On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee will gavel into session and fire up their own impeachment inquiry. We already learned that one of the first witnesses to be called by the Republicans on the committee will be Adman Schiff. (If you can’t find the humor in that story you should steer clear of politics.) But what about the man of the hour and the subject of all of this hemming and hawing? Will President Trump – or at least some of his legal team – be there to defend the White House in this matter?
Looks like that’s going to be a hard pass on Trump’s part. White House Counsel Pat Cipollone said they won’t be showing up on Wednesday, but left the door open to the possibility that they might drop by later. (NBC News)
The White House said Sunday it will not participate in the House Judiciary Committee’s first impeachment hearing on Wednesday but left open the possibility that it may take part in future proceedings.
In a letter to committee chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., White House Counsel Pat Cipollone said next week’s hearing does “not begin to provide the president with any semblance of a fair process.”
But Cipollone said President Donald Trump may participate if he is allowed to do so “meaningfully.”
I get the feeling that this decision came directly from Trump himself rather than his legal counsel. The goal of the White House in all of this is more to discredit the investigation than to win any sort of legal argument. By not showing up, the President can continue to use the bully pulpit to decry the hearings as a kangaroo court. (And there’s certainly an argument to be made for that thus far, particularly in terms of the way the Democrats on the Intelligence Committee structured the rules.)
But the President’s detractors are being handed a bit of a gift here. The argument coming from Trump’s team is that the hearings don’t provide “any semblance of a fair process.” But the only unfairness on display is the one-sided nature of the process. Now Trump has been formally invited to take part in these next hearings or at least be represented by his own lawyers to rebut allegations and question witnesses. Refusing to take advantage of that offer allows Jerry Nadler and company to say, well, we offered you a chance.
But, as Politico noted yesterday, Trump won’t actually be without representation. He’ll have some strong support from Jim Jordan, John Ratcliffe and Matt Gaetz when the questioning takes place. Also, the hearings will begin with input from a panel of constitutional scholars. Doug Collins (the senior Republican on the committee) has asked that an equal number of scholars selected by each party be on the panel.
If Nadler tries to bulldoze past that request and only picks scholars sympathetic to the impeachment effort, that will be one more layer of trappings that make this look like a kangaroo court. Of course, this could still all come down to party-line votes in terms of sending the question to the entire House for a vote on impeachment. And if the Democrats don’t wind up with too many of their members getting cold feet, Trump will likely wind up getting impeached by the end of the month.
Assuming that’s the case, the trial in the Senate could start in January and this whole thing may be over before Groundhog Day. And Trump will still be in office, with nothing much having changed after all this sound and fury fades away.