As the impeachment inquiry in the U.S. House of Representatives heads into a new phase Wednesday with the first hearing before the Judiciary Committee, we still have more questions than answers.
The biggest question is why the White House, which denies the allegations against the president, is still refusing to participate in this process. To be fair, the process has its flaws but it is not “ irretrievably broken” as the president’s counsel has argued. Nor is it a baseless witch hunt. It is, in fact, a coequal branch of government doing its constitutional duty of holding the president accountable to the American people.
We’ve had our own concerns about the impeachment process, highlighting the quizzically rushed way the word impeachment was being used before formal House investigations or a vote, and noting the nuanced but substantial differences in how the Republican minority is involved in subpoenaing witnesses compared to past impeachments.
But if the underlying allegations of using the presidency for personal political gain are baseless, and the president has acted perfectly — to borrow from his own words — the administration should have no problem sending legal counsel to say so before the House Judiciary Committee.
And perhaps more importantly, it should have no problem sending top-ranking officials — such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former Secretary of Energy Rick Perry or former national security adviser John Bolton — to provide a fuller picture of events, and to do so under oath.
A common refrain in the Republican response to impeachment has been that witnesses who have testified thus far in public, including several State Department officials, were not directly involved in certain conversations or decision making — thus making parts of their testimony hearsay. But there’s a simple solution to that concern: have the top-ranking officials directly involved in those conversations testify themselves.
Republicans and Democrats should want as much detail as possible in order to cast an informed vote on an issue as significant as impeachment. And the White House’s refusal to participate in these hearings, both by declining to send representation and by repeatedly ignoring congressional subpoenas to testify, limits access to information for lawmakers and the American public.
If the administration’s argument that this investigation is a “witch hunt” is good enough for Twitter and TV, executive branch officials should be able to make that case under oath as well.
House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler gave the White House until Dec. 6 to decide if it will participate in his committee’s impeachment proceedings. Pat Cipollone, the president’s counsel, left the door open just slightly in his Dec. 1 response, which also said the White House did not intend to participate in Wednesday’s initial hearing.
“It is too late to cure the profound procedural deficiencies that have tainted this entire inquiry,” Cipollone wrote in the letter. “Nevertheless, if you are serious about conducting a fair process going forward, and in order to protect the rights and privileges of the President, we may consider participating in future Judiciary Committee proceedings if you afford the Administration the ability to do so meaningfully.”
We don’t have any delusions that the White House will suddenly reverse course before Friday’s deadline, but we’re holding out a sliver of hope they will. The national gravity of this process requires the fullest picture of facts and events possible, and that requires participation from the White House. If their case is as strong as they’ve claimed, they should have little to worry about.