Pelosi’s Nightmare: The Democrats Stumble Over Potentially Impeachable Offense

Below is my column in the Hill on the implications of the controversy over the call of Donald Trump to the President of the Ukraine. Trump has now admitted to asking for the investigation of Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. As predicted in this column, the Democratic leadership has struggled to dampen calls for an impeachment, including the effort of Nancy Pelosi to call for legislation on indicting a sitting president. Of course, not only do many of us believe that you can indict a sitting president, but the legislation is utterly irrelevant to question of impeachment. Not surprisingly, the pressure is building after years of claiming the desire, but not the grounds, for such an impeachment.

Here is the column:

“One of the biggest political scandals in history” and “bigger than Watergate.” Those were the words that Donald Trump used to describe allegations that an American president used his office to investigate the expected nominee of the opposing political party in 2016.

Of course, three years ago, it was the investigation of Trump campaign associates for alleged foreign business deals and Russian influence. Now, President Trump faces the same condemnation for allegedly pressuring the Ukrainian president to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, a request made when the United States was deciding whether to give $250 million in military aid to Ukraine.

Scandals involving everything from paying off strippers to self-dealing have swirled around Trump for three years. I have challenged many of these allegations, given obvious defenses that would make prosecution or impeachment difficult. The latest scandal, however, could prove more damaging not just to Trump but to the Democrats.

First, to state the obvious, if the president used his office to force another country to investigate a political opponent, it is just as serious as Trump previously described. That is why it was important to investigate the Obama administration allegedly targeting Trump associates, while also supporting the special counsel investigation of Trump.

This latest allegation could be the basis for an impeachable offense as an abuse of power, as was done in the second article of impeachment against President Nixon. Yet much has to be established and, as usual, many in the political arena are dispensing with the need to see actual evidence, as in former secretary of Housing and Urban Development and Democratic presidential candidate Julian Castro already declaring Trump a “criminal” and demanding that he “be impeached immediately.”

In the most recent disclosures published by the Wall Street Journal, Trump is accused of pressing the Ukrainian president eight times to work with his attorney Rudy Giuliani to investigate Biden. There is no allegation of an express promise of money in exchange for such an investigation. Such a quid pro quo could be the basis for a criminal charge, but the current allegations are short of the “quid” in the “pro quo.”

While one could legitimately say that an express promise was hardly necessary, with a quarter of a billion dollars on the table, it still is not a crime for a president to ask a foreign leader to investigate crimes in another country. Trump can claim that the Biden controversy related to his own belief that Obama and Clinton associates used foreign interests to influence the 2016 presidential election.

A still greater problem will be obtaining the evidence to show a criminal or impeachable offense. While the inspector general concluded that this allegation fell within the whistleblower law, the Justice Department has a good faith basis to reject his interpretation. That law is intended to address mismanagement, waste, abuse or a danger to public safety by intelligence officials. The president is the ultimate intelligence authority, and there is little support to argue that a discussion between world leaders should be viewed as a subject of this law. After all, any intelligence official could claim that a president undermined national interests in discussions with another world leader. Trump has been denounced, perhaps correctly, for disclosing classified information to foreign figures, but he has total authority to declassify information for a good reason, a bad reason, or no reason at all.

Even if the law is viewed as covering these allegations, there would be a massive potential court fight over executive privilege. A conversation between two presidents is the ultimate example of a privileged communication. Indeed, the first assertion of executive privilege by George Washington concerned foreign relations communications underlying the Jay Treaty. Executive privilege, however, is not absolute. Indeed, in Nixon v. United States, the Supreme Court rejected the argument of the president after recognizing the privilege.

So where does this leave us? While the claim that such a conversation falls under the whistleblower statute is challengeable, Congress is now formally informed of a serious allegation of abuse of power. It could start to subpoena documents and witnesses, including a transcript of the conversation. Congress should be able to read such a transcript in light of the serious allegations. Ironically, the best hope for Trump remains the Democrats and, specifically, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Ever since before the 2018 midterm election, I have written that the impeachment push was a bait and switch on voters. Democratic leaders never had any actual intent to impeach Trump. They wanted him anemic but alive for the election. However, I noted that the great danger of pretending to want to impeach is that they accidentally stumble into an actual impeachment. Now, they may have stumbled over precisely such an offense while continuing to reassure their voters that, if they only had a clear case, they would move forward aggressively.

