Will Trump Get to Set the Terms for His Senate Impeachment Trial?

Reuters
December 10, 2019 Topic: Security Region: Americas Tags: Donald TrumpImpeachmentObstructionUkraineNancy Pelosi

Will Trump Get to Set the Terms for His Senate Impeachment Trial?

With congressional Democrats looking to impeach Trump by Christmas, a clash in the Senate looms.

After Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz released his findings on Monday, his report, far from quelling the controversy over the FBI and the investigation of the Trump campaign, ended up inflaming it. The proximate cause of the controversy was the dueling interpretations of it by Attorney General William P. Barr and FBI Director Christopher Wray. The former casts doubt on the report, while the latter embraced it. Barr stated that the report showed that the FBI investigation was based on the “thinnest of suspicions.” Wray, by contrast, said that it showed that the investigation was justified. For good measure, he added, “we have no information that indicates that Ukraine interfered with the 2016 election.” Trump himself lashed out at Wray in a tweet Tuesday, declaring, “I don’t know what report current Director of the FBI Christopher Wray was reading, but it sure wasn’t the one given to me. With that kind of attitude, he will never be able to fix the FBI, which is badly broken despite having some of the greatest men & women working there!” Trump’s use of the word “current” aroused speculation that Wray may soon suffer the same fate that James Comey experienced in May 2017, when Trump dismissed him.

 

If Trump does make a move against Wray, then it would likely add even more fuel to the impeachment fires that are burning in Washington. Today House Democrats released two proposed articles of impeachment against Trump. These articles will be voted on for approval in the House Judiciary Committee in the near future, with the potential for more articles to come. Democrats are apparently planning have a full House vote on impeachment before the Christmas recess.

The two articles charge Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. “Using the powers of his high office, President Trump solicited the interference of a foreign government, Ukraine, in the 2020 United States Presidential election. He did so through a scheme or course of conduct that included soliciting the Government of Ukraine to publicly announce investigations that would benefit his reelection, harm the election prospects of a political opponent, and influence the 2020 United States Presidential election to his advantage,” the first article reads.

Mentioning the withholding of military aid and the promise of a White House visit as leverage, House Democrats charge that “President Trump used the powers of the Presidency in a manner that compromised the national security of the United States and undermined the integrity of the United States democratic process. He thus ignored and injured the interests of the Nation.”

This begs the question of whether Ukraine is, nolens volens, an integral part of the national security of the United States. For the past three months, leading congressional Democrats have crafted a narrative that Ukraine is an impeccable ally of America. Republicans, most of whom are just as inflexibly hawkish as their opponents, have, more or less, allowed this messaging to go unchallenged. Yet when Trump ran for president, his campaign sought to challenge the cherished foreign policy verities of both Democrats and Republicans. After Trump was elected, the fundamental lack of party support for his preferred policies led to the poor staffing, lack of ideological litmus tests, and poor congressional defense that have plagued the administration.

The second article says that “Donald J. Trump has directed the unprecedented, categorical, and indiscriminate defiance of subpoenas issued by the House of Representatives pursuant to its “sole Power of Impeachment.” Since the start of the impeachment inquiry, the Trump administration has refused to comply with subpoenas for documents and directed executive branch officials not to cooperate with Congress, asserting executive privilege. President Richard M. Nixon acted in a similar fashion during his impeachment proceedings, until a court declared he had to hand over protected documents. No court has directed the Trump administration to do so, and the executive and legislative branches currently find themselves at an impasse.

Only one sentence in the new impeachment articles reference the Trump-Putin espionage claim. “These actions were consistent with President Trump’s previous invitations of foreign interference in United States elections.” This is an allusion to the disproven allegations that the Trump campaign courted Russian interference in the 2016 election and is all that’s left of the vaunted Mueller investigation. If Democrats vote for impeachment by Christmas, the trial in the Republican-held Senate will start in January. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has made clear that he wants to whip votes, sturdy any shaky hands, and finish the proceedings as soon as possible. A timeframe as short as ten days has been thrown around.

McConnell’s plan, however, is being challenged by the White House. Trump, in his element, when surrounded by theatrics, wants a long trial where Republicans are able to counter the Democratic narrative that’s been propounded all fall. The president wants his day in court, while Senate Republicans do not want a prolonged trial. Will Trump get his way—or will Republican Senators defy him?

Hunter DeRensis is a reporter at the National Interest.

Image: Reuters