I want to consider the issues raised by the editors of the New York Times in their editorial on the ongoing “impeachment inquiry” piecemeal. I agree with their opening:
The House of Representatives has undertaken the impeachment inquiry of a president only four times in American history. Each time, the House has set its own ground rules. The Constitution prescribes no specific process, nor does federal law. Court rulings and precedents, such as they are, tend to be narrow and particular. So when lawmakers determine that such a proceeding is warranted, they are forced to rely on their own cobbled-together rule book, with the trust of the American people in their government at stake.
This requires Congress to be rigorous in setting out the rules for conducting an inquiry.
That’s followed by a little throatclearing and then a discussion of the White House’s recent letter:
Take the first claim first, that there is nothing wrong with Mr. Trump shaking down a foreign leader for his own political benefit. Perhaps that’s the only position the White House can take, because the facts of the July 25 call are not in dispute. The administration’s own written summary of the conversation reveals that Mr. Trump pressured Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a top political rival, and his son Hunter for supposed corruption. At the time of the call, Mr. Trump was withholding nearly $400 million in promised military aid to Ukraine — a topic that was alluded to in connection to his requests that Mr. Zelensky “do us a favor.”
Despite Mr. Trump’s claims to the contrary, this is not O.K.
which I agree with. That’s followed by some half-hearted defense of the House Democrats’ reluctance to hold a vote authorizing the inquiry:
First, there is nothing magical about a House vote authorizing an impeachment inquiry. The administration’s letter calls it a “necessary authorization,” but that’s simply false.
It’s false but unwise as the editors acknowledge later:
Ms. Pelosi also wants to protect Democratic members who represent more conservative districts from having to take a difficult vote that might come back to haunt them in 2020. This isn’t a very compelling rationale, especially when those same members will almost surely be called upon to vote on articles of impeachment soon enough.
They then challenge President Trump’s good faith:
Finally, Ms. Pelosi knows that Mr. Trump has no intention of cooperating with an impeachment inquiry, even if it were authorized by a vote. Instead, he would use what would likely be a party-line vote to further disparage the inquiry as a partisan hit job.
That’s probably true but I honestly have no idea. They present some contradicting evidence:
On Wednesday, Mr. Trump was asked whether he would cooperate if the House held a vote authorizing the impeachment inquiry. “Yeah, that sounds O.K.,” the president said. “We would if they give us our rights.”
Then they get to the real meat of the editorial:
And yet it may be a mistake for the Democrats to proceed much further without an authorization by the House. For one thing, a vote would strengthen Congress’s hand in any litigation arising out of the inquiry. A federal judge in Washington, Beryl Howell, said on Tuesday that having such a vote on record would make it “easier” for her to step in and make a ruling on House demands for documents or testimony.
Second, a resolution in support of the inquiry could also lay out specific ground rules, which could enhance the legitimacy of the inquiry in the minds of Americans.
Clearer, unified ground rules for this inquiry could address the other two main complaints in the White House’s letter: a lack of due process or subpoena power for the Republicans in the minority.
I agree with nearly every word of that. That’s my position.
They follow that by expressing skepticism again about the president’s good faith and pointing out that an authorization vote isn’t required before arriving here:
Still, there are good reasons to grant Mr. Trump certain procedural protections at this stage. For one thing, as Mr. Cipollone’s letter correctly notes, House Democrats gave President Nixon some of these protections during their impeachment inquiry in 1974, as did House Republicans with President Clinton in 1998. In that latter inquiry, House Republicans also gave Democrats in the minority some authority to issue subpoenas.
The bottom line is that Democrats need to honor basic fairness and conduct a thorough inquiry, but they also need to set hard limits on how much time they are willing to spend on any given negotiation or debate or vote.
Again, I agree with nearly every word of that. If the House Democrats are to produce anything but a partisan rallying cry that practically invites Republicans to vote against it and move independents, 40% of the country, to sympathize with Trump, it’s a purely partisan impeachment inquiry and ultimately vote which is widely considered unfair.
It all depends on what they want more.