Pelosi’s Blunder: How The House Destroyed Its Own Case For Impeachment

Below is my column in The Hill Newspaper on the blunder by Speaker Nancy Pelosi of not submitting the impeachment case to the Senate — a mistake that now threatens not just the trial but the rules for impeachment trials.

On Sunday, Pelosi went largely unchallenged in her obviously incorrect claim that the House is still in court seeking witnesses in the impeachment. The House is litigating pre-impeachment witnesses, but has never sought to subpoena, let alone compel, key witnesses in the impeachment from John Bolton to Rudy Giuliani to others with direct knowledge of any alleged quid pro quo. Indeed, the House has done nothing for four weeks after the vote – a vote that I strongly discouraged in favor of spending a couple months seeking these witnesses and/or court orders. Now Pelosi is actually suggesting that they could still seek the witnesses while the House does nothing. It remains the most baffling blunder of the impeachment.

Here is the column:

“Situation quiet. The captain has been put away for the night.” The words from the movie “The Caine Mutiny” came to mind on Friday when House leaders announced that Speaker Nancy Pelosi would not move until next week in submitting the impeachment of President Trump to a Senate trial. While various Democrats have publicly grumbled about the delay, going into its fourth week, without any sign of success in forcing the Senate to call witnesses, Pelosi continued a strategy that could jeopardize not just any trial but the rules governing impeachment. Indeed, Pelosi may force the Senate into a couple of unprecedented but well deserved rulings.

From the outset, the ploy of Pelosi withholding the House impeachment articles was as implausible as it was hypocritical. There was no reason why Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would make concessions to get an impeachment that he loathed. More importantly, just a couple of days earlier, House leaders insisted that some of us were wrong to encourage them to wait on an impeachment vote to create a more complete record. Pelosi previously insisted that House committees could not pursue direct witnesses like former national security adviser John Bolton because there was no time to delay in getting this impeachment to the Senate. She then waited a month and counting to send the articles over to the Senate.

The delay now seems largely driven by a desire to preserve the image of Pelosi as a master strategist despite a blunder of the first order. Senator Dianne Feinstein expressed the frustration of many members in saying, “The longer it goes on, the less urgent it becomes. So if it is serious and urgent, send them over. If it is not, do not send it over.” But she and other members were quickly pressured to “correct” their earlier statements by stating the exact opposite and praising the brilliant strategy of Pelosi.

Perhaps the most pathetic change was House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, who correctly stated, “At the end of the day, just like we control it in the House, Mitch McConnell controls it in the Senate. It does not look like that is going to happen. I think it is time to send the impeachment to the Senate and let Mitch McConnell be responsible for the fairness of the trial. He ultimately is.” It took just a few hours for Pelosi to get Smith to say that he “misspoke” and praise her inspired strategy.

Now what started as a demand to guarantee Senate witnesses has been downgraded to a demand to “know the rules” while waiting for the Senate to take a vote that it indicated weeks ago. In the alternative, sympathetic media figures insisted that Pelosi succeeded in “forcing a discussion” of Senate witnesses despite the fact that we had the same discussion in the trial of Bill Clinton without the House deciding to withhold the articles.

The fact is that Pelosi played into the hands of McConnell by first rushing this impeachment forward with an incomplete record and now giving him the excuse to summarily change the rules, or even to dismiss the articles. Waiting for the House to submit a list of managers was always a courtesy extended by Senate rules and not a requirement of the Constitution. By inappropriately withholding the articles of impeachment and breaking with tradition, Pelosi simply gave McConnell ample reason to exercise the “nuclear option” and change the rules on both majority voting as well as the rule for the start of trials. That is a high price to pay for vanity.

It could get even worse for the House case. I previously discussed that the Senate had an excuse to simply declare that a trial will start next week and either the House will appear with a team of managers or the case will be summarily dismissed. McConnell is now moving toward a summary vote in the Senate, in light of the House failing to comply with its own procedural obligations. That is what happens when prosecutors defy a court and fail to appear for a trial. It is known as “dismissal for want of prosecution.”

