’Tis the season to hunt witches

The impeachment inquiry regarding President Donald Trump is the third such activity I have followed in real time, along with most Americans 60 years of age or older.

The Richard Nixon proceedings of 1974 took place in my early 30s and the Bill Clinton events of 1998-99 happened in my late 50s.

Although my younger grandchildren might doubt it, I wasn’t around for President Andrew Johnson’s impeachment in 1868.

The Trump matter strikes a chord with both the Nixon and the Clinton inquiries. 

The Nixon White House — at least before the Oval Office tapes were released — accused House Democrats of a “witch hunt” and operating a “kangaroo court.” 

Clinton’s Democratic congressional defenders used exactly the same terms to describe the Republican investigation against that president.

Trump and his supporters dredged up both phrases to counter today’s Democratic investigation.

There are other similarities among the three inquiries as well. That’s to be expected.

Three questions come to mind in regard to the search for answers in the current effort.

FIRST: Why don’t the Democrats take a public vote of the entire House of Representatives on whether to conduct an impeachment inquiry into President Trump’s activities? 

In the Nixon matter, the full House passed a resolution giving its Judiciary Committee the authority to investigate the Watergate break-in and apparent cover-up.

In the Clinton matter, independent counsel Ken Starr had already looked into Clinton’s behavior in a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by Paula Jones against Clinton, and in the Whitewater financial episode and other events as well. His investigation cast a wide net. So the full House by resolution voted to use Starr’s findings for its impeachment proceedings and did not call on its own committees for further investigation.

Regarding Trump, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi simply authorized three committees, led by Intelligence Committee chair Adam Schiff, to begin the impeachment inquiry. No vote of the full House to do so was taken, in contrast to the procedures followed in the Nixon and Clinton matters.

Why is that? Republicans strongly criticize Pelosi’s methodology, claiming it violates established precedent.

It’s not hard to figure out an answer. Some Democrats claim they don’t want to give Trump and his supporters a “victory” by giving in to the Republican demand.

The real reason, though, is no doubt because a full House vote on instituting proceedings would force Democratic members from politically balanced and red-leaning districts to take an official position on investigating the president for possible impeachment. That vote would provide many of their Republican constituents with a reason to vote against them in the next election, and hand political ammunition to their opponents.

By simply referring the inquiry to House committees, Pelosi is protecting those members, some of them freshmen in the House.

SECOND: Why wouldn’t Republicans in the Senate welcome a chance to support Trump in an impeachment trial, and why do most of them refuse to comment on established facts about Trump’s behavior?

The most likely reason is that Senate Republicans are not sure of what the House inquiry might turn up. 

They don’t want to be put into the position of publicly voting “no” on impeachment charges against Trump despite what impeachment turns up, or else angering Trump supporters in their home states by voting “yes,” especially in states that lean Republican.

In the Nixon matter, most Republicans in Congress stood firmly behind the president initially, until the Oval Office tapes surfaced. Their early support cost many of them their seats in the next general election.

So far there’s nothing like the tapes in the Trump inquiry. But no one knows what might be out there.

THIRD: Why don’t Trump and his allies give House Democrats the documents, depositions and testimonies they are requesting?

For that question, I have no answer.

If President Trump and his team have done nothing wrong, openness and cooperation would bring a quicker end to the inquiry and let Trump have the last laugh.

Stonewalling opens the president to an obvious charge of obstruction of justice, which was a charge approved by the House in the Clinton impeachment, and was set to be approved by the House in the Nixon case before Nixon resigned.

Both Nixon and Clinton fought to deprive the House of evidence. The tactic worked against both men in the House.

Under the Constitution, Congress has complete power over impeachment investigations. It writes its own rules. 

In Nixon’s case, the Supreme Court unanimously declared he had to comply with the House demand for the Oval Office tapes.

The more Trump resists, the more suspicious he looks. What he hopes to gain by stonewalling is puzzling. 

He and his associates apparently have decided that risking impeachment and possible conviction for obstruction of justice is preferable to answering Congress’ questions. 

That’s troubling.

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