A good rule of thumb for Republicans locked in political battles would be to beware of Pelosi bearing gifts. The House Speaker offered Donald Trump an opportunity to testify before the House impeachment inquiry to resolve due-process concerns raised by Trump and his allies. There’s no way Pelosi will allow the president to confront the whistleblower, but Pelosi told CBS’ Margaret Brennan on Face the Nation that he can show up himself — or even submit written testimony:
Note: the interim transcript from CBS is not entirely complete. Pelosi goes on at length about her mission to protect the whistleblower, but then gets to the offer:
MARGARET BRENNAN: –and then what? Does the President get, as he says, to confront his accuser or get due process?
REPRESENTATIVE NANCY PELOSI: What do you mean confront his accuser? Confront the whistleblower?
MARGARET BRENNAN: Presumably, that’s what he means.
REPRESENTATIVE NANCY PELOSI: Well, I will make sure he does not intimidate the whistleblower. So the President could come right before the committee and talk, speak all the truth that he wants if he wants to–
MARGARET BRENNAN: You don’t expect him to do that?
REPRESENTATIVE NANCY PELOSI: –if he wants to take the oath of office or he could do it in writing. He has every opportunity to present his case. But it’s really a sad thing. I mean, what the President did was so much worse than even what Richard Nixon did, that at some point Richard Nixon cared about the country enough to recognize that this could not continue. The Intelligence Committee is leading this part of the inquiry. There are other depositions that are being taken by more committees. So some of the depositions will continue and then what takes place in the intelligence public will continue for another week. I don’t know how much longer. I guess, it depends on how many more witnesses they have. That’s up to the committee. I don’t guide that. That’s up to the committee.
How bad of an idea is that? I’ll count the ways in a moment, but it sounded pretty good to one person … and unfortunately, it’s the one person who matters:
….that I testify about the phony Impeachment Witch Hunt. She also said I could do it in writing. Even though I did nothing wrong, and don’t like giving credibility to this No Due Process Hoax, I like the idea & will, in order to get Congress focused again, strongly consider it!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 18, 2019
Now, Trump could simply be baiting Pelosi back, but it’s unwise in this instance. Trump’s raising expectations that he cannot meet, making anything less than a submission by a president to the House a letdown and an attack point. Presidents do not testify to the House for solid constitutional reasons; they send aides and appointees to do so when needed. By committing to “strongly consider it,” Trump is setting a bar that this is a normal request and that he should respond to House Democrats’ interrogation.
As bad as indulging Pelosi is, submitting testimony would be even worse. All House Democrats have done with this inquiry is make a political argument, and Trump has all the room necessary for responding with his own political arguments. Indeed, one can argue that he’s been doing a good job thus far with it, basically freezing impeachment along partisan lines. In those circumstances, a House vote on impeachment is likely to be close-run with more Democratic defections than Republican ones, even if it does pass.
If, however, Trump testifies under oath, all that changes. Trump will end up walking into a perjury trap. The House would pick his testimony apart for any contradictions, at which point they could raise an article of impeachment for perjury — which would give them a statutory crime their inquiry now lacks. Trump managed to avoid a perjury charge from Robert Mueller, but only because Mueller was operating as a prosecutor. Adam Schiff is operating as a political hatchet man. And if the House can sustain a perjury charge, suddenly Senate Republicans will be under a lot more pressure to act on an impeachment based on a perjury charge rather than hearsay over quid pro quo.
Trump had better reconsider this tout suite.