When Barack Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder ignored congressional subpoenas in an investigation into a scandal featuring a body count, White House Spokesperson Dan Pfeiffer argued that administration officials had no duty to participate in what amounted to “political theater rather than legitimate congressional oversight.”
So does the White House get to decide what constitutes a legitimate congressional investigation? Or is it only Democrats who make this determination? Since Pfeiffer now argues that an administration that ignores congressional subpoenas is functioning “above the law”—surely an impeachable offense—I can only imagine the latter.
Now, impeachment is political option that should be dusted off far more frequently. It’s a shame House Republicans never used this remedy during the scandal-plagued Obama years. The country, though, needs some consistent standards, or all we have is theater.
For instance, knowing that the Republican-controlled Senate is unlikely to remove the president over his reckless call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is doing her best to maximize the political impact of a nebulous “inquiry.”
Part of this political effort means delaying a full House vote, which would likely result in the judiciary committee laying out ground rules and procedures moving forward. This was the bipartisan process used during both Clinton and Nixon sagas.
Now we have a new set of rules.
Perhaps Pelosi is looking to solidify a vote total, or maybe she’s trying to protect members in swing districts, or, most likely, she’s waiting for the most politically opportune time to move forward. All of that is her prerogative. They are also political considerations, despite all the distraught coverage, not decisions predicated on protecting the integrity of process or Congress or the Constitution. Let’s face it, the notion that progressives are concerned about process is risible.
The non-vote, however, allows the House Intelligence Committee to shower subpoenas on the White House and create the impression, through the innuendo of activity, that Trump’s call with Zelensky was not merely a high crime (highly debatable) but the tip of widespread conspiracy (less debatable).
The non-vote allows hyper-partisans like Rep. Adam Schiff to keep testimony secret when useful, selectively sharing useful snippets of evidence with media allies who then dutifully curate all the leaks into a useful political narrative. After two years, and dozens of misleading stories fueling Russia collusion coverage, former special counsel Robert Mueller ultimately debunked Schiff’s core contention. With Ukraine, the congressman only needs to propel his production into November 2020.
Pelosi’s delay also allows Democrats to shield the name of the intelligence whistleblower. I bet Linda Tripp wishes she had been so lucky. No, this isn’t a criminal trial, but you suspect many voters who are okay with a hypothetical impeachment would regard the act of facing an accuser a matter of fundamental fairness.
Even if the name isn’t shared with the public, it should be shared with congressional Republicans. There’s every reason to be wary of politically motivated players in the government. House Democrats can gin-up the melodrama, suggesting the person, facing moral danger, testify from a remote location with an obscured appearance and voice like a Mafia informant. But as the Wall Street Journal editorial board points out:
The whistleblower statute is intended to protect individuals against reprisal at work. It isn’t supposed to provide immunity from public scrutiny about claims aimed at ousting a President. We wonder if the goal here is to protect the whistleblower or prevent the American people from learning something that might cast doubt on his accusations.
It’s fair to wonder. Whistleblowing is an important tool of good government. Yet not all whistleblowers are chaste do-gooders. We know that this one met with Schiff’s office for guidance before filing his report (although we still don’t know how helpful the congressman was) and that Schiff lied about that meeting. The whistleblower also reportedly had “some type of professional relationship” with a 2020 Democratic Party candidate that could, potentially, benefit from an impeachment.
None of these factors mean the whistleblower’s contentions should be summarily dismissed, but they’re all pertinent. What if, for instance, we learn that the whistleblower worked for Joe Biden? Most media have decreed that any questions about the Biden’s family extraordinarily fortuitous foreign business dealings are nothing but conspiracies, even though those charges are at the center of the phone call that is the current impetus for impeachment. Seems pertinent.
It also seems likely we are going to find all this out. At some point, Pelosi will have to turn the key. Considering the potential backlash for inaction, it seems unthinkable at this point that she won’t. And Trump, like Pelosi, will be making his own political considerations.
Because though it might be a great surprise to those covering the impeachment story, history didn’t begin in 2016, and the executive and legislative branches have always been at war. Simply because Democrats keep changing the rules doesn’t mean Republicans have to play along.