Sunday, November 24, 2019

If you read nothing else - the case for impeachment by Common Cause

This post contains selections from the stunning November 20th report on impeachment by Common Cause, PATTERNS OF DECEPTION: Obstruction, Corruption & Abuse of Power. The Nonpartisan Case for Removing President Donald J. Trump from Office (And thanks to Phil Nicolay for calling our attention to the report.)

But first, I was struck by one of the great coincidences in the presidency of Donald Trump that occurred on two days this past summer: July 24 and July 25. In the Common Cause report we learn that “Impeachment of the president is an extraordinary measure that the people put in place to remove a president for his dangerous actions. On July 24, 2019, for the first time in the organization’s near–50-year history, Common Cause called for an impeachment investigation of a president.” That call now appears prescient, because, we now know from the Washington Post (for example), The impeachment hearings filled out what we know about July 25 — and whether there was a quid pro quo.

Ever since the Ukraine scandal has become public, July 25 has been a date of central importance: It’s the day President Trump spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on the phone, and we learned when the White House released a rough transcript of that call that Trump asked Zelensky for the “favor” of looking into former vice president Joe Biden.

Laura Cooper, a Russia and Ukraine expert at the Defense Department whose office was administering Ukraine aid, testified Wednesday that the Ukrainian officials reached out to her office on July 25, asking what was going on with the military aid, which had been mysteriously frozen. (By Trump, senior administration officials say.)

The rest of this post is a brief version of, and containing excerpts from, the Common Cause report.

(Scriber: Unless otherwise noted, all material quoted here is verbatim and block quotes are assumed.)

by Karen Hobert Flynn, Common Cause President

In these highly polarized and partisan times, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that the people are the ultimate source of governmental power and through our vote, we transfer that power to elected representatives who govern until the next election.

The Framers understood power’s corrupting influence when concentrated in too few hands and the threat that poses to the rule of law and the promise of self-governance. Our Constitution allows for an impeachment inquiry, impeachment, trial, conviction, and removal of public officials, including the President. Impeachment is, and should be, very rare, and only taken up under extraordinary circumstances.

Common Cause issues this report and our call for the House of Representatives to impeach President Donald J. Trump, and for the Senate to convict and remove him from office, as a principled, nonpartisan, and solemn duty as advocates for democracy. It doesn’t matter to us which party Donald Trump represents, or who holds majorities in the House or Senate.

Mr. Trump’s violation of the power entrusted to him and his conduct in public office brings us to this historic moment. The evidence is clear that his actions, and those of his campaign and White House staff, undermined and threatened the integrity of our elections and have been an assault on the high ethical standards we expect from elected officials. While impeachment is a political decision for many people in both parties, for others and for Common Cause, it’s about principles, not politics, a clear sense of right and wrong, and the future of the people’s voice in our democracy.

As a nonpartisan, 1.2 million member advocacy organization that promotes laws to strengthen all peoples’ voices in our democracy, it is the rule of law and the delicate balance of power between the legislative, executive, and judicial branches that allow the people to assert our voices and hold power accountable.

In these moments when the rule of law is tested, Americans have a responsibility and a duty to put our country and our Constitution over personal profit or partisan political gain. For most Americans that simply means we must pay attention to the facts, making sure the information we are getting is accurate and factual.

Our democracy is fragile because it is an audacious experiment in humans’ ability to self-govern given the complex nature of human relations. For 244 years, and counting, when difficult times divided us, heroes arose to lead us back together so that ultimately, we the people prevail.

When others rushed to judgment calling for impeachment as soon as President Trump was sworn in, we urged caution. As partisans on both sides tried to use the Mueller investigation to make a case to the public before it was completed, we demanded the special counsel be allowed to finish his report and present the facts. Only after seeing that damning evidence did we call for an impeachment inquiry, and we did so at a moment when that position was not popular with the leadership of either political party. With even more evidence now clearly available for the public to see after two weeks of compelling public hearings and months of investigations and depositions, there is more than enough evidence to convict and remove President Trump from office.

The report outlines nine articles of impeachment, each of which serves as grounds on which the president should be removed from office. Ultimately, the House will decide the articles, and either impeach or not. If the House impeaches, it is up to the Senate to conduct a fair and open trial and acquit or convict. Only with a conviction can the president be removed from office. It is not easy, and it should not be, but the evidence is clear and compelling. The harder task, in this instance, will fall to those who turn their backs on the rule of law to cynically protect themselves and their political party, not democracy, under a misguided notion that people aren’t paying attention or will forget by the next election.