It is a nightmare for Pelosi. The only thing worse would be succeeding in such an effort. A removed Trump would leave millions of enraged and energized Trump voters and an undamaged Republican nominee for the 2020 presidential election.

To make matters worse, any impeachment proceeding would highlight the dubious business deals of Hunter Biden, reportedly had a penchant for making huge profits in countries where his father was conducting official government business. This included Hunter accompanying the former vice president on Air Force Two on an official trip to China. Shortly thereafter, Hunter signed a $1 billion private equity deal with a subsidiary of the Bank of China, a deal that was later expanded to $1.5  billion. Hunter also was asked to be a director of a Ukrainian natural gas company, Burisma Holdings, owned by a government minister and close associate of bloodsoaked former president and Russian stooge Viktor Yanukovych. That is the same Yanukovych represented by disgraced Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort in his own seedy international business deals.

Critics have long pointed to the role Joe Biden played in getting the Ukrainian chief prosecutor fired after he threatened to investigate Burisma Holdings. Biden later bragged that he held up more than $1 billion in loan guarantees and gave the Ukrainians just hours to fire the prosecutor. In fairness to Biden, the United States and many countries were clamoring for Ukraine to act on its rampant corruption, including the need for a more aggressive prosecutor. Yet many experts, even the New York Times, have agreed that the business dealings of Hunter pose a serious conflict of interest for his father. Few people believe the Chinese or Ukrainians embraced Hunter because of his financial brilliance.

Nevertheless, media interest has been remarkably light compared to the interest in Trump family dealings. Democratic leaders have to deal with the misfortune of stumbling upon the very thing they claimed to be desperately seeking. A trial featuring Hunter Biden and windfall business agreements is hardly enticing. That is the problem with playing a shell game with voters. Occasionally, someone turns over the right shell.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can follow him on Twitter @JonathanTurley.

65 thoughts on “Pelosi’s Nightmare: The Democrats Stumble Over Potentially Impeachable Offense”

  1. Hmmm

    A fascinating piece of Yellow Journalism mixed in with a healthy dose of omissions, half-truths and out right lies. The point is that the American people were systematically denied the right to know exactly what costs and sacrifices the Former Vice-President, and Current Speaker of the House made to get their children jobs working for a foreign corporation. Jobs which in reality required essentially NO work, merely the assurance of influence via their parents but have paid out millions of dollars. Jobs which were secured as the same time that the White House and the Congress were directly involved with that foreign country. And given that these events occurred around the time of the last Presidential election and the Obama administration refused to investigate, let alone prosecute in order to protect the Democratic Party, how much damage to our electoral process did this corruption actually do to American and cost the American people.

    Clearly the issue of the Speaker of the House and the VP allowing their kids to trade off their position, power and influence is a separate but equally valid but potentially even more damaging issue which cannot be washed away because other politicians kids may be doing the same thing….

    The media’s position on President Trump and his children, regardless of its validity and import continues to have a consistent and obvious bias. A bias illustrated here by their steadfast refusal to have even mention Pelosi’s and Biden’s kids trading off of their parents influence when it began, let alone investigate. In short, the actions of the Main Stream US Media have effectively demonstrated that they have become members of the Democratic/Zionist parties. And the untold numbers of mindless minions, such as this “author” who seemingly paint with 2 colors, black for the Republicans and White for the Democrats, black for Islam and white for Judaism have long since given up their right to claim membership in the 4th estate……

  2. Grab some popcorn, because nothing the Democrats are doing now will compare with the soon to be release IG reports and all the supporting classified documentation Barr has the authority to declassify and release. This is going to get very ugly, very quickly.

  3. Are prominent Democrats like some kind of mafia?

    Hunter Biden and Joe Biden stand accused of breaking serious laws. But…talk to Ukraine about it and you might get impeached.

    Maybe they should investigate Trump. Then all of Biden’s and the other dirty dealings of well known Democrats will come out, and be headline news right before an election. How interesting that Joe bragged of protecting Hunter from investigation. What will be the fallout on Obama?

    Good call, Dems.

    1. No, Karen, neither Hunter nor Joe Biden “stand accused” of anything except on Fox News. They were investigated and cleared, but Trump was trying to bully Ukraine into manufacturing false evidence by leveraging release of funds appropriated by Congress for military aid. Obama does not “stand accused” of any crimes, either, except on Fox News. This is just Kellyanne pivoting.

