Nancy Pelosi said she undertook impeachment “prayerfully,” and apparently what she was praying was that she could get it over with as soon as possible.
The House is preparing to send a flagrantly incomplete factual record to the Senate as the basis of an effort to remove a sitting president for the first time in our history.
Pelosi has affected a posture of heavy-heartedness since the outset of the process, saying that “there’s no joy in this” and urging a somber spirit as Democrats pursue the facts wherever they may take them — so long as that’s not too far into an election year.
In substantive terms, the Democrats had a good set of public hearings before Adam Schiff’s intelligence committee the past two weeks — with one gaping hole. They didn’t have anyone with first-hand knowledge of Trump’s directives on Ukraine or his state of mind. The closest was EU ambassador Gordon Sondland, who, still, could only “presume” a quid pro quo over the defense aid.
There are people who probably don’t have to presume, and Sondland named some of them: Trump’s personal counsel Rudy Giuliani, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. They all were closer to this than Sondland, yet Democrats are happy to make the guy from the outer bounds of the inner circle their “star witness” and forgo the inner circle.
This makes no sense as an investigative matter. The logic of skipping the most knowledgeable witnesses is entirely political. Pelosi doesn’t want to spend an inordinate amount of time on impeachment, holding her vulnerable members hostage to an initiative that may not play well in their districts and ticking ever closer on the clock to the beginning of the campaign season.
To get the more central witnesses requires litigation because they all have at least colorable claims of privilege. The Democrats don’t want to wait for the courts. Instead, Pelosi and Schiff have talked loosely of including an obstruction count in the articles of impeachment, even though some of the Trump claims might ultimately prevail.
The minimum requirement of a historic impeachment case, only the fourth in our history, would seem to be a complete account of the facts. Schiff used to say as much: “We have to flesh out all of the facts for the American people. The seriousness of the matter and the danger to our country demands nothing less.” Now, the seriousness and the danger are demanding that Democrats rush things along so the president can be impeached by the end of the year.
No matter how often Democrats say, “Let’s honor the Constitution,” their actions say, “Let’s check the box.”
Democrats have had the difficulty from the beginning of trying to build an edifice of impeachment and removal atop the narrow foundation of the Ukraine episode, and now they aren’t even going to finish the edifice, content with what they could complete in a two-month investigation largely reliant on the testimony of people who weren’t around for the main events (former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch) or were out of the loop (former Trump Russia adviser Fiona Hill).
It’s not as though getting a firsthand witness will weaken the Democratic case; it will in all likelihood make it stronger.
But with every day that passes it becomes a little more absurd to say Trump should be impeached and removed when the public can make its own verdict in the election. Besides, Democrats know that impeachment is going nowhere in the Senate, so why bother locking down the case to make it worthy of the gravity of the process?
They might as well go with what they have, a partisan impeachment pursued on a political timetable. During Bill Clinton’s impeachment, it was his defenders who were saying, “Let’s move on.” Now, it’s Trump’s pursuers, who prayerfully and sorrowfully want to get impeachment over with.
Rich Lowry is on Twitter @RichLowry.