What to expect from the next week of Trump impeachment hearings
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What to expect from the next week of Trump impeachment hearings

December 2, 2019


 The next phase of Donald Trump’s impeachment hearings begins next week, when members of Congress will discuss whether the president’s alleged abuses of power constitute “high crimes and misdemeanours”  The phrase, as outlined in the US Constitution, has primed the debate between Democrats leading the investigation and the Republicans who argue that despite several witness testimonies corroborating Mr Trump’s pressure on Ukraine to investigate his political rivals in exchange for receiving military aid, none of it resembles either a high crime or a misdemeanour  But the Constitution’s framers included the phrase as a broad safeguard against elected officials’ abuse of power    Following two weeks of televised witness testimonies and cross examinations, which followed weeks of closed-door hearings, the House Judiciary Committee will begin the first impeachment inquiry into the Constitutional grounds for impeachment, the potential process of removal from office for charges of “treason, bribery, or high crimes and misdemeanours”  In a letter to Mr Trump, House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler invited the president and his counsel to the hearing, set to begin at 10am on Wednesday, 4 December  Mr Nadler says the impeachment inquiry’s first task is to “explore the framework put in place to respond to serious allegations of impeachable misconduct like those against” the president  The president and his counsel have the right not only to attend the hearing but to question the witness panel  “At base, the president has a choice to make: he can take this opportunity to be represented in the impeachment hearings, or he can stop complaining about the process”, Mr Nadler said in a statement “I hope that he chooses to participate in the inquiry, directly or through counsel, as other Presidents have done before him ”  “High crimes and misdemeanours” has never been explicitly defined, giving Congress the flexibility to determine whether the charges brought before them constitute grounds for removal from office  During the Constitutional Convention in 1787, the Constitution’s authors argued that the phrasing of “treason and bribery” alone was not enough to encompass impeachable offences By adding a generalised “high crimes and misdemeanours”, the framers gave Congress the power to investigate offences beyond defined crimes — offences that, as Alexander Hamilton said in his Federalist papers, “have violated the public trust”  Famously, former president Gerald Ford defined the phrase as “whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history ”  The Constitution provides that Congress has “sole power of impeachment”.  But House Republicans have repeatedly accused Democrats of politically motivated “harassment” as the inquiry has pressed on, a deflection of their own political challenge — Republicans are questioning the legitimacy of rules that they themselves had approved when they last composed a majority of the House, when they used their platform to conduct closed-door hearings to investigate the 2012 Benghazi attack during Barack Obama’s presidency with then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Mr Trump’s ongoing rival    Throughout Mr Trump’s impeachment investigation, they attacked the substance of the witness testimonies, then the process, toeing the president’s oft-repeated line that the inquiry is a “witch hunt” and arguing that the probe lacked “due process” — going so far as to interrupt closed-door testimonies in secure rooms in protest despite Republicans on those committees having the same level of access as their Democratic peers  During recent televised impeachment hearings, Republican Congressman Devin Nunes forced witnesses to respond to debunked conspiracy theories suggesting that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that was responsible for interference in US elections in 2016 In a recent Fox interview, the president also repeated those claims.  Warning about the serious implications of impeachment opponents’ protestations in The Atlantic, constitutional law professor Michael Gerhardt — who testified in the House Judiciary during the impeachment hearings for former president Bill Clinton in 1998 — says “their proposed result is disturbing: an executive who can shut down an impeachment inquiry and protect from disclosure anything done by anyone in the executive branch, and who is immune to criminal investigation and allowed to defy subpoenas”  Despite strong support from his political base, the president is legally unable to directly interfere  Following the Judiciary hearings, the committee will consider whether to recommend the “articles of impeachment” — effectively charges against the president — to the full House  The House will then vote on an impeachment resolution, which can be approved by a simple majority Currently, House Democrats can vote to impeach without any Republican support to pass a resolution to the Senate  If Congress votes to impeach, the Senate will then consider an impeachment trial; the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court will act as its judge The Constitution holds that the Senate has the power to “try all impeachments”.

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