On Halloween, the House of Representatives voted largely along party lines on a resolution that presumably would unmask the secrecy of the ongoing behind-closed-doors investigation of President Trump. Two Democrats, Rep. Jeff Van Drew (D-New Jersey) and Rep. Colin Peterson (D-Minnesota), joined with the entire Republican caucus to vote against the resolution.
The House resolution was described as “formalizing” the process – one that has yet to be officially started, even though it has consumed much of the business of the House for weeks out of public view. The resolution itself acknowledges this as it directs six committees “to continue their ongoing investigations as part of the existing House of Representatives inquiry.” [emphasis added]
Never in the history of the United States has the impeachment of a President been formalized after it was underway. The usual process begins with a vote on a resolution to start the inquiry, part of which includes the rules and parameters for the inquiry itself. This means there were no rules set until the House was in the middle of issuing subpoenas and demanding hours of testimony from everyone but the alleged whistleblower. Speaker Pelosi unilaterally declared an impeachment inquiry without a vote even before receiving the transcript of the President’s call with Ukrainian President Zelensky.
Voters do not like how this is being handled. A recent poll shows, roughly half of voters disapprove of how Democrats have conducted this investigation.
Apart from the procedural issues at hand, there is the matter of what the Constitution dictates as the threshold for impeachment. Article II, Section 4 reads, “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors.” The Constitution sets a high bar for impeachment. The answer must be more than something people dislike or disapprove of; it must meet the threshold of a high crime and misdemeanor.
Every American has the right to due process, including the President of the United States. That’s our Fifth Amendment right. The impeachment process should be based on facts, and those at the center of the process should retain their right to due process. It is profoundly damaging to ignore the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and sacred tenets of American jurisprudence including the burden of proof being on the accuser rather than the accused and innocent until proven guilty.
Starting with a legitimate vote to begin an inquiry enables the President to engage in the process and have the ability to defend himself. It also gives all members of the House access to review the evidence and form their own conclusions. For the first time, this has not happened.
In Federalist 65, Alexander Hamilton details the impeachment process and the rationale behind it. Writing as Publius, Hamilton interrupts his impassioned defense of the Constitution to issue a warning:
In many cases [impeachment] will connect itself with pre-existing factions, and will enlist all their animosities, partialities, influence, and interest on one side or on the other; and in such cases there will always be the greatest danger that the decision will be regulated more by the comparative strength of parties, than by real demonstrations of innocence or guilt. [emphasis added]
In a time of heightened passions, tensions, and polarization, it is our duty to steward the laws and institutions that protect our liberties. While not perfect, our constitutional order is the most effective system we have to preserve our freedom in a fallen world.
Party before country destroys both country and party. In a world of 30-second talking points and 140-character verdicts, let us take the time to thoughtfully examine issues as informed citizens. Only then may we continue to keep our Republic.