Interestingly, Pelosi’s calling this audible just three days after a federal judge affirmed that House Democrats *don’t* need to hold a vote formally opening an impeachment inquiry in order for the inquiry to be valid for constitutional purposes.
A noteworthy bit from her letter to the Democratic caucus this afternoon is that the forthcoming resolution “establishes the procedure for hearings that are open to the American people.” We’d already heard rumblings lately that the inquiry was about to enter a more public phase and now here’s Pelosi confirming it. And a good thing too: I spent 15 minutes on Sunday trying to convince a Trump-supporting family member that yes, Republican congressmen really are attending these closed-door depositions, and yes, they really are being allowed to question the witnesses extensively. He was incredulous. I guess that Matt-Gaetz-led stunt at the SCIF last week had the desired effect of convincing casual news watchers that Republicans have been so completely shut out of the Democrats’ process that they had no choice but to barge in on a hearing to gain access.
Never mind that Gaetz himself is a member of Nadler’s Judiciary Committee and has a seat with his name on it waiting for him at some of the juiciest hearings. Pelosi:
This week, we will bring a resolution to the Floor that affirms the ongoing, existing investigation that is currently being conducted by our committees as part of this impeachment inquiry, including all requests for documents, subpoenas for records and testimony, and any other investigative steps previously taken or to be taken as part of this investigation.
This resolution establishes the procedure for hearings that are open to the American people, authorizes the disclosure of deposition transcripts, outlines procedures to transfer evidence to the Judiciary Committee as it considers potential articles of impeachment, and sets forth due process rights for the President and his Counsel.
We are taking this step to eliminate any doubt as to whether the Trump Administration may withhold documents, prevent witness testimony, disregard duly authorized subpoenas, or continue obstructing the House of Representatives.
The key quote is the final sentence. Pelosi’s worried that the Democrats’ court victory on Friday might not hold up on appeal, especially before the Supreme Court. Granted, she could always hold a floor vote officially authorizing the inquiry later if she loses, but Democrats don’t want the impeachment process to linger while litigation plays out. The longer this drags on, the more it’ll interfere with the presidential primaries. In fact, per the NYT, the reason Pelosi stressed in her letter that the administration has no power amid a formal impeachment inquiry to withhold evidence isn’t because she’s planning to fight Trump in court on that point, it’s because she isn’t planning to. “House Democrats will forgo using the federal courts to try to compel testimony from recalcitrant witnesses in their impeachment inquiry,” says the Times, and will “instead use the lack of cooperation to bolster their case that President Trump has abused his office and obstructed Congress’s investigation.” Pelosi isn’t going to sue Trump over this, in other words, she’s going to add obstruction of justice to the articles of impeachment and force Senate Republicans to vote on that. If nothing else, impeaching Trump for blocking evidence instead of suing him over it will speed the process up.
There’s a procedural risk to formalizing the impeachment process in that it might mean new powers for Republicans on the committee, like calling their own witnesses, but that risk is growing smaller. At some point, Trump will gain the right to call his own witnesses, even if he has to wait until there’s a trial in the Senate. And Pelosi, Nadler, and Schiff may have heard enough damning testimony from the likes of Bill Taylor and Gordon Sondland by now that they’re calculating there just aren’t a lot of exonerating witnesses available for Republicans to call. The boost in legitimacy that the inquiry will receive once Trump can no longer complain that it’s being conducted without an authorizing vote is probably worth more to Pelosi now than the cost of handing new procedural powers to the GOP.
I mean, it’s not like the papers are filled with quotes from Republicans bellowing that they have evidence that Trump did no wrong on Ukraine if only the damned Democrats would let them present it. The quotes in the paper are more like … these:
“It feels like a horror movie,” said one veteran Republican senator, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to candidly describe the consensus…
“There’s frustration. It feels to everyone like they’re just digging a hole and making it worse. It just never ends. . . . It’s a total [expletive] show,” said one Republican strategist who has been advising a number of top senators and who, like several others interviewed, spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid…
“What’s causing the most pause is, what else is out there? What is around the corner?” said a second Republican strategist in regular contact with congressional leaders. “If they say something in defense of the president or against the impeachment inquiry now, will they be pouring cement around their ankles?”
What makes it worse, said Rick Santorum to WaPo, is that there’s no presidential charm offensive towards the wider public from Trump as there was from Clinton during the 1998 impeachment. Trump believes to his core that he doesn’t need to please anyone except his own base; he has the numbers to win if he can just turn them out en masse, or so he thinks, so that’s what he attempts to do. Republicans on the Hill are much less certain. If the president’s doing nothing to appeal to swing voters, he’s not just gambling with his own chances next year, he’s gambling with theirs.
Pelosi also knows that the polling on whether to begin an impeachment inquiry is solidly in Democrats’ favor at this point — 53/42 on average, according to FiveThirtyEight. Since nearly the entire Democratic caucus is already on record as supporting the inquiry, the risk in formalizing the process with a floor vote is minimal, although there are reports of the usual hand-wringing among moderates that any vote will be used against them later. I wonder who’s going to break the bad news to them that they’ll need to vote on the articles of impeachment themselves eventually even if Pelosi had successfully blocked a vote on formalizing the inquiry. If Senate Republicans have to take a tough vote on impeachment, so do you, chumps.
Here’s Trey Gowdy yesterday reiterating his support for closed-door hearings — but only if there are no leaks afterward. You can’t claim that the integrity of the investigation requires deposing witnesses in private and then run out to the camera banc a la Adam Schiff to dribble out the most damning revelations afterward. Speaking of which, one other detail of note about the Democratic resolution: Both the Times and Politico are reporting that it’ll likely contain language that would allow congressional staff, i.e. lawyers, to do some of the questioning of witnesses. Politico notes that that’s likely a reaction to the circus of Corey Lewandowski’s hearing last month, when the only questioner who seemed to put him on the spot with a tough query was a Democratic staff attorney.