We won’t. We won’t let anyone else forget either. The future of democracy and our ability to self-govern is literally at stake here. President Trump’s authoritarian tendencies and the way he has ignored democratic norms, values and laws, attacked institutions like the courts and the press have done enormous damage to our country.

The principles upon which Common Cause was founded and that have shaped us for 50 years have, at their core, a fundamental respect for the voice of all people. John Gardner founded Common Cause in 1970 as a Republican who had served in the cabinet of President Lyndon Johnson, a Democrat. It was a time of civil unrest at home, a Cold War and nuclear arms race with the former-Soviet Union, and a very hot, very unpopular war in Viet Nam. But as tumultuous as the politics and civil unrest were in those moments, Gardner saw the potential to harness the power of the people to organize and demand reforms to make government and politics more accessible to all people.

No one should take democracy for granted, but as the House and Senate work their way through the impeachment process, the significance of this historic moment is especially important for those who sought and accepted the public’s trust. They have taken an oath and now have a duty and obligation to protect and defend our Constitution, the rule of law, and the most basic notion of right versus wrong.

(Scriber: Following is the introduction to the report, an abbreviated table of contents listing nine articles of impeachment, the impeachment trial process, and then the conclusion to the report. You will have to consult the report itself for justification of the articles.)

There are few options to hold a president accountable when he or she is abusing presidential power other than elections and impeachment. The Founding Fathers wisely understood that there may be times between elections when it is necessary to hold the president accountable by providing the Congress the power to impeach and remove the president from office.

When Alexander Hamilton served as treasury secretary, he warned of the kind of leader who could threaten our fledgling republic.

When a man unprincipled in private life desperate in his fortune, bold in his temper, possessed of considerable talents, having the advantage of military habits—despotic in his ordinary demeanour—known to have scoffed in private at the principles of liberty—when such a man is seen to mount the hobby horse of popularity—to join in the cry of danger to liberty—to take every opportunity of embarrassing the general government & bringing it under suspicion—to flatter and fall in with all the non sense of the zealots of the day—it may justly be suspected that his object is to throw things into confusion that he may “ride the storm and direct the whirlwind.”

Hamilton also argued in The Federalist Papers No. 65 that impeachment is a tool to hold the president accountable and that the focus of an impeachment would not be limited to violation of law but rather abuse or violation of some public trust.

A well-constituted court for the trial of impeachments is an object not more to be desired than difficult to be obtained in a government wholly elective. The subjects of its jurisdiction are those offenses which proceed from the mis- conduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust.

Hamilton’s worries about the kind of leader who could threaten our democracy is a strikingly accurate forecast of our alarming present reality. Unfortunately, President Donald J. Trump’s abuses of power, obstruction of justice and other high crimes and misdemeanors are exactly what our Founding Fathers had in mind when they gave Congress the power to impeach.

Article II of the U.S. Constitution provides that the president “shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” Article I of the Constitution provides that “the House of Representatives … shall have the sole Power of Impeachment” and further provides:

The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. … When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present.

Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.

Impeachment of the president is an extraordinary measure that the people put in place to remove a president for his dangerous actions. On July 24, 2019, for the first time in the organization’s near–50-year history, Common Cause called for an impeachment investigation of a president. In its report, The Case for an Impeachment Inquiry of President Trump, Common Cause called on the U.S. House of Representatives to begin an impeachment investigation in response to White House stonewalling of attempts to investigate potential criminal conduct or wrongdoing by President Trump. On August 8, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said publicly for the first time that his committee was conducting an impeachment inquiry into President Trump. And on September 24, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that the House was opening a formal impeachment inquiry into President Trump.

The House’s impeachment inquiry has made clear that, during his 2016 election campaign and continuing through his first three years in office, President Trump has committed numerous impeachable offenses that have undermined democratic elections and governance—the protection of which is at the core of Common Cause’s mission.

President Trump has abused the power of his office by withholding an almost $400 million military aid package to Ukraine to pressure Ukraine’s government into announcing and launching an investigation of Trump’s 2020 election opponent Joe Biden—a scheme that constitutes the solicitation of a bribe by President Trump from Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. President Trump’s solicitation of election assistance from Ukraine’s president violated the federal campaign finance law prohibition on soliciting a political “contribution” from a foreign national. President Trump obstructed Congress’s impeachment inquiry and, consequently, obstructed justice, to cover up this abuse of power. Trump’s abuse of power, solicitation of a bribe, obstruction of justice and campaign finance law violation with respect to Ukraine are all impeachable offenses.

