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OpEdNews Op Eds    H1'ed 10/5/19

Trump's Stonewalling of Impeachment Inquiry Is an Impeachable Offense

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Reacting to the whistleblower's complaint, Trump harkened back to the "old days" when spying led to execution. "I want to know who's the person who gave the whistle-blower the information? Because that's close to a spy," he told the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. "You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart? Right? The spies and treason, we used to handle it a little differently than we do now."

Playing to his right-wing, gun-loving, immigrant-hating, evangelical base, Trump also tweeted that the investigation of his alleged abuse of power is "intended to take away the Power of the People, their VOTE, their Freedoms, their Second Amendment, Religion, Military, Border Wall, and their God-given rights as a Citizen of The United States of America!"

Perhaps most disturbing is Trump's threat to remain in office beyond the constitutionally limited two terms. He told a closed meeting of the U.S. Mission to the UN, "We're looking good for another four years and then if we want to, another four and another four."

Trump is taking a page from the playbook of Nixon, who infamously said, "When the president does it, that means it is not illegal." But nobody -- not even the president -- is above the law.

What's Next?

As the House committees continue to issue subpoenas for their impeachment investigation, we can expect stonewalling by the White House. "When the House opens an impeachment inquiry, it wields extraordinary constitutional powers and serves as the ultimate check on a rogue president. It can therefore overcome virtually any executive branch privilege or immunity," Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe wrote in The Guardian. "Otherwise, the president could commit high crimes and misdemeanors and defeat accountability by simply defying all efforts to discover his wrongdoing."

After the three committees do their work, they will forward the results to the House Judiciary Committee, which will then take the lead. It can hold its own hearings, which were pivotal in the Nixon impeachment investigation. James Reston Jr. wrote in The New York Times about the "power of the televised [Watergate] hearings of the House Judiciary Committee" in 1974. "Far from being politically divisive, they proved a dignified and appropriate response to egregious presidential misconduct enough to persuade seven out of the committee's 17 Republicans to vote in favor of at least one of the articles of impeachment."

The Judiciary Committee will determine the scope of the inquiry. In proposing articles of impeachment to the full House of Representatives, the committee could limit the investigation to Ukrainegate. Or it may include other matters, which seem to emerge on a daily basis.

On October 3, a defiant Trump publicly called on China to investigate Biden, telling reporters, "China should start an investigation into the Bidens, because what happened in China is just about as bad as what happened with Ukraine." That exhortation came only moments after Trump mentioned forthcoming trade talks with China, saying, "if they don't do what we want, we have tremendous power." Trump and Barr "have now solicited assistance in discrediting the president's political opponents from Ukraine, Australia, Italy and, according to one report, Britain," The New York Times reported.

There is another whistleblower complaint that alleges senior Treasury officials are secretly pressuring senior IRS officials about the audit of Trump's tax returns. House investigators are also examining allegations that conservative groups and at least one foreign government have tried to secure favors from Trump by booking rooms at his hotel but not using them. These "ghost bookings" could violate the Emoluments Clause. And the Mueller report detailed obstruction of justice by Trump during the Russia investigation.

Once the House votes for impeachment, which is likely, the case will move to the Senate. Majority leader Mitch McConnell has stated he has no choice under the rules but to take up the matter. Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Roberts will preside over the Senate trial. But the Senate may instead pass a motion to dismiss and avoid a trial entirely. During the Clinton impeachment proceeding, Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd's motion to dismiss was defeated along party lines and a five-week trial ensued. Republicans have the votes in the Senate to dismiss the case. But they will have to answer to public opinion, which increasingly favors impeachment.

Questions that remain to be answered include: What will be the scope of the impeachment inquiry? Will Trump be impeached, and if so, what will happen in the Senate? How will impeachment affect the 2020 election? WillMike Pompeo, William Barr and Vice President Mike Pence, who is now being implicated in the scandal, be impeached and/or prosecuted for their roles in Ukrainegate?

Stay tuned.

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Marjorie Cohn is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, and a member of the National Advisory Board of Veterans for Peace. Her most recent book is Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues. See  (more...)

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