Savvy House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, to spare the Democrats in red and purple congressional districts from facing electoral revolt, gave Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler the go-ahead without first holding a floor vote on whether to conduct hearings into the president’s impeachment. And you can be sure Trump’s lawyers will argue in court that the absence of that politically costly floor vote means the impeachment inquiry does not have the legal superpowers such an inquiry normally acquires — and that are needed to prevail on judicial unsealing of secret grand jury materials and ordering fact witnesses like former White House counsel Don McGahn to testify under oath to what they know Trump did to win office and to cover up what he did to stay there.
That argument could succeed but shouldn’t, and probably won’t. There’s no way courts could avoid the reality or the appearance of being blatantly partisan if they were to muck around in the details of how the speaker of the House chooses to orchestrate the initiation of an impeachment inquiry. And Pelosi’s critics who call her a coward for being subtle about how she is launching this particular inquiry seem to be more interested in the political optics than in the reality of holding this president accountable for his grave offenses against the United States.
Consider how strange it would be for a court to determine that the Judiciary Committee did not possess whatever special investigatory powers accompany a full-on impeachment proceeding. The law then would absurdly require the House to exercise its “sole power of impeachment” in the dark, without access to the information it needs to make the most serious and fateful decisions. Silly as the legal system sometimes seems, it’s just not that stupid.