Trump Declines Invitation To Participate in House Judiciary Committee Hearings, Then Complains About Unfair Process

Ken AshfordL'Affaire Ukraine, Trump & Administration, Trump ImpeachmentLeave a Comment

Neither President Donald Trump nor his attorneys will participate in Wednesday’s House Judiciary Committee impeachment hearing, they said late Sunday.

In a letter to Chairman Jerrold Nadler, White House counsel to the President Pat Cipollone said, “We cannot fairly be expected to participate in a hearing while the witnesses are yet to be named and while it remains unclear whether the Judiciary Committee will afford the President a fair process through additional hearings. More importantly, an invitation to an academic discussion with law professors does not begin to provide the President with an semblance of a fair process. Accordingly, under the current circumstances, we do not intend to participate in your Wednesday hearing.”

Cipollone accused the New York Democrat in the letter of “no doubt purposely” scheduling the hearing while Trump will be at a NATO meeting in London.Cipollone said they would respond separately to the Friday deadline about their participation in future hearings.The Judiciary Committee’s first hearing on “Constitutional Grounds for Presidential Impeachment” is expected to kick off a frantic month of activity in the House.

The judiciary panel is expected to hold multiple public hearings and then consider articles of impeachment, which it would approve to set up a possible House floor vote before Christmas that could make Trump just the third president in US history to be impeached.

Under the House-passed rules, the President’s counsel is able to participate in the impeachment hearings in the Judiciary Committee, unlike the public hearings last month in the House Intelligence Committee.

Two important details in the Cipollone letter: First, Cipollone still insists Trump “has done nothing wrong”! — indeed, that the HPSCI hearings “confirm[ed]” it. Extraordinary and deeply troubling for the White House counsel to say such a thing.

Second, Cipollone writes that “Both Presidents [Nixon and Clinton] in th[eir] [impeachment] proceedings asserted numerous privileges.” I don’t believe, however, that *any* of the examples at the pages (24-26) of the CRS report Cipollone cites involved privilege claims *in impeachment proceedings.* Indeed, Presidents from Washington on down have acknowledged that executive privilege is inapplicable–or in any event outweighed by congressional need–in impeachment inquiries.

Just now…

On the Sunday shows, Republicans previewed two leading arguments they’ll make in Trump’s defense as the next phase begins.

The first argument came from Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia on “Fox News Sunday.” Chris Wallace pushed Collins on whether he saw it as a problem that Trump conditioned official acts — whether a White House meeting or hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid — on announcing investigations into Joe and Hunter Biden.

Collins claimed there was “nothing problematic” about conditioning aid on Ukraine rooting out “corruption.” He then said in the very next breath that it “just so happened” that the corruption in question involved Hunter Biden, insisting that “other witnesses” also said Hunter’s arrangement with the Ukranian company Burisma was questionable.

As Will Saletan notes, no witness said this. But the crucial point here is that Collins has adopted the position that there was nothing wrong with demanding this investigation, because it was just pure coincidence that the corruption in question (which is entirely fabricated) involved a chief 2020 rival.

The idea that Trump was focused on generic corruption is falsifiable: Trump aides and allies have privately and publicly conceded it’s bunk, and on his call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump explicitly called only for investigations that would help him politically. Whatever Collins actually believes about Trump’s motives, what’s staring us in the face is that Collins is arguing that what Trump actually did do is just fine.

We also saw this from Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana, who said on NBC News: “I think both Russia and Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election.” Kennedy continued that Trump should be allowed to present evidence to this effect, in keeping with his “demonstrated record fighting foreign corruption.”

The notion that Ukraine interfered in 2016 is based on a series of occurrences (which Kennedy alluded to) that have been wildly distorted beyond any connection with reality. As Glenn Kessler details, it’s based on “flotsam and jetsam” that has nothing whatsoever in common with the state-level interference alleged.

But the point here is that Kennedy is saying not just that this interference happened, but also that it justified Trump’s demand for investigations to get to the bottom of it, as part of his efforts to fight “foreign corruption.”

Senate Republicans will advance this argument at Trump’s impeachment trial: Trump understandably concluded he’d been victimized by a Ukrainian plot; therefore Trump’s demand for Zelensky to “investigate” it was entirely justified.

But they will be doing this after intelligence officials privately warned them this theory has been Russian propaganda for years. That’s because it’s supposed to help absolve Russia of sabotaging the 2016 election for Trump (which will also absolve his campaign of efforts to coordinate with and benefit from it).

Indeed, this is what gives the theory its political utility for Trump. Here again, the argument requires you to believe this demand for an investigation into “corruption” would also help him politically by pure coincidence.

But putting aside how laughable that is, we’re once again left with this: Republican are arguing that Trump’s pressure on Zelensky was absolutely fine.

On both these fronts, Republicans are entirely unperturbed by Trump’s use of his office to solicit foreign interference in the next election on his behalf. They absurdly claim influencing the election wasn’t the motive, but that actually underscores the point: They have largely adopted the posture that making these demands of Zelensky was justified — that it was the correct thing to do.

In an alternate universe in which reporters and commentators fully reckoned with this state of affairs, any process objections would be immediately dismissed as pure bad faith and misdirection, rather than being treated as one of two competing but equivalently legitimate and sincerely felt arguments in a conventional political skirmish.

One can envision some Republicans sincerely believing Trump’s conduct was justifiable while also harboring sincere process objections. But accepting this requires extensive denial about the spectacular bad faith we’ve already seen, from the up-is-down inversion of witness claims into their diametric opposites, to the reflexive reversion to conspiracy theories hermetically sealed off from factual penetration entirely.

Indeed, as Jay Rosen notes, the familiar lament that the two sides can’t agree on common facts is itself distortive. It obscures the degree to which Republicans are employing their various claims — about process and substance alike — in purely instrumental ways.

The New York Times gets at this bluntly:Republicans … want to mire Democrats in a sloppy fight, making the hearings into such a confusing mishmash of competing information that even Republicans troubled by Mr. Trump’s actions see no upside in breaking with him.

Republicans have made up their minds: Trump did no wrong. The process objections lay the groundwork to create the impression that if few or no Republican minds end up getting changed, it’s because the case against Trump was mishandled, and not because changing Republican minds was never possible.

No one who aspires to the faithful representation of these events is required to pretend otherwise.