Washington : Don’t dress betrayal as a favour for sorrows don’t come individually but in battalions, is what a usually blasé but now besieged US President Donald Trump must be thinking.
Speaker of the US House of Representatives and Trump’s principal bete noire Nancy Pelosi is not lying down and rolling over in the joust with the President. In a scathing response to the White House Press Secretary’s statement, Pelosi strongarmed a blistering broadside saying – “Mr President, you are not above the law, you will be held accountable.”
It is clear that the determined Pelosi will not be taking any prisoners as she reacted with typical disdain on the stonewalling – the White House should be warned that continued efforts to hide the truth of the President’s abuse of power from the American people will be regarded as further evidence of obstruction. For her there is only one bullet and the chamber as she pursues her quarry with relentless fury.
However, news coming out of the White House is that the President is preparing for a legal war which means going to the courts in what is being described as an escalating skirmish of epic proportions. The blowback from both the Reps and Dems is severe and an attritional war is on the cards. It is also understood that Trump will not comply with this perceived inquisition.
But the ‘obstructionist’ President hit back earlier through his personal counsel Pat Cipoilone who in a stinging denouncement of the Dems’ conduct stated that the committees’ inquiry also suffers from a separate, fatal defect.
Despite Speaker Pelosi’s commitment to “treat the President with fairness,” the committees have not established any procedures affording the President even the most basic protections demanded by due process under the Constitution and by fundamental fairness.
Chairman Nadler of the House Judiciary Committee has expressly acknowledged, at least when the President was a member of his own party, that “the power of impeachment … demands a rigorous level of due process,” and that in this context “due process means … the right to be informed of the law, of the charges against you, the right to confront the witnesses against you, to call your own witnesses, and to have the assistance of counsel.”
All of these procedures have been abandoned here.
These due process rights are not a matter of discretion for the committees to dispense with at will. To the contrary, they are constitutional requirements. The Supreme Court has recognised that due process protections apply to all Congressional investigations, been recognised that the Due Process Clause applies to impeachment proceedings. And precedent for the rights to cross-examine witnesses, call witnesses, and present evidence dates back nearly 150 years.
Yet the committees have decided to deny the President these elementary rights and protections that form the basis of the American justice system and are protected by the Constitution. No citizen, including the President, should be treated this unfairly.
To comply with the Constitution’s demands, appropriate procedures would include – at a minimum – the right to see all evidence, to present evidence, to call witnesses, to have counsel present at all hearings, to cross-examine all witnesses, to make objections relating to the examination of witnesses or the admissibility of testimony and evidence, and to respond to evidence and testimony.
Likewise, the committees must provide for the disclosure of all evidence favourable to the President and all evidence bearing on the credibility of witnesses called to testify in the inquiry. The committees’ current procedures provide none of these basic Constitutional rights.
In addition, the House has not provided the committees’ Ranking Members with the authority to issue subpoenas. The right of the minority to issue subpoenas – subject to the same rules as the majority – has been the standard, bipartisan practice in all recent resolutions authorising presidential impeachment inquiries.
The House’s failure to provide co-equal subpoena power in this case ensures that any inquiry will be nothing more than a one-sided effort by House Democrats to gather information favourable to their views and to selectively release it as only they determine. The House’s utter disregard for the established procedural safeguards followed in past impeachment inquiries shows that the current proceedings are nothing more than an unconstitutional exercise in political theatre.