The Senate also is faced with two threshold problems that could create lasting damage to this process. First, the obstruction of Congress count, as I previously discussed, raises a troubling position that a president can be impeached for going to the courts rather than turning over evidence, even when the House set a ridiculously brief period for an investigation. The Senate could summarily reject that article as making the request for judicial review into a high crime and misdemeanor while allowing little time for deliberation. Second, if the Senate agrees to the Democratic demand for witnesses, it invites future rush impeachments where the House sends woefully incomplete and inadequate cases and demands witnesses it never bothered to subpoena, let alone compel to appear.

The Senate is, therefore, caught in a tough position of enabling the House in such slipshod impeachments or refusing to hear witnesses who, unlike the witnesses called by the House, could have direct evidence to share on the allegations. One possibility is that, as in a real court, the Senate could allow witnesses but give the House a set trial schedule. If the House wants to belatedly go to court to try to enforce a subpoena, the Senate will hear the testimony of witnesses like Bolton when that expedited litigation is complete. However, it will not extend the trial schedule of the Senate.

Trials will usually last a fraction of the time of an investigation, but few investigations are as hurried or heedless as the House investigation was. The House wasted four months after the whistleblower complaint without issuing a subpoena to Bolton or Rudy Giuliani or others. Had it sought to compel such subpoenas, it would have had rulings from the courts by now. Indeed, it took only three months for the appeal over the Watergate tapes to be ruled on by the Supreme Court in the case of Richard Nixon.

The Senate could set a generous period for the trial of three weeks. That is in addition to the four weeks the House wasted on the poorly conceived ploy by Pelosi. If the House is ready to present these witnesses, they can be heard. But if those witnesses are not ready to testify due to ongoing litigation, they will not be called and the Senate will proceed to its verdict. In that way, future Houses are now on notice that it is in their interest to complete their records before sending an impeachment to the Senate.

It would send a message for future impeachments, as the author Herman Wouk wrote, “Remember this, if you can. There is nothing more precious than time. You probably feel you have a measureless supply of it, but you have not. Wasted hours destroy your life just as surely at the beginning as at the end, only in the end it becomes more obvious.” It is now obvious.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law for George Washington University and served as the last lead counsel during a Senate impeachment trial. He testified as a witness expert in the House Judiciary Committee hearing during the impeachment inquiry of President Trump. He also serves as CBS and BBC legal analyst.

367 thoughts on “Pelosi’s Blunder: How The House Destroyed Its Own Case For Impeachment”

  1. TRIGGERED democrats and snow snowflakes, the President is boorish rude and sarcastic at times. However unlike many timid beta males
    In both parties , he withstood three failed coup attempts started even before the fake allegations of RUSSIAN collusion Hillary invented! Pathetic ! I thought he was stupid? So far he has beaten back the best bi partisan and media deep State corruption they have!

  2. That speech had the president’s finger prints on it. He used it as his reference while delivering the speech. Pelosi physically received that same paper work. It became a defaced & destroyed national archive when Nancy Pelosi tore it up. If she does not suffer the full penalty of Law 18 usc section 2071 (b); the fine and the three year prison term something is really wrong. She pulled this crime off in front of the whole world on national television. We look week before them because of this lunatic. I will be so ashamed of this country if she continues to collect a government paycheck. She must go to jail. Anyone else would have to do so.

    1. Agree 100℅. Further, that incident occurred during a moving tribute to an African American fighter pilot who sat in a metal coffin filled aviation fuel dogfighting elite German fighter pilots, using fifty caliber incendiary ammunition.
      To watch an American politician, talking to herself, grinding her teeth a nd glaring at her nemises who has defeated her at every level, makes me sad for her and our great nation.

  3. Per today’s WaPo more released Parnas documents show Nunes aide in regular touch with Parnas and included in planning administration efforts in the Ukraine. Others shown to be part of the team include supposed reporter John Solomon – quoted here regularly by Karen – and Joe DeGenova, Fox “News” “legal expert” who has been hired by indicted Ukrainian oligarch Firtash, along with his lovely battle axe, Victoria Toensing.

    1. However so far that batt!e axe and her spouse are proven accurate with ALL allegations of the Russian, Ukraine hoax. Also corrupt FBI and CIA AGENTS cover up of Hillarys crimes and FRAME up of POTUS , discovered by Michael Horowitz ! Comey and John Brennan are stuck in the quick sand that all dirty cops and corrupted politicians eventually sink into. The FBI gave Hillary a nice pass and framed Trump . Get your popcorn folks not over yet!
      Ret. Homicide Det.

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