I don’t know. Pat Cipollone’s dubious letter to Pelosi last month suggested an intent to comprehensively obstruct the investigation, but most of the witnesses have ignored it and showed up to testify. Just yesterday lawyer Jack Goldsmith marveled at how little power Trump has had to block testimony. It’s a replay of the Mueller probe: There’s reason to believe he wants to obstruct but the people around him just won’t cooperate.
Could he be charged with obstruction for name-calling? He’s yelled endlessly about the whistleblower, about treason, about the “human scum” Never Trumpers who keep showing up before House committees to accuse him of a quid pro quo with Ukraine. But offhand I can’t recall him taking a concrete step like threatening anyone’s job to try to intimidate them into not testifying.
Now, tampering with a jury is certainly obstruction. But good luck getting that jury to convict on those grounds when they’re on the take from the defendant.
I think Democrats are reasoning here that there’s nothing to lose by including the obstruction charge. Senate Republicans won’t convict no matter what, so Dems might as well kitchen-sink it. If nothing else, charging obstruction now would operate as a “make-up call” to progressives after Pelosi failed to act on the obstruction section in Mueller’s report.
To the Democratic leaders directing the impeachment proceedings, Trump’s actions to stymie their probe into his conduct with Ukraine add up to another likely article of impeachment: Obstruction.
The centerpiece of House Democrats’ eventual impeachment charges is widely expected to be Trump’s alleged abuse of power over Ukraine. But obstruction of Congress is now all but certain to be introduced as well, according to multiple Democratic lawmakers and aides, just as it was five decades ago when the House impeached then-president Richard Nixon…
Democrats argue that the Trump administration’s stonewalling — including trying to stop subpoenaed witnesses from testifying and blocking the executive branch from turning over documents — creates a strong case that the president has infringed on the separation of powers and undercut lawmakers’ oversight duties as laid out in the Constitution.
There are a few key witnesses to the Ukraine business, namely John Bolton and Charles Kupperman, who are successfully being blocked from testifying by the White House — for now. Bolton and Kupperman are suing Trump and the House in federal court to get clarity on the legal bind they’re caught in. On the one hand, Trump is telling them they have absolute immunity from testifying under executive privilege; on the other, the House is telling them that they have no immunity to resist a subpoena lawfully issued under the House’s impeachment power. Kupperman’s lawyer (who’s also Bolton’s lawyer) was in court just yesterday, in fact, to ask a federal judge for a ruling on who’s right. The problem for Pelosi and Adam Schiff, though, is that arguments won’t be heard until December 10 — and that’s on a “fast track” schedule. Presumably it’ll take weeks afterward for the judge to deliberate and write an opinion, pushing a ruling on Bolton and Kupperman all the way to late December.
But late December is when Democrats are hoping to vote on the final articles of impeachment. Remember, they’re under a lot of election-related time pressure here and it’s getting heavier by the day:
The House is unlikely to vote on impeachment until the end of the year, meaning the Senate trial against Trump figures to begin in January — just weeks before the Feb. 3 Iowa caucuses. It’s an event that could require the six Democratic presidential prospects to remain in Washington every workday for at least a month.
Depending on when the trial begins, or if it drags on, the trial could affect the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 11, a day shy of the 21 th anniversary of President Clinton’s acquittal after a five-week Senate trial.
Bernie and Elizabeth Warren could be stuck in Washington all the way through the early primaries. Even if the court agreed to issue a ruling from the bench in Kupperman’s case on December 10 after arguments, that would probably still be too late for Pelosi and Schiff to want to hear from Bolton and Kupperman. What happens, after all, if either man provides new leads that Democrats feel obliged to chase down, including testimony from witnesses whom Dems didn’t realize were important until that moment? The impeachment process could be delayed further. Suddenly the Senate’s 2020 hopefuls might miss all of the early primaries. It’d be a fiasco.
The obstruction charge is the way out. Instead of waiting on the courts to decide whether Bolton and Kupperman need to testify, Pelosi will simply claim that Trump’s attempt to block them is an impeachable offense in itself. That’s worth more to her than a favorable court ruling anyway, as neither Bolton nor Kupperman will tell the House anything that might convince Senate Republicans to remove Trump. They’re more useful to Democrats as support for the obstruction charge, which might further sway public opinion against Trump. The real jury on impeachment is the electorate, after all.
I think there’s one other benefit to adding obstruction to the articles of impeachment: It makes it harder for Republicans to dismiss those articles summarily once the process shifts to the Senate, just in case they’re inclined to do so. This CNN piece from a few days ago claims that Senate Republicans are opposed to a quick acquittal for Trump, although the idea hasn’t been completely ruled out. “There’s no decision yet but as you know, under the rules, we think that you could have a motion to dismiss raised at any time in the process, even on the first day, with a 50-vote majority and the Vice President breaking the tie. You could dismiss it,” said one Republican senator. That would be a bad look since the jurors are supposed to at least pretend they’re keeping an open mind about Trump’s guilt, but they could go this route by claiming that there simply isn’t a “high crime and misdemeanor” at issue in the Ukraine matter that would justify removal even if Trump did everything Democrats claim he did. Tack on an obstruction charge, though, and that dismissal becomes harder. Genuine obstruction of an impeachment inquiry would certainly be grounds for removal potentially. To acquit Trump on that charge, Republicans would at least need to go through the motions of hearing testimony.
That is, adding obstruction to the articles of impeachment might be a sort of insurance policy by Pelosi to force Republicans to hold a trial at which the president can be accused of all sorts of bad things for the benefit of the electorate/jury watching at home. She wants a PR victory out of this, if nothing else.