pelosi sees the disaster ahead. She’s invited Trump to deliver the State of the Union message to Congress on Feb. 4, knowing he’ll still be president. He’ll report a booming economy, low unemployment and beneficial trade deals with China, Mexico and Canada. Plus a federal judiciary rescued from activists. Even last week, as Dems fretted over impeachment, McConnell pushed through 13 more Trump-nominated judges.
Democrats impeached Trump to damage his re-election chances. But their conduct so far has made impeachment a stain on them. Ultimately, voters — not politicians — will decide Trump’s fate. That’s where the decision belongs.
Betsy McCaughey is a former lieutenant governor of New York state and author of “Government by Choice: Inventing the United States Constitution.” Contact her at [email protected]. To find out more about Betsy McCaughey and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.