The House Begins To Present Its Case

This afternoon, members of the House of Representatives submitted a Trial Memorandum “in re [the] impeachment of President D—– J. T—–“. It summarizes the case for the prosecution in the president’s Senate trial. (The president’s lawyers are supposed to submit their response before noon on Monday.)

In theory, all 100 senators will read the prosecution’s memorandum before the trial starts next week. You can read it, even if they don’t (all 111 pages).

There is an eight-page introduction. Here’s how it begins:

President D—– J. T—– used his official powers to pressure a foreign government to interfere in a United States election for his personal political gain, and then attempted to cover up his scheme by obstructing Congress’s investigation into his misconduct. The Constitution provides a remedy when the President commits such serious abuses of his office: impeachment and removal. The Senate must use that remedy now to safeguard the 2020 U.S. election, protect our constitutional form of government, and eliminate the threat that the President poses to America’s national security.

The House adopted two Articles of Impeachment against President T—–: the first for abuse of power, and the second for obstruction of Congress. The evidence overwhelmingly establishes that he is guilty of both. The only remaining question is whether the members of the Senate will accept and carry out the responsibility placed on them by the Framers of our Constitution and their constitutional Oaths.

There follows a section describing the president’s abuse of power (the first article of impeachment), when he illegally delayed military aid to Ukraine in order to get the Ukrainian government to publicize (not necessarily to carry out) a criminal investigation into Joe Biden, one of the Democrats’ leading candidates for president, and Biden’s son:

President T—–’s solicitation of foreign interference in our elections to secure his own political success is precisely why the Framers of our Constitution provided Congress with the power to impeach a corrupt President and remove him from office. One of the Founding generation’s principal fears was that foreign governments would seek to manipulate American elections…. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams warned of “foreign Interference, Intrigue, Influence” and predicted that, “as often as Elections happen, the danger of foreign Influence recurs.”

The Framers therefore would have considered a President’s attempt to corrupt America’s democratic processes by demanding political favors from foreign powers to be a singularly pernicious act. They designed impeachment as the remedy for such misconduct because a President who manipulates U.S. elections to his advantage can avoid being held accountable by the voters through those same elections. And they would have viewed a President’s efforts to encourage foreign election interference as all the more dangerous where, as here, those efforts are part of an ongoing pattern of misconduct for which the President is unrepentant.

Then there is a section concerning the president’s obstruction of Congress (the second article of impeachment), his interference in the House’s investigation of the president’s apparent abuse of power:

President T—– obstructed Congress by undertaking an unprecedented campaign to prevent House Committees from investigating his misconduct. The Constitution entrusts the House with the “sole Power of Impeachment.” The Framers thus ensured what common sense requires—that the House, and not the President, determines the existence, scope, and procedures of an impeachment investigation into the President’s conduct. The House cannot conduct such an investigation effectively if it cannot obtain information from the President or the Executive Branch about the Presidential misconduct it is investigating.

Under our constitutional system of divided powers, a President cannot be permitted to hide his offenses from view by refusing to comply with a Congressional impeachment inquiry and ordering Executive Branch agencies to do the same. That conclusion is particularly important given the Department of Justice’s position that the President cannot be indicted. If the President could both avoid accountability under the criminal laws and preclude an effective impeachment investigation, he would truly be above the law.

But that is what President T—– has attempted to do, and why President T—–’s conduct is the Framers’ worst nightmare. He directed his Administration to defy every subpoena issued in the House’s impeachment investigation. At his direction, the White House, Department of State, Department of Defense, Department of Energy, and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) refused to produce a single document in response to those subpoenas. Several witnesses also followed President T—–’s orders, defying requests for voluntary appearances and lawful subpoenas, and refusing to testify. And President T—–’s interference in the House’s impeachment inquiry was not an isolated incident—it was consistent with his past efforts to obstruct the Special Counsel’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The Introduction ends with a brief summary:

…. The impeachment power is an essential check on the authority of the President, and Congress must exercise this power when the President places his personal and political interests above those of the Nation. President T—– has done exactly that. His misconduct challenges the fundamental principle that Americans should decide American elections, and that a divided system of government, in which no single branch operates without the check and balance of the others, preserves the liberty we all hold dear.

The country is watching to see how the Senate responds. History will judge each Senator’s willingness to rise above partisan differences, view the facts honestly, and defend the Constitution. The outcome of these proceedings will determine whether generations to come will enjoy a safe and secure democracy in which the President is not a king, and in which no one, particularly the President, is above the law.

The House memorandum then goes into greater detail concerning the rationale for impeaching and removing the president. It concludes with 61 pages of “material facts”, i.e. the evidence for his removal.

If D—– J. T—– were simply a mob boss or a corrupt businessman (him? are you kidding?) on trial for bribery or obstruction of justice, and members of the Senate were serving on the jury, each one of them would convict the defendant, D—– J. T—–, without a second thought. That especially holds for the Republicans, who still fancy themselves Congress’s strongest proponents of “law and order”. The prosecution’s case is overwhelming. And the verdict in this trial doesn’t even have to be unanimous! Sixty-seven out of 100 senators can throw the bum out.

But here it’s as if most of the jurors are the defendant’s underlings, fearful of his power and willing to protect him no matter what. The men who wrote the Constitution imagined a corrupt president, but they couldn’t have imagined most of the Senate being corrupt too. They assumed most senators, if not all, would take their oaths to uphold the Constitution quite seriously.

Soon we’ll know if Jefferson and Adams, Hamilton, Franklin and Washington, got the future very, very wrong.