“Grab your popcorn,” Rep. Doug Collins declared, “because today we have a rerun of the same hearing we already had in this committee in July.” The House Judiciary Committee’s ranking Republican ripped Jerrold Nadler for wasting time on a useless exercise and acting as a “rubber stamp” for Adam Schiff with today’s con-law debate over impeachment. “Just like on July 12,” Collins explained, “what today’s hearing is really about is that Democrats have not come to terms with losing the 2016 election to President Trump.”
Since this is as close as we’ll get to real fireworks today …
Collins on the impeachment process: “It didn’t start with Mueller, it didn’t start with a phone call. You know where this started? It started with tears in Brooklyn in November 2016, when an election was lost.” https://t.co/5Pgb8iGzpR pic.twitter.com/P5IiMKKPkJ
— CBS News (@CBSNews) December 4, 2019
Collins appears to have ad-libbed much of this, as it doesn’t appear in quite this form in his prepared opening statement. He’s clearly angry and frustrated with the process, but also with the premise of impeachment too:
COLLINS: So the interesting thing that I come to with most everybody here is this may be a new time, a new place, and we may all be scrubbed up and looking pretty for impeachment. But this is not an impeachment. This is just a simple railroad job. And today’s [hearing] is a waste of time, because this is where we’re at.
So I close today with this. It didn’t start with Mueller, it didn’t start with a phone call. You know where this started? It started with tears in Brooklyn in November 2016, when an election was lost. So we are here, no plan, no fact witnesses, simply being a rubber stamp for what we have, but hey — we’ve got law professors here. What a start of a party!
Collins’ point about being a “rubber stamp” for what Schiff sent the committee hits the mark. It’s not clear what the purpose of this hearing actually is. The House Judiciary Committee has to draft any articles of impeachment that emerge from this process, and traditionally that means they conduct their own hearings with fact witnesses with a great deal of latitude toward the accused. Nancy Pelosi’s decision to leave Schiff in charge of that process leaves Nadler and Judiciary without much to do, especially since House Democrats don’t have any first-hand witnesses to the alleged quid pro quo for which they want to impeach Trump.
The media coverage has insinuated that Republicans are mainly attacking the process and Democrats’ long search for grounds on which to reverse the election, but Collins’ full opening statement also attacks the Democrats’ case on substance. Put simply. Collins argues that they don’t have one:
When you look at the facts — not the presumptions, feelings and hearsay on display at the Intelligence Committee — there are several facts all witnesses agree upon.
First, President Donald Trump is generally skeptical of foreign aid. America has long been the world’s bank, bailing out troubled countries even when they criticize us. Central to this inquiry is a policy disagreement — a longstanding Republican/Democrat disagreement. If we polled my friends on the Agriculture Committee, Republicans would tell you they support giving commodities to foreign countries as opposed to cold hard cash. Democrats, as in the Obama Administration, prefer to give foreign countries cash. Under this rubric, with regard to Ukraine, it makes sense that President Trump’s administration would endorse providing Javelins, the anti-tank weapons, over difficult-to-track and easy-to-steal cash.
Second, witnesses also agreed that President Trump had a deeply held belief that Ukraine is a corrupt country. The evidence shows this is not only reasonable, but accurate. We are talking about massive corruption where government officials are also oligarchs, controlling business and lining their pockets with Ukrainian — and American — taxpayer dollars.
Third, zero witnesses identified a crime here. In fact, as the AP pointed out in a November 21 piece, zero witnesses personally attested the president conditioned aid on an announcement of investigations or actual investigations being conducted.
Mr. Ratcliffe asked Ambassador Taylor and Deputy Assistant Secretary Kent if “they could assert evidence of an impeachable offense.” Neither witness had any such evidence. Ambassador Yovanovich was asked if she had evidence of the president soliciting or accepting a bribe and she said no. Lt. Col. Vindman and Jennifer Williams also said they had not used the word “bribery” to describe the president’s conduct. Ambassador Volker and Tim Morrison also said they saw no bribery, extortion or quid pro quo.
During a phone conversation at the end of August, Senator Johnson specifically asked the president whether there was some action Ukraine could take to lift the hold. The president responded with this quote: “No way. I would never do that. Who told you that?”
Then you have Ambassador Sondland’s conversation with the president — a call Sondland conveniently omitted from his opening statement, in favor of his presumptions. In that conversation, the president said, “I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. I want Zelensky to do the right thing.”
Finally, all the witnesses seem to agree at the end of the day, this is a policy disagreement. Lt. Colonel Vindman dramatically told the Intelligence Committee that the July 25 call was “inappropriate” and “my worst fear of how our Ukraine policy could play out.” From the perspective of Dr. Hill, Kent, Taylor and Holmes, the president’s July 25 call was “not in line with American national security goals.”
American foreign policy goals, however, are not set by diplomats. It is the American people, through their elected officials, who determine how we conduct foreign relations. Certainly, career government officials care deeply for their country, and we are grateful for their service, but the American people chose President Trump to set foreign policy.
However, to Democrats, all foreign policy decisions, especially those by this president, are potentially impeachable. Would that thinking extend to circumstances where a prior president told a Russian leader he would have “more flexibility” after the election? Surely our founders would have rejected that notion, and every Congress up until these sham proceedings has done the same.
The answer to Collins’ rhetorical question is no, even though the same principles were in play. Barack Obama asked a foreign leader for easy treatment in order to have an advantage in the next election, which is essentially a passive form of interference. That wasn’t impeachable either, nor was it a crime, and few if any Republicans argued otherwise when that hot-mic moment emerged. It was worthy of the voluminous criticism and mockery it received, and it stands as a special kind of irony with the Democrats Russia-hysteria over the past three years. It’s also a mark of Democrats’ hypocrisy over using American diplomacy for personal electoral advantage.
The party continues, however, with today’s academic debate. Judiciary will provide the rubber stamp shortly thereafter, but don’t expect Americans to suddenly rally to this impeachment merely on the basis of a few hand-picked con-law professors’ opinions. If Nadler thinks this will change voters’ minds, he’s spent too much time in Washington DC.