“It’s important to know we’re not stopping … and you’ve acknowledged this, and I find this remarkable, the evidence is already overwhelming, right? The evidence is already overwhelming,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) told Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press.” The evidence of President Trump’s impeachable conduct and his obstruction is not only overwhelming but uncontroverted. And yet, more evidence and leads continue trickling in.
Schiff observed that “the fact that Republicans may be derelict in their responsibility doesn’t relieve us of our obligation to do our constitutional duty … So, even as we compile this report, even as we submit evidence to the Judiciary Committee, we’re going to continue with our investigation, but we are not going to let the administration stonewalling us stop us.” This exchange followed:
CHUCK TODD:Let me give you one example because it’s one that a lot of Republicans are hanging their hat on, that if there is one piece of evidence you have not been able to surface, it is direct — it is this idea that the president — when did he order that the aid, itself, was to be withheld as a quid pro quo. You only have Gordon Sondland saying that it was the meeting. …REP. ADAM SCHIFF: Chuck, let’s look at this. First, they hung their hat on there’s no evidence of a quid pro quo. Then there was overwhelming evidence of a quid pro quo. Now, some are hanging their hat on, well, what’s your evidence that the president withheld the military aid. The president’s own chief of staff has admitted they withheld the military aid to get this investigation, this crazy DNC server investigation, which is part of a Russian disinformation campaign. The president’s own chief of staff. I mean, they seem to be saying unless Donald Trump writes out, “I bribed Ukraine,” the evidence will be insufficient. What every juror is told, and I don’t think that the Senate is different than a jury here, at least it shouldn’t be, is they don’t leave their common sense at the door. There was no plausible explanation but one, and that was the president wanted this leverage to get Ukraine to do his political dirty work. …CHUCK TODD:And one last thing, on the Senate trial, is one of the reasons you’re not going to fight to try to — in the courts right now for Bolton is that you believe — there’s this theory that’s been on, I think, Talking Points Memo, a liberal news organization, Josh Marshall. There’s a legal theory running around that it’s a lot easier to get the chief justice to compel [former national security adviser] John Bolton to testify at a Senate trial than it would be waiting around to get him to Congress. Do you buy into that theory?REP. ADAM SCHIFF:I think that may very well be true. Now, people like John Bolton, whose deputies had the courage to come in and testify, are going to have to answer one day why they saved what they knew for a book rather than tell the country when the country needed to know. But I do think that when it comes to documents and witnesses, that if it comes to a trial, and again we’re getting far down the road here, that the chief justice will have to make a decision on requests for witnesses and documents. And, and so, I don’t envy that job for the chief justice.
There is plenty to unpack there, but there are four essential points.
First, the report will be written and not delayed to complete court battles. Sometime Monday a federal court will hand down an order deciding whether former White House counsel Donald McGahn (from whom the House Judiciary Committee sought testimony in the Mueller report hearings) must testify. While an adverse ruling against Trump would likely be appealed, a repudiation of the bogus claim of absolute immunity might provoke some witnesses to step forward.
Second, that very same evidence (both witnesses and documents) might be obtained in the Senate by order of the Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., giving Democrats surprise testimony and more damning evidence with which to convict. Roberts is likely to parse information, forcing some witnesses to testify to some of what they know.
Third, while Bolton may be shirking his civic duty now for the sake of making money, his gambit may ultimately fail — as will Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s effort to block witnesses and withhold testimony of subordinates. Bolton might want to reconsider coming in voluntarily rather than being dragged in to the Senate trial.
Fourth, more and more evidence will surface because independent litigants are obtaining new information all the time. (“About 100 pages of newly released State Department documents show Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani had at least two phone conversations in the weeks before a U.S. ambassador in Ukraine was removed from her post,” NPR reported.) Schiff made clear that the House will continue investigating, scooping up more and more facts on the way to trial.
New evidence should not only bolster the bribery/extortion article of impeachment but also the obstruction claim, which may turn out to be the strongest of all. (Former Republican representative Barbara Comstock observed on ABC’s “This Week” that “they had a lot of witnesses who pointed out, like [U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon] Sondland, that they didn’t have access to the documents.” In short, the more evidence of attempts to conceal damaging evidence, the stronger the obstruction case becomes.
The Post’s blockbuster report underscores the potency of such information:
A confidential White House review of President Trump’s decision to place a hold on military aid to Ukraine has turned up hundreds of documents that reveal extensive efforts to generate an after-the-fact justification for the decision and a debate over whether the delay was legal, according to three people familiar with the records.The research by the White House Counsel’s Office, which was triggered by a congressional impeachment inquiry announced in September, includes early August email exchanges between acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and White House budget officials seeking to provide an explanation for withholding the funds after President Trump had already ordered a hold in mid-July on the nearly $400 million in security assistance, according to the three people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal White House deliberations.
If this information is correct, then Schiff will have considerable new information of both the underlying bribery count but also the obstruction charge.
The test for impeachment, essentially an indictment, is different from the evidence required at trial. As for impeachment, we have long passed the point at which in a criminal proceeding a prosecutor would have enough to obtain an indictment. In this case, Democrats should be asking themselves the political question: When would an ordinary American look at the totality of the facts and say that Trump conditioned aid and a meeting on receipt of a private political “gift” (i.e., dirt on the Bidens)? If we are not there already (70 percent of Americans, according to a recent poll, think Trump did something wrong or impeachable), we will be there in weeks, not months.
For trial in the Senate, Democrats can continue adding to the mound of evidence and enlist Roberts’s help in getting more. From what we have seen, there is plenty more to be gotten.
Edward Foley: House Democrats can hear from more witnesses without a prolonged court fight. Here’s how.
Jennifer Rubin: We know what happened. Now it’s time to compel Republicans to refute it or condone it.
The latest commentary on the Trump impeachment
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