      1. Natch is still hitting the opiates. If only she pushed the syringe with a great big push so that she can see the stars above and the worms in the ground can decompose her putrid brain…holes and all

  4. Remember when Democratic pundits and news anchors worried that Trump and his voters would not accept the results of the election he was sure to lose to Hillary? I recall they were worried that Trump voters would turn violent, riot, abuse the power of public office…

    Without a shred of irony, Democrats have done exactly that.

    Technology and fast news cycles have shortened people’s attention span and retrievable memory. This was just a few years ago, and yet it seems like millions of people immediately forgot about it, and plowed ahead with the very behavior they were frightened that Trump voters would engage in.

    This repeated, instant amnesia is weird.

    1. Without a shred of irony, Democrats have done exactly that.

      They’ve basically done everything they’ve accused everyone else of doing, especially Trump.

    2. Of course, this was before it was publicly known that the Russians had helped Trump cheat . Pollsters were correct–Hillary won the popular vote. She would have been elected but for the Trump campaign feeding sensitive insider polling information to Russian hackers on where to most-effectively target a false social media campaign against Hillary. Pollsters couldn’t have included such information into their algorithms, so all of this Trumpster crowing about “proving the pollsters wrong” is nothing but smoke. We really don’t know for certain that Russian hackers didn’t tamper with actual votes in some counties, especially in Florida. To try to eliminate this risk, the House passed the Secure Elections Act–to provide paper ballot backup for computer voting. Of course, Republicans don’t want this, so Moscow Mitch won’t call the bill to the floor for a vote.

      1. I think paper balloting is in general, a very good idea.

        The problem with that bill I think was related to the notion of establishing federal rules to dictate every jot and tittle of how states handle their own elections. There is a federalism problem with that. The central government has already inserted itself too much into local matters and democracy sometimes means that locations need some protection against the overweening power of the ever larger central government. That’s what the tenth and eleventh amendments anticipated.

        But I like paper ballots in general. So that bill has potential even if it did not pass, it may yet hold promise

        maybe if Democrats abandoned their vain and stiff opposition to voters being required to provide government issued photo id there could be a compromise. But for some reason they want to require less for voting than it takes to redeem points from the gas station.

  5. i’ll go along with that when Pelosi is indicted/impeached for knowing and falsely seating at least four in the house of Representatives who did not qualify.

    i then wonder about her habit of selling Committee seats and Chairs?

  6. Quo

    “President Trump told his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, to hold back almost $400 million in military aid for Ukraine at least a week before a phone call in which Trump is said to have pressured the Ukrainian president to investigate the son of former vice president Joe Biden, according to three senior administration officials.

    Officials at the Office of Management and Budget relayed Trump’s order to the State Department and the Pentagon during an interagency meeting in mid-July, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. They explained that the president had “concerns” and wanted to analyze whether the money needed to be spent.

    Administration officials were instructed to tell lawmakers that the delays were part of an “interagency process” but to give them no additional information — a pattern that continued for nearly two months, until the White House released the funds on the night of Sept. 11……”

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/trump-ordered-hold-on-military-aid-days-before-calling-ukrainian-president-officials-say/2019/09/23/df93a6ca-de38-11e9-8dc8-498eabc129a0_story.html

      1. What about Ignoratio Elenchi?

        Not saying it’s 100% relevant, but I am getting some flip-flop syndrome.

        Must be the hour.

    1. REJECTED for lack of evidence and repeating unsupported unproven non information. Who let the donkeys loose Bray bray. Who let the donkey’s loose?

  7. sadly the article cited above in proof of “Trump has now admitted to asking for the investigation of Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.” does not say nor implies any such thing. You would think that the writers on this blog would be more careful before posting such misinformation.

  8. The article misses a very basic federal election law, per Ms. Weintraub: “It is illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign
    national in connection with a U.S. election.”
    https://www.fec.gov/resources/cms-content/documents/Chair_Weintraub_on_Illegal_Foreign_Contributions.pdf
    If it were 330 million other Americans, it might not have been an issue, but the target of this investigation that Trump is pushing involves a legitimate 2020 opponent.

    1. Soloman is the go to guy for right wing conspiracies, so predictable.

      Since you posted it mespo, what is he saying except insinuating a conspiracy without adding any facts. We already know that the UK, our other European allies, the US, and many Ukrainians wanted Shokin gone because he WASN’T doing anything about corruption. Biden’s bragging about his role at a Council of Foreign Relations meeting – these aren’t dummies on international affairs – proves his interest was in as an enforcer of western demands that corruption end in the Ukraine.

