Democrats, having run byzantine hearings in basement bunkers and on live television in the House Intelligence Committee, are set to move on to Judiciary Committee hearings. The purpose of this set of hearings is to craft Articles of Impeachment to be voted on by the entire House. One difference from the previous hearings that Democrats are touting is that in the Judiciary the White House can participate. It absolutely should not.
According to the resolution that launched the impeachment inquiry, passing without one GOP vote, the White House may have lawyers present and able to ask questions in the Judiciary hearings. Democrats point to this as fairness in the process, citing the fact that many Republicans complained that the White House had no representation in the Intelligence committee hearings. Now they will claim the White House is being inconsistent if it does not participate with the new hearings.
This is nonsense. Pointing out the obvious unfairness of one part of this process does obligate those complaining about it to jump on board with another part of the process. Further more the participation is conditional. Chairman Jerry Nadler has wide latitude to restrict such participation if, for example, the White House fails to provide witnesses. Since we already know that administration officials are exerting executive privilege Nadler will have an excuse at the ready to shut down White House efforts at any time.
But even beyond the question of fairness, it makes no sense for the White House to legitimize the impeachment by playing a role in it. It is important to understand that Trump’s position, and that of most Republicans is not that Trump did not commit the crime, but that no crime ever occurred. To send lawyers to the hearings would send the message that there is something to get to the bottom of here, when there just isn’t.
As has been the case since Trump released the transcript of his July 25 phone call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, there is no substantial disagreement among any of the parties of the basic facts of the case. Everybody agrees Trump wanted investigations into Hunter Biden linked Burisma, 20016 election interference, and more robust aid to Ukraine from Europe. Everyone agrees he told Zelensky that. Everyone agrees that the administration delayed military aid to Ukraine; everyone agrees that that aid was eventually released.
Democrats must show that something happened in the process of the aid being released that is bribery, or abuse of power, or whatever focus group tested nefarious term they wind up using tomorrow. Thus far they have done no such thing. There is absolutely no reason that the White House should participate in a fishing expedition for a crime that doesn’t exist.
Republicans on the committee like Doug Collins and Jim Sensenbrenner are more than capable of mounting a defense of Trump in public hearings. The very simple argument that the president used his legitimate power to delay the aid, that this was proper use, not abuse of power, does not require a team of legal experts to explain. Meanwhile, the Democrats convoluted theories about what the timeline implies, and their parade of pissed off diplomats who nobody elected, is about as simple Twitter’s algorithms.
The best thing the White House can do both politically and tactically is to ignore the hearings. Politically it makes sense because it mocks the impeachment, shows Trump isn’t worried about it, and lets him continue to stay focused on the nation’s business while Democrats tie Washington in knots to get to a suicide mission in a Senate trial.
Tactically it makes sense to refuse participation because just as clearly as there can be only one predetermined outcome in a senate trial, there is only one predetermined outcome to the impeachment inquiry in the House, unless polling pushes the Democrats onto the off ramp of censure.
The only possible upside to sending lawyers for the White House is the possibility that they can score enough points to further erode support for impeachment, but that’s an awfully long shot. Impeachment poll numbers have solidified somewhere in the neighborhood of the president’s job approval numbers. Jesus Christ could come down and make a speech on the House floor and those numbers probably wouldn’t move much. Sitting the hearings out is the only play here. When and if the time comes, Trump’s lawyers can fight on ground of their own choosing in a Senate firmly in the hands of his allies.