However, President Trump’s impeachable conduct is not limited to the Ukraine scandal. President Trump violated federal campaign finance laws through a “hush” payment scheme during his 2016 presidential election campaign. President Trump has abused his power not only by failing to adequately safeguard our elections from foreign interference but also by actively soliciting foreign assistance to his electoral campaigns—a pattern of practice that dates back to the 2016 election when he urged Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails and continues in his 2020 campaign, requesting electoral assistance from Ukraine and China. President Trump refused to divest his ownership of the Trump Organization and, consequently, has accepted foreign and domestic emoluments in violation of the Constitution. In addition, President Trump has continually obstructed efforts by Congress and the Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate his impeachable conduct.

With great solemnity, Common Cause urges Congress to hold President Trump accountable for his abuses of power, bribery, obstruction of justice, receipt of emoluments, failure to safe-guard our elections from foreign interference and campaign finance violations—actions that constitute high crimes and misdemeanors. To this end, Common Cause, on behalf of its 1.2 million members and supporters, calls on the House of Representatives to impeach President Trump and for the Senate to convict him, remove him from office and disqualify him from holding office in the future.

This report details the bases for Common Cause’s call for the impeachment of President Trump. Part I proposes nine articles of impeachment and the facts that justify them, and Part II outlines the appropriate process and procedures that should govern a Senate impeachment trial.

A. Articles of Impeachment Related to the Ukraine Scandal
1. Abuse of Power (Ukraine)
2. Bribery(Ukraine)
3. Obstruction of Justice (Ukraine and Broader Impeachment Inquiry)
4. Campaign Finance Violations (Ukraine)
B. Articles of Impeachment on Other Matters
5. Obstruction of Justice (Russia investigation)
6. Abuse of Power (Russia Investigation)
7. Foreign and Domestic Emoluments
8. Abuse of Power (Failure to Adequately Safeguard U.S. Elections From Foreign Interference) 9. Campaign Finance Violations (“Hush” Payments)
A. Senate Rules for Impeachment Trials
B. Additional Procedures Used in Clinton Impeachment Trial
C. Standard of Proof in Senate Impeachment Trial
D. Requirements and Expectations for a Senate Impeachment Trial of President Trump

Careful consideration of the facts led us to conclude we had to call for impeachment of a president for the first time in Common Cause’s nearly 50-year history. It is because our history stretches back to 1970, just before the Watergate scandals, that we are also mindful of the cyclical nature of life and politics, and so leave you with wisdom and hope from our founder.

John Gardner was a philanthropist, philosopher, and professor. While we quote him from time- to-time, this moment—both for our nation and for Common Cause as we prepare to mark our 50th anniversary in 2020—calls for an extended excerpt from one of Gardner’s 11 books, The Recovery of Confidence. The following is from the book’s chapter six, which begins with the epigraph Dum spiro spero—a Latin phrase meaning “While I breathe, I hope.”

“We have all reacted against na├»ve optimism, the optimism that believes every- thing will come out all right, that imagines it has found a sure path to salvation.

“I speak for another kind of optimism, an optimism that does not assume it has found a cure for all life’s ills, that recognizes the deep, intrinsic difficulties in social change, that accepts life’s often unfavorable odds—but will not stop hoping, or trying, or enjoying when it’s possible to enjoy.

“No doubt the world is, among other things, a vale of tears. It is full of absurdities that cannot be explained, evil that cannot be countenanced, injustices that cannot be excused. The individual who does not understand that is disarmed in a hazardous environment.

“But then there is the resilience of the human spirit. Hope runs deeper than intellectual appraisal. We were designed for struggle, for survival. Only fatal and final injuries neutralize that irrepressible striving toward the light. Our conscious processes—the part of us that is saturated with words and ideas— may arrive at exceedingly gloomy appraisals, but an older, more deeply rooted, biologically and spiritually stubborn part of us continues to say yes to hoping, yes to striving, yes to life.

“If there is a long chance we can replace brutality with reason, inequity with justice, ignorance with enlightenment, we must try. And our chances are better if we have not convinced ourselves that the cause is hopeless. All effective action is fueled by hope. Pessimism may be an acceptable attitude in literary and artistic circles, but in the world of action it is the soil in which desperate and extreme solutions germinate, among them reaction and brutal oppression.

“It is not given to man to know the worth of his efforts. It is arrogant of the individual to imagine that he has grasped the larger design of life and discovered that effort is calculated to accomplish some immediate increment in the dignity of a fellow human. Who is to say it is useless? Our purpose in life is to try.”

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