      Only a fool, or an AH like Solomon, would pretend otherwise.

      You’re not a fool, are you mespo?

      1. Anon1:
        Solomon has bee right all along on the Russia Hoax. Now he’s got questions for Joe:
        “Was it appropriate for your son and his firm to cash in on Ukraine while you served as point man for Ukraine policy? What work was performed for the money Hunter Biden’s firm received? Did you know about the Burisma probe? And when it was publicly announced that your son worked for Burisma, should you have recused yourself from leveraging a U.S. policy to pressure the prosecutor who very publicly pursued Burisma?”

    2. Bad day for Joe and Hunter.

      Or this could be the beginning of very good days for Joe and Hunter Biden. What could be better than full transparency, with evidence proving nothing nefarious took place. In fact, the elder Biden’s bragging about this major foreign policy accomplishment is something a confident person does when they know it will work in their favor. Kind of like an insurance policy.

      As the now-completed Russia collusion investigation showed us, every American deserves the right to be presumed innocent until evidence is made public or a conviction is secured, especially when some matters of a case involve foreigners. The same presumption should be afforded to Joe Biden, Hunter Biden, Devon Archer and Burisma in the Ukraine case.

      Nonetheless, some hard questions should be answered by Biden as he prepares, potentially, to run for president in 2020: Was it appropriate for your son and his firm to cash in on Ukraine while you served as point man for Ukraine policy? What work was performed for the money Hunter Biden’s firm received? Did you know about the Burisma probe? And when it was publicly announced that your son worked for Burisma, should you have recused yourself from leveraging a U.S. policy to pressure the prosecutor who very publicly pursued Burisma?

  9. Is there anything President Trump has been accused of doing that doesn’t have actual evidence it is exactly what Democrats have done or are doing?

    Asking for a friend.

    1. Mollie Hemingway nails the MSM perfectly.

      https://thefederalist.com/2019/09/23/media-corruption-on-perfect-display-in-one-washington-post-paragraph/

      Media Corruption On Perfect Display In One Washington Post Paragraph

      Every single assertion of this paragraph isn’t just wrong, but the opposite of right. In each sentence, Trump is being blamed for things his political opponents have done.

      ABC News’ White House correspondent Karen Travers approvingly tweeted out a paragraph of a front-page Washington Post rant written by Philip Rucker, Robert Costa, and Rachel Bade. The paragraph comes from their cri de coeur headlined “Trump’s Ukraine Call Reveals A President Convinced Of His Own Invincibility.”

      While the article matches the headline in its extreme bias and shrill outpouring of opinion — seemingly written by the Democratic National Committee’s newest batch of enthusiastic interns — it is presented as if it’s news, a common problem with our current media culture. Here’s the paragraph:

      Every single assertion of this paragraph isn’t just wrong, but the opposite of right. In each sentence, Trump is being blamed for things his political opponents have done. Let’s take a look at some examples.

      “Trump’s sense of himself as above the law has been reinforced throughout his time in office.”

      In fact, the main problem during the Trump administration has been the way the self-annointed “Resistance” in the media, unelected bureaucracy, and political institutions have treated Trump as if he were below the law. Traditionally, hard-fought losses are usually followed by an acceptance of the reality of election results, even if grudgingly.

      In the case of Donald Trump, his campaign was spied on prior to the election by the intelligence services and government apparatus controlled by the opposing party. They used wiretaps, national security letters, human informants, and other surveillance. His transition was undermined by leaks suggesting that the FBI took seriously an uncorroborated and ludicrous collection of tall tales, “research” later determined to have been secretly funded by Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee.

      President Trump has yet to be treated as the legitimate winner of the free and fair election he won in 2016. Some 70 Democrats refused to go to his inauguration in protest. The weaponized opposition material from Trump’s political enemies was used to get his national security advisor terminated, his attorney general sidelined from any oversight of his agency, to scare foreign leaders from effectively engaging in foreign policy discussions, to keep good people from serving in his administration, and to ruin the lives of anyone who worked with Trump to secure his victory.

      Elites in the media, government, and political institutions have discussed ousting him through the 25th amendment, impeachment, manipulation of the economy, and other extreme measures. Fired FBI director James Comey was found to have violated Trump’s civil liberties when he violated FBI policies governing investigations. Rucker, Costa, and Bade, it might be noted, provide no evidence in support of their regurgitation of the Resistance talking point that Trump views himself as above the law.

