Beyond Articles of Impeachment, Ethics Loopholes Enabling Trump Abuse Must Be Fixed

Interview with Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause, conducted by Scott Harris

Since the early calls for impeachment after Donald Trump was sworn into office, and in the months after the release of the Mueller report, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi had resisted calls from a growing number of Democratic legislators to begin an official impeachment inquiry. But Pelosi’s resistance collapsed after news came to light through a whistleblower that President Trump had allegedly used his office to pressure a foreign leader for information for his own political benefit.

A summary of a July 25 phone call to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky revealed that Trump may have withheld $391 million in military aid in order to obtain incriminating information on his potential 2020 election rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, whose son Hunter served on the board of Burisma, a private Ukrainian gas company.  News reports have since revealed that the president’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Attorney General William Barr and possibly Vice President Mike Pence, could have all played a role in the Ukraine extortion campaign. Reports also allege that the transcript of the Ukraine call – and possibly other calls from Trump to foreign leaders where illegalities may have occurred – were improperly stored in a top secret server.

After formally opening an impeachment inquiry on Sept. 24, six House committees are already conducting investigations that are likely to produce one or more articles of impeachment against the president. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause.  Here, she discusses the House impeachment inquiry and the political repercussions for Republicans, Democrats and the 2020 election.

KAREN HOBERT FLYNN: Over the August recess, there was a lot of grassroots activity. Our group Common Cause had many activists set up meetings with Democrats and Republicans to urge them to launch an impeachment inquiry. So I know that they received a lot of pressure when they were home. In a lot of ways, I believe that Pelosi was concerned that the Senate would never convict Trump and that it would hurt their chances to win election – the House Democrats taking the House and the Senate in 2020 and I think they were probably looking at polls.

You know, one of the things that I think is so jarring about the allegations that came to light around both the whistleblower complaint and when Trump released – I guess a summary – I’m not sure that it’s quite a transcript because I don’t know that it’s a verbatim recitation of what was said on that call. I think we need to hear the recording ourselves to know that the whistleblower complaint and that transcript showed that Trump repeatedly pressured Ukraine’s president to work with Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, and Attorney General Bill Barr to investigate Joe Biden and his son Hunter. And shortly before that call, Trump had ordered to withhold a $391 million in military aid that had been approved by Congress for the Ukraine.

And so this happened, you know, a day after (Special Counsel Robert) Mueller testified. So we saw the Trump administration completely block all congressional investigations, dozens and dozens of investigations where they would not turn over evidence. They fought in court. They instructed people who worked in the White House or had left the White House that they could not testify. And so one, their inquiry – just going through the process of holding hearings was not working. And then second, he immediately revealed without any shame that he was trying to collude with Ukraine in digging up dirt, using his public office for personal political gain that could help him in the 2020 election.

So he is clearly going to be working to invite interference – as the Russians did – if he thinks it’s gonna help get him elected. And people may remember his interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC, who had asked him, “Don’t you think if somebody offers you something of value to help you in your election – a foreign country – shouldn’t you report that to the FBI?” And Trump said, “No, no, I think I’d listen. You know, what’s wrong with that? Nobody’s going to call the FBI.” And then he sort of later said, “Well, maybe I would.” But he wants that help. He’s asking for that help. And that is what the whistleblower complaint and the transcript of that conversation showed.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Karen, there are many legal scholars and commentators who talk about the need for the House of Representatives to produce a very narrow list of articles of impeachment and that would be to avoid a partisan trial in the Senate. These legal scholars and commentators suggest that a very narrow reading, possibly just inclusion of the Ukraine scandal would be plenty and to leave out more divisive articles of impeachment such as the obstruction of justice charges surrounding the Mueller investigation, the emoluments clause violations and collusion with Russia. What are your thoughts about that?

KAREN HOBERT FLYNN: I think the goal will be to try and get as much support. And we’ve seen a couple Republicans come out and say, either he should be impeached or that they supported an impeachment inquiry. I think it’s important to try and get bipartisan support for doing this, but what I don’t want to see is a white-washing of what went wrong. What will be important after, you know, we see an impeachment process in the House and perhaps the Senate taking that up – McConnell has said he would have to, if it was sent to the Senate – is important legislation to help close many of the loopholes. Norms like disclosing your financial interests rather than leaving it as a norm. We need to have it as a law because Trump has shown us that you can get away with not doing that. We would need to look at all of those misdeeds, those problems, and make sure that we are tightening ethics rules and ensuring that Congress has an ability to provide oversight for the kinds of outrageous behavior we’ve seen.

So you know, how they get to impeachment is a political exercise and I think it may have to be narrow to get as many people as possible, as long as we work to ensure that we get the kind of reforms we see to stop the kind of behavior that has been rampant for the last couple of years.

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