For cripes sake. His star expert is going to be Laurence Tribe, isn’t it?
The point of this hearing, I suspect, will be to both broaden and narrow the public’s imagination on whether Trump committed a “high crime or misdemeanor” in how he handled Ukraine. Job one will be to hammer the point that “high crimes” don’t mean statutory crimes — that is, the president might properly be impeached for an “abuse of power” even if the specifics of what he did don’t match the description of any crime to be found in a federal law book. The point of impeachment, Democrats will claim, is to let Congress intervene when the president is behaving corruptly, using his public office to advance his personal interests. That’s the “broadening” part.
The “narrowing” part will be to drill down on what constitutes “bribery.” Democrats want to include that in the final articles of impeachment since it’s easier for the public to understand than “abuse of power” or “quid pro quo” is. And it makes it harder for Senate Republicans to acquit Trump by simply insisting that an abuse of power or a quid pro quo doesn’t rise to the level of a “high crime or misdemeanor” that would justify removing the president from office. Bribery is a high crime; it’s mentioned explicitly in the Constitution. If the facts are there to substantiate the charge, logically Republicans should have no choice but to vote to remove Trump. So Nadler’s going to steer his witnesses towards arguing that the Framers did indeed consider the sort of quid pro quo Trump engaged in as bribery for impeachment purposes.
He’ll have no shortage of liberal legal scholars willing to tell him what he wants to hear, starting with Tribe. The suspense at this hearing won’t come from the testimony, it’ll come from the cross-examination. For the first time, the president will be allowed to have his own counsel attend a hearing and ask questions of the Democrats’ witnesses. But which counsel? Nadler wants to know by Sunday.
I’m hopeful that you and your counsel will participate, Nadler continued, “consistent with the rules of decorum and with the solemn nature of the work before us.” Which, I guess, means Trump’s lawyer won’t be loose-cannon Rudy Giuliani, contradicting himself in every third sentence he utters while trying to feign constitutional expertise.
The safe play would be to hire some low-key conservative constitutional historian, the sort of person for whom the Federalist Society does not lack, and have him methodically undermine the witnesses’ understanding of what a president can properly be impeached for. But that would be bad television and the president craves good television, so presumably he’ll want a table-pounder. Trey Gowdy, maybe? Mark Levin? One of the reasons, per various press reports, that Pelosi tapped Adam Schiff’s committee to hold the witness hearings instead of letting Nadler do it is because she lost faith in Nadler’s ability to control the proceedings, especially with a committee as large as Judiciary’s. Nadler’s hearing with Cory Lewandowski a few months ago turned into a circus when Lewandowski used it as a platform to grandstand. Doubtless Pelosi and Nadler are quietly worried that Trump’s choice of counsel to quiz Nadler’s experts will also ramp up the grandstanding, making fallout from the hearing … unpredictable.
Or maybe the White House will boycott the hearing by not sending a lawyer. That’s the obvious thing to do with a WITCH HUNT HOAX!, but after Republicans complained for so long about the president being denied due process by not being allowed to question the other side’s witnesses, it’d be strange to see him pass on the opportunity now. Especially when the subject involves the Framers’ understanding of the Constitution. That’s a subject Republicans pride themselves on taking more seriously than lefty adherents of the “living Constitution.” Nadler’s witnesses have to be challenged.
Here’s Trump enjoying a little impeachment humor at today’s turkey-pardoning.