      “As detailed in the Mueller report, he received help from a foreign adversary in 2016 without legal consequence.”

      What in the world? What are Philip Rucker, Bob Costa, and Rachel Bade smoking? This was not “detailed” in the Mueller report. This is not even a remotely accurate summation of that report, even while acknowledging how partisan of a report it was.

      In fact, the report found that the entire basis for the investigation — supposed treasonous collusion with Russia to steal the 2016 election — had no evidence in support of it. Not only did Trump not conspire with Russia to steal the 2016 election, not a single American was found to have done so. Are they trying to elevate the significance of Russia’s 100-year-old practice of meddling in U.S. elections, and falsely characterize those efforts as unidirectional in favor of Trump?

      There are countries such as China that desperately want to defeat Trump and had that interest in the 2018 midterm elections and in 2020 elections. We know that China is actively manipulating its actions to help achieve the goal of a Trump loss in 2020. Are Rucker, Costa and Bade suggesting that whichever Democrat Trump runs against should face “legal consequence” for whatever machinations they employ?

      It is unclear what “legal consequence” Rucker, Costa, and Bade are fantasizing about, particularly considering it’s a fantasy that even Andrew Weissman’s politically motivated special counsel team couldn’t dream of suggesting.

      “He sought to thwart the Russia investigation and possibly obstruct justice without consequence.”

      Here, Rucker, Costa, and Bade blame Trump for not sitting silently while being falsely accused of being a traitor who had colluded with Russia to steal the 2016 election. Treason is a crime punishable by death, but apparently President Trump complained too loudly about the false allegations made against him for Rucker, Costa, and Bade’s liking.

      “Through the government, he has earned profits for his businesses without consequence.”

      The Washington Post has been absolutely desperate to make some kind of financial impropriety case against Trump. The only problem is that they are more frequently writing about how the Resistance has effectively tarnished Trump’s brand globally. The Trump organization is a global business concern that did not disappear when Trump took office, even if he stepped away from running it.

      Apparently Rucker, Costa, and Bade think that the company should not be permitted to operate while Trump is in office. It’s an interesting theory.

      It’s a particularly interesting theory given that this entire story is being written relative to the tremendous financial gain the Biden family realized during the Obama presidency, when Joe Biden served as vice president. Hunter Biden, the vice president’s son, went from being released from the military for his cocaine use to receiving a large monthly stipend from an energy concern in the Ukraine, despite his complete lack of qualifications. He also benefited mightily from Chinese interests.

      Only the media could be upset that a global business concern continued to be a global business concern while expressing not a whiff of interest in the way that politicians with no business concerns profit during periods of power.

      “He has blocked Congress’s ability to conduct oversight without consequence.”

      The Constitution’s Article 1 branch should be deferred to as much as possible, even with extreme requests, and the executive branch never cooperates with oversight as much as it should. But the worst example of this failure during the Trump administration was the Department of Justice’s refusal to cooperate with the House’s probes of its surveillance of Trump.

      Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein repeatedly slow-walked or refused to provide material as requested by various House committees, successfully keeping the agency’s bad behavior from concerned Republican investigators, all the way to the 2018 midterms. By contrast, Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross were held in contempt of Congress even as they protested that they were cooperating with probes.

      Speaking of blocking Congress’s ability to conduct oversight without consequence, however, wait until Rucker, Costa, and Bade hear about former attorney general Eric Holder’s handling of inquiries into a gun-running scandal that led to deaths of Americans! It’s not quite the same as requests for personal or private material of the president that have nothing to do with congressionally authorized or funded government activities, but it’s pretty interesting.

      In other words, every sentence in the Washington Post paragraph is well past the point of bias, or slant, or not being even-handed. These sentences are outright and blatant and unabashed falsehoods in the service of a particular political party and agenda.

      The Washington Post is singularly and relentlessly devoted to taking down the Republican president. This paragraph shows what so many other paragraphs in so many other articles show, day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year: some reporters are willing to express false statements in service to one political party and in opposition to another.

      This is not journalism, but propaganda.

      Mollie Ziegler Hemingway is a senior editor at The Federalist. She is Senior Journalism Fellow at Hillsdale College and a Fox News contributor. Follow her on Twitter at @mzhemingway

  10. Pelosi’s nightmare is a repeat performance. She leaks then stumbles and lands in her wee then gets up off the floor of the House and is looking damp.

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