GAMBIER — Kenyon College political science professor Kurt Pyle said Wednesday he believes that the US House of Representatives need only two Articles of Impeachment to consider drafting against President Donald Trump. One would be related to Trump’s July phone call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and one would involve obstruction as the White House allegedly attempted to hide any record of the call, said Pyle.
However, David Rowe, who directs Kenyon’s Center for the Study of American Democracy, said he believes there may be as many as five Articles of Impeachment, with more than one obstruction charge possible. Included could be a charge that Trump and his White House staff have obstructed the Congressional investigation related to the inquiry by refusing to cooperate in the investigation, such as by refusal to testify before congressional committees.
Rowe and Pyle, joined by fellow political science Professor Abbie Erler, participated in a discussion with about 15 students and community members at Finn House during an evening discussion titled “Congress, the President and Impeachment — Oh My!” Rowe said it would be the first of perhaps as many as three faculty talks on the impeachment topic in the coming months.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Sept. 24 that the House, with a Democratic majority, would be formally launching an impeachment inquiry against Trump, with six committees involved including the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. That committee, chaired by Adam Schiff, has already questioned the national Director of Intelligence, Joseph Maguire, about his handling of a whistleblower complaint related to Trump’s July call with Zelensky. The whistleblower, whose identity is protected by law, disclosed that Trump temporarily withheld close to $400 million in military aid to Ukraine for defensive missile use in its conflict with Russia. Trump allegedly asked the Ukrainian leader for a “favor” of investigating Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, as a “quid pro quo” of sorts in exchange for releasing the military aid, which had already been approved by Congress.
The whistleblower’s complaint, which has been released, is nearly identical to the White House transcript of the phone call, which the House demanded from the White House.
Pyle said as the Congressional investigation proceeds, the evidence is strong enough and clear-cut enough that it is in the best interest of the House and Democrats in charge to move quickly. Otherwise, he said, a drawn-out Impeachment Inquiry gives the Republicans time to develop their own narratives.
One student asked “What happened today?” related to impeachment proceedings, to which Pyle and Erler mentioned some Republicans have asserted that Schiff helped the whistleblower write the complaint related to Trump’s phone call.
Rowe noted that the US Inspector General has already found the whistleblower’s complaint meets two required standards — that it is credible in being based on facts and not “score settling or bias,” and that the complaint is “urgent” in its need for attention. The Whistleblower Protection Act gives the Inspector General 14 days to investigate the complaint on its merits, and that has been done.
“It is extraordinarily well written,” Rowe said of the whistleblower complaint, adding that students who have not read its contents should do so. “It’s one of the reasons it is so powerful.”
As the inquiry proceeds, Pyle said the whistleblower’s account of the phone call is so strong on its face, that even some Republicans have acknowledged it is largely incontrovertible. The case involving abuse of power by Trump in asking a political favor from a foreign leader against a Democratic adversary, while holding up military aid to that country, is a simple set of facts — and why just two articles of impeachment may be needed. Erler said Pelosi has indicated she wants the inquiry to have a narrow focus on Trump’s interactions with Ukraine and its president.
“And this is also important in understanding the political dynamics of what you’re seeing right now,” Pyle said. “You do not see very many Republicans coming out and defending what has happened on the actual content of the call (between Trump and Zelensky). It’s a very small number of people. Most of the complaints are about the process, or the characteristics of the whistleblower because there is corroboration there despite claims by the President that there is not.”
Rowe noted the whistleblower has been criticized by some Republicans for using “second-hand” information in his or her complaint. The whistleblower, by law, is allowed to use second-hand information, but in this case, the whistleblower checked off having both first-hand and second-hand knowledge of the phone call between Trump and Zelensky, Rowe noted. While only second-hand information is required, it is the Inspector General’s duty to investigate evidence, either from firsthand witnesses or from primary-source documents, to ensure the whistleblower’s complaint has validity.
A few Kenyon students asked how the impeachment inquiry could affect the 2020 presidential election. Pyle said not only could the inquiry affect the election, it could affect US House races, and those in the US Senate as well, where Democrats have a chance of regaining control. At present there are 53 Republican Senators and 47 Democrats. Rowe said a lot “will depend on what discovery reveals.”
Only two US Presidents have been impeached — Andrew Johnson, who was president after the Civil War ended, and Bill Clinton. Both were acquitted of charges in the Senate, which runs a trial-like proceeding. President Richard Nixon faced an Impeachment Inquiry related to using the President’s Office to spy on his adversaries, with one House committee recommending three Articles of Impeachment against him — obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and contempt of Congress.
But he resigned before full Impeachment proceedings could be deliberated by the House and a vote to impeach taken, Rowe noted. Pyle said as evidence mounts, Republicans will begin to make political calculations related to the 2020 presidential election and what it could mean for each of them.
“I will say it this way: They will be with him (Trump) until they are not,” Pyle offered. Rowe said Nixon resigned as the Republican base of his support in Congress eroded around him.
What makes Trump’s Impeachment Inquiry so groundbreaking, Rowe added, is that it allegedly involves asking for a political favor from a foreign leader under pressure of withheld military aid, in order for a President to receive political ammunition against a Democratic opponent, Biden. The nation’s “Founding Fathers,” in adopting the Constitution, were highly concerned with the potential influence of foreign governments and their leaders on American democracy, Rowe emphasized. That is why the Constitution contains requirements such as that the president must be native-born, along with the language of the Emoluments Clause in Article I. It states no person holding a federal office “shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, or any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”
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