Beginning this week Republicans get their wish to bring to TV the impeachment inquiry testimony of witnesses who earlier made depositions behind closed doors. Fasten your seatbelts, it is going to be a wild ride. We will now have a chance to look at the witnesses in their faces and hear what they saw and knew. We, too, will have a chance to hear Trump’s defenders cross-examine. Failing to knock holes in witnesses’ testimony, watch them try to get your attention focused on some side issues not directly relevant to the core events driving the accusations. Expect witnesses to be subject to character assassination and accused of some presumed bias. Per Socrates: ”When the debate is lost, slander becomes the tool of the losers.”
For those who still have not made up their minds in advance, this is an opportunity to sit as if you are a juror in a grand jury. While the impeachment process will be voted upon by our elected representatives in the Senate and the House, they too will be following public opinion polls closely and may be swayed by them. A nationwide poll by USC reported Nov 7 by the Los Angeles Times concluded that one-fourth of Americans have not made up their minds; 44% already support impeachment and 30% oppose impeachment.
Transcripts of those depositions and responses to cross-examination questions by the GOP are being or have already been released, but some are 300 pages long. Given a nation so attuned to the visuals and audios of television, and not disposed to delving into wonky weeds of the written word, the impact of the TV hearings will go far to determine national sentiment. The open testimony will be reported and spun by cable media outlets that are slanted ideologically to the left or right. Excerpts and sound bites chosen by the media outlets will be very influential in shaping opinions. Most will probably hear or see broadcasts of the evening news and will not be glued to C-Span or in-depth coverage provided by cable outlets. Social media will be on fire with truths and untruths.
Bet every dime you have that the real-time defense rebuttal will come from the mouths, tweets, and interviews of Donald Trump and his supporters. There will be many attempts as well to shift your attention to someone else’s accused wrongdoing, proven or not. Donald Trump himself is already putting the blame for the scheme to force the Ukraine president to find dirt on the Bidens on his chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, political donor and Trump loyalist Ambassador Sondland, and his personal attorney Rudy Guiliani. Groundwork and action occurred months before and after a July 25 telephone call in which Trump himself told the Ukraine president the favors he wanted and conditioned military aid and a White House visit on Ukraine’s president complying. Trump may not have used the term “quid pro quo”, but what he said described bribery and extortion. Just asking a foreign leader to help in an election is also a crime under election laws.
Here is where we are now. We are still in the inquiry (investigation) stage. Since no special counsel conducted the investigation in advance and made a report as happened in the Clinton/Nixon cases, this current inquiry is more similar to a grand jury action conducted in secret to determine if the prosecution has a case and what charges are appropriate. Unlike the usual grand jury procedure, open hearings in the House beginning this week will allow cross-examinations and representations by attorneys. Defense witnesses can be called with the approval of a majority of committee members. The Constitution limits reasons (articles) to treason, bribery (extortion falls into this definition), and high crimes/misdemeanors that are not defined. Abuse of power has fit into this latter category of articles in prior impeachment endeavors. A court finding of guilty of a crime is not required. The House’s impeachment vote does not determine guilt or innocence. That trial will happen in the Senate.
What will be the impact on the 2020 election cycle is unknown at this stage, assuming the President is acquitted in a Senate trial as is likely and will not be removed before the 2020 November election. A conviction in the Senate requires a two-thirds vote and given the makeup in the Senate, all Democrats and twenty Republicans would be needed to remove him. Impeachment in the House needs a simple majority that Democrats comfortably have. This will be the fourth impeachment process in 250 years, two of which ( Bill Clinton/Andrew Johnson) made it to the Senate for trial, and both ended in acquittal. Nixon resigned before any vote. By November 2020 other issues may be considered more important to voters, such as health care, economy, women’s choice, and gun safety. For more, visit www.mufticforumblog.blogspot.com