Democrats Launch Formal Impeachment Inquiry as Republicans Scramble to Upend the Process

Interview with Beth Rotman, money in politics and ethics program director with Common Cause, conducted by Scott Harris

The House of Representatives voted along partisan lines on Oct. 31 to formally begin the impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump, only the fourth president in U.S. history to face a formal impeachment investigation. The 232 to 196 vote, included only two Democrats who opposed the measure. The resolution spelled out the rules for the impeachment process that includes releasing transcripts of closed-door interviews, giving Democratic and Republican committee lawyers equal time to ask questions and cross-examine witnesses in public hearings, but will deny Trump representatives’ requests to call witnesses if the White House continues to block testimony and documents Congress demands.

At the same time, Trump’s GOP defenders criticized the impeachment rules and sided with the president in his demands to out the identity of the intelligence whistleblower who made the initial complaint about Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, a clearly unethical effort to bully and intimidate the whistleblower and others who may testify against the president.  Multiple witnesses have already offered testimony substantiating Trump’s abuse of presidential power for personal and political gain.

Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Beth Rotman, money in politics and ethics program director with Common Cause. Here, she assesses the Democrats’ approach to impeachment, narrowly focusing on Trump’s apparent effort to use extortion tactics to pressure Ukraine President Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, as well as alleged Ukraine involvement in the 2016 presidential election.

BETH ROTMAN: I think it’s important that we remember that our elections are really the cornerstone of our democracy. So these allegations of the president — the highest elected official in our country — are really significant allegations of encouraging foreign interference in our election. It really gets at the core of what we are as a country and that’s really why it’s so incredibly significant. But also that there’s really a lot left to do because of the natures of the allegations and because things have started in the various security organizations. So much of what’s happened so far has been closed to the public because of the sensitive nature. That said, what’s really happened now is at least enough has been substantiated that Congress has said, We have to open this up and now we have to have a full impeachment inquiry that’s really much more transparent and open to the public. So certainly it’s been along partisan lines, but we’re really at the beginning. So a lot is still coming out and I think that a lot of the story is yet to be written.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Beth, as has been discussed in our media and among people all over the country, there’s speculation about how many articles of impeachment are likely to come out of the House of Representatives when this is all done in terms of this inquiry. And it looks like Nancy Pelosi, as Speaker of the House, is predisposed to focus only on the Ukraine scandal, the extortion of information damaging to President Trump’s political opponents, namely former Vice President Joe Biden, vis-a-vis his son and his work in Ukraine at the Burisma gas company. But I’m wondering from your perspective, is it undercutting the case for impeachment? If Nancy Pelosi and the majority of Democrats back only one article of impeachment focusing solely on the Ukraine scandal and not taking into account the other apparent violations of the Constitution that had been well documented that include abuse of power, the emoluments clause, possibly bribery and obstruction of justice that was certainly enumerated in the Mueller report.

BETH ROTMAN: What started with the whistleblower and the allegations related to urging foreign interference are so stunning and just so shocking that it’s really what pushed Congress into starting this impeachment inquiry. I mean it really was a moment. I think we heard a lot of our leaders saying, Wow, you know, the times have called us. Anybody who’s on the fence – now there was a majority to start this impeachment inquiry. I think that things still could be further opened up. I don’t think it’s undercutting it. I tend to look at it as it may make sense, you know, even with keeping it a bit on the more narrow side, there is still so, so much. I mean there’s so many people to look at. So many people to call and there’s still abuse of power issues and all those things come into it including campaign finance violations, abuse of power violations that are potentially here. All of these things are coming into it even with looking at this sort of piece, which we’ve called the tip of the iceberg. So I think that you know, starting on the more narrow side and then later potentially expanding is also okay.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Beth, what are some of your concerns at Common Cause about how the Republican party, which has stayed pretty loyal to Trump throughout this process over the last couple of years of many investigations? What are the concerns about how they will try to derail the impeachment process by claiming that there’s an unfairness, by basically saying Trump did nothing illegal and that the charges against Donald Trump in this impeachment inquiry thus far, many Republicans say, doesn’t justify impeachment. But could there be other political maneuvers and parliamentary maneuvers that are used to undermine the entire impeachment process?

BETH ROTMAN: This is really a fight for the soul of our country and to protect our democracy. So Common Cause is working in coalition with a lot of other nonpartisan organizations to urge all of our elected officials to do this the right way. And we have seen these critical moments in our country’s history in the past where things started in a more partisan way, but then they improved — because at the end of the day, our elected officials are responsible to all of us and this is not a partisan moment.

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