“This could be the trial Trump wants,” Jonathan Turley told the CBS This Morning panel earlier today — assuming it gets that far. Turley joined fellow constitutional law analyst Kim Wehle for a genteel debate on whether House Democrats made their case for impeachment as the hearings wrapped up yesterday.
Wehle argued that Schiff at least made a case for abuse of power for personal gain, which crosses the impeachment bar. Turley says not so fast:
KING: Jonathan, do you feel the same?
TURLEY: I’m afraid I don’t. [crosstalk] The fact is that I think this is the — well, it’s certainly the shortest investigation. It’s certainly the thinnest evidentiary record, and it’s the narrowest impeachment ever to go to the Senate, if they were to go on this record. What they did is that they did show a quid pro quo, Kim and I agree on that. I think they had powerful witnesses — witnesses were really marvelous, and they —
ANTHONY MASON: So why don’t they have a case?
TURLEY: Well, because — did they prove something was contemptible or impeachable? Because contemptible is not synonymous with impeachable. The president does set policy. They have three conversations, two of them directly, one with Senator Johnson, one with Ambassador Sondland, where Trump denies a quid pro quo. Now I think you can toss the Sondland one out, because that’s September 9th, he [Trump] knew about the whistleblower. But the Senator Johnson one was August 31st, so you have a conflicted record. And the question is what do you need to remove a sitting president?
WEHLE: Except we do have the call transcript, right?
Well, yes, but the call transcript doesn’t contain any sense of a quid pro quo or even pressure or linkage on military aid. None. At all. Thanks to the initial framing of the story by the leak of the whistleblower complaint, many read that into the transcript, but that’s speculation and supposition. The transcript contains no direct evidence of linkage to the military aid or a demand of any kind.
Turley also wondered why Democrats were in such a rush to complete the hearings. If this rises to the level of an impeachable offense, why not get the whole story?
MASON: Why haven’t the Democrats — the Democrats subpoenaed John Bolton, which would take them into the White House. But they haven’t pushed to get him into the hearings. Why not?
TURLEY: I don’t know. Whether this is intentional or not, it seems designed to fail in the Senate. I don’t think you can prove a removable offense of a president on this record even if the Democrats were in control. This thing is too narrow, it doesn’t have a broad foundation, and it’s an undeveloped record. There are a lot of core witnesses that were not called, and the question is why. They said we want to vote by December, we want to vote before Santa. Why? Why would you be pushing this instead of calling these critical witnesses?
The New York Times has a partial answer to that this morning. House Democrats made a “calculated gamble” that they would risk losing momentum if they fought in court to overcome executive privilege to force testimony from White House advisers:
But among those missing from the House Intelligence Committee’s witness list, besides Mr. Giuliani, were Mr. Pence, Mr. Pompeo, Mr. Mulvaney and Mr. Bolton. Not that the panel’s Democratic majority was necessarily uninterested in talking with the vice president, secretary of state, acting White House chief of staff or former national security adviser. Democratic leaders have decided not to wage a drawn-out fight to force them to testify over White House objections.
Instead, as the committee wrapped up its public hearings on Thursday, House Democrats have opted for expeditious over comprehensive, electing to complete their investigation even without filling in major gaps in the story. It is a calculated gamble that they have enough evidence to impeach Mr. Trump on a party-line vote in the House and would risk losing momentum if they took the time to wage a court fight to compel reluctant witnesses to come forward. …
Democrats have concluded that in the face of White House refusal to cooperate, it is better to press ahead and simply address the refusal of witnesses like Mr. Mulvaney to testify as a plank in a possible article of impeachment alleging obstruction of Congress.
However, that too is half a case. The White House wanted a court to rule on executive privilege, a recourse which it has a right to seek. That’s not obstruction — the House Democrat decision not to contest it is basically a default. Only if the courts ruled against the White House and they still refused to cooperate would that be a legitimate act of obstruction. As Turley said about the other part of their case, it’s almost designed to fail in the Senate just on that basis.
The real answer to Turley’s question of why is that Democrats made a political decision that the next election is more important than impeachment. They don’t want impeachment to drag into the next year and interfere with their re-election campaigns as well as the presidential election. That self-serving political calculus has been so obvious that it has exposed this impeachment circus for the political exploitation that it is — which is why it’s losing momentum anyway even without the court fight.