Ominously, the Senate unanimously passed a sense-of-the-Senate resolution demanding the whistleblower complaint that started all this be transmitted to Congress.
Before we even start the official impeachment process, there will be a test vote of sorts in the House. Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) announced in a written statement released earlier a vote on a nonbinding motion on Wednesday “making it clear Congress’s disapproval of the Administration’s effort to block the release of the complaint and the need to protect the whistleblower.” The written statement continued, “This is not a partisan matter, it’s about the integrity of our democracy, respect for the rule of law and defending our Constitution. We hope that all Members of the House — Democrats and Republicans alike — will join in upholding the rule of law and oath of office to protect and defend the Constitution as Representatives of the American people.” This is one of many potential steps to turn up the heat on Republican lawmakers.
How did the ground on impeachment shift so quickly? For once, Democrats remained in sync and moved swiftly. The glaring abuse of power at issue — asking Ukraine’s president to investigate former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter while withholding military aid to Kiev — and the president’s refusal to provide all evidence including a whistleblower complaint as required by law shocked Democrats out of their cautious mode and propelled them to rally around impeachment. Pelosi, who ostensibly was protecting these members, was then compelled to act. Contrary to cynical media chatter, facts do matter and these facts could not be ignored by Democrats despite any misgivings about the political fallout.
Pelosi’s remarks on opening official impeachment proceedings were the culmination of a day extraordinary even for this president. Also feeling the ground shift, Trump agreed to release the “transcript” of the July 25 call with the Ukrainian president. Even if perfectly accurate, though, the transcript contains only a portion of the material in the whistleblower’s complaint, reports suggest. Trump would have no basis for withholding the whistleblower complaint if he released the transcript of the call. “He can’t selectively waive executive privilege (which was a bogus claim to begin with),” former prosecutor Mimi Rocah tells me. “He wants to use the privilege as a shield and a sword. Release a transcript that he thinks he can spin in his favor but hold the complaint back which will likely be more damaging to him. The law absolutely doesn’t allow that.”
Beyond the complaint, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff tweeted that the whistleblower’s lawyer says his client wants to talk to both the House and Senate intelligence committees. If he or she does so, the full substance of the complaint will be laid bare. Should the complaint say what is expected, Republicans at that point will face the unpleasant prospect of deciding whether to condone a blatant abuse of presidential powers.
Also Tuesday, Biden made a public statement. “We have a president who believes there is no limit to his power. We have a president who believes he can do anything and get away with it. We have a president who believes he is above the law,” Biden said. “Pressuring the leader of another nation to investigate a political opponent — to help win his election is not the conduct of an American president.” He continued, “The allegation that he blocked hundreds of millions of dollars in congressionally approved aid to another country unless it agreed to smear his political opponent is not the conduct of an American president. Denying Congress the information to which it is constitutionally entitled — and obstructing its efforts to investigate his actions — is not the conduct of an American president.” He called out Trump’s alleged conduct as an abuse of his office and a violation of his oath. He then implored Congress: “Using its full constitutional authority, Congress should demand the information it has a legal right to receive. And if the president does not comply — if he continues to obstruct Congress and flout the law — Donald Trump will leave Congress no choice but to initiate impeachment.”
The stage of dillydallying and interminable hearings appears over. The process Pelosi suggests may move swiftly — in weeks, not in months. The Democrats are united and believe the facts are compelling enough to shift the burden onto Republicans to decide whether to abandon a lawless president. We still have more facts to hear and potential witnesses to hear from (including Democratic Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, who spoke to the Ukrainians about pressure they were facing). Judging from the speed and detail of leaks in the past week, we may get to the bottom of this in short order.
Pelosi likes to say public sentiment is everything. If Democrats can make a swift, compelling case to the public that Trump egregiously abused his power, Trump’s grip on the presidency may prove to be less secure than imagined. If Democrats cannot, Trump may once again have the last laugh.