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Now House Republicans Hate The Rules They Made

Congressional Republicans don’t want to debate President Donald Trump’s attempt to extort political prosecutions of Americans from Ukraine — and given the damning facts emerging every day, their reluctance is understandable, if not honorable. But whining about the process of the impeachment inquiry is only bringing them and their party into deeper disrepute.

Consider the ill-advised and possibly illegal invasion of a secure room in the Capitol on Oct. 23, when a gang of House Republicans led by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), delayed the closed testimony of Pentagon official Laura Cooper. Brandishing cellphones and carrying on like the drunken frat boys they once were, Gaetz and his cronies then held a pizza party — and, after a few hours, departed. The hearing went on without them.

By busting into the Secure Compartmented Information Facility, the Gaetz gang jeopardized national security far more brazenly and purposefully than Hillary Clinton’s errant emails ever did. Those politicians know that cellphones and other electronic devices are barred from any Secure Compartmented Information Facility in Washington, and they also know why: to prevent foreign theft of U.S. secrets. At least one member apparently realized that the phones shouldn’t be there and tried to collect them, but it was too late.

Now, at least some of those miscreants should be punished for their stupid stunt — especially the egregious Gaetz, who tried to intimidate former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen before he testified in Congress last winter. (He is under investigation by the House Ethics Committee and the Florida Bar Association for that offense.)

But what was their point, anyway? The Republicans complain that the impeachment inquiry chaired by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), is occurring behind closed doors, that the president’s counsel cannot cross-examine witnesses and that their party is somehow excluded from fair participation in the proceedings. Coming from lawyers, as most of them are, this indignant whining is phony; they all know that these hearings are investigative, like a grand jury proceeding. There will be plenty of time for open hearings and, should Trump be impeached, a Senate trial with a full defense.

According to the Democratic members present in those closed hearings, the Republicans on the relevant committees hardly ever show up. Whenever they do drop in, most of them waste time on conspiracy theories and other nonsense — which isn’t doing the president any favors, but fully displays their intellectual laziness.

What the Republicans also know — but aren’t telling their bamboozled voters — is that the Democrats are conducting the impeachment inquiry under rules that the Republican majority approved in January 2015.

For instance, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), today insists the impeachment inquiry shouldn’t proceed unless the Republicans are permitted to issue subpoenas — but the rule that awards subpoena power exclusively to the majority is precisely what he and his cronies approved four years ago. Minority Whip Steve Scalise compares the inquiry’s closed hearings to “the Soviet Union,” a bit of demagoguery in which he conveniently forgets his own role in approving that rule.

No doubt McCarthy and Scalise can recall, but hope everyone else will forget, how they used those rules in 2016 to engineer an inquisition into Benghazi that was — as the dim McCarthy admitted on television — designed to drive down Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers. As the last in a dozen inquiries into that Libyan tragedy, it could have had no other purpose.

They may also recall how Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), chairing the committee that handled the Benghazi inquiry, abused those secrecy and subpoena provisions in an ugly attempt to bully one of Clinton’s advisers, the journalist and historian Sidney Blumenthal. Although Blumenthal volunteered to testify, Gowdy sent armed federal marshals to his home with a subpoena. When Blumenthal did testify, Gowdy held the deposition behind closed doors — and then selectively leaked and distorted portions of the transcript in an attempt to smear the witness and Clinton.

Gowdy’s behavior was so prejudicial that the late Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), then the committee’s ranking member, apologized personally to Blumenthal. The Republicans never agreed to release the complete transcript of his testimony, despite repeated requests from Blumenthal and his attorney. They seemed to fear Gowdy, Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., and other Republicans on the committee would look very stupid when their interrogation techniques were revealed.

And now they whine about a process they created while the president and his aides urinate on the Constitution. How do these fakers rise up every day and act out their hypocrisy?

To find out more about National Memo editor-in-chief Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

IMAGE: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA).

Why Congress Should Commence An Impeachment Inquiry

Donald Trump is no longer just a persistent object of national shame and revulsion. He has become a threat to the Constitution and the rule of law. And the question before the House, quite literally, is what to do about him.

For understandable reasons, the Democratic leadership in Congress has been reluctant to answer Trump’s lawless conduct with impeachment, as the founders clearly prescribed. Speaker Nancy Pelosi warns that attempting to remove a duly elected president, even one who lost the popular vote, will be divisive and perhaps unpopular.  She worries that “overreaching” by Democrats will rebound on them politically, as the Clinton impeachment boomeranged on Republicans in the 1998 midterm election.

And Pelosi warns that the Senate, dominated by the president’s own party, almost certainly would refuse to convict Trump in an impeachment trial, no matter what damning evidence emerges against him. Unlike the Republicans of a bygone era, that party’s present leaders will do nothing to discipline a lawless president, so long as he advances their desire to maintain power. Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT), who may understand the alarming truth in the Mueller Report but won’t stand up to Trump, is a perfect example. Highlighting Romney’s spineless servility by contrast is Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), a maverick conservative who has urged impeachment.

Neither Pelosi nor her concerns can be dismissed lightly. But the argument for opening an impeachment inquiry is more compelling every day, as Trump abrogates the constitutional order to conceal his crimes. A moment is rapidly coming when the failure to confront him will render Congress politically inert.

Trump’s strategy, carried out by political appointees in the White House Office of Legal Counsel and Justice Department, is to obstruct every Congressional inquiry by refusing to provide any information or testimony. According to him and his lawyers, the president is essentially beyond oversight and above the law. They disregard every subpoena with authoritarian bravado. Appealing to courts to uphold the Constitution will take time, which is on Trump’s side.

Yet by officially opening an impeachment inquiry, Congress transforms itself from Trump’s beggar into an institution with enhanced authority to demand documents and summon witnesses immediately. It is Trump’s dictatorial misconduct that will force reluctant Democrats like Pelosi to use that power. That is their only chance to uphold the rule of law and the constitutional order.

The political consequences of an impeachment inquiry — not a premature vote to remove Trump, but a public inquest into his alleged offenses — may not be so dire anyway.  In an “open memo” on impeachment published by JustSecurity.org, President Clinton’s former aide Sidney Blumenthal shows that the most apt comparison is not the botched impeachment of his old boss, but the process that brought down Richard Nixon.

With polling data from those periods, Blumenthal demonstrates his point: Before impeachment, Clinton’s approval rating stood at 66 percent; his public approval never wavered and still stood at 66 percent when the Senate acquitted him. Nixon’s approval rating, as a newly re-elected president who had won 49 states, stood at 68 percent before the Watergate scandal blew up. But his ratings fell as the facts about his crimes emerged in Congressional hearings, although he was still above water politically when that process began. Only after a year of devastating public exposure, in the spring and summer of 1974, did public support for impeaching Nixon rise to the current level of public support for the impeachment of Trump.

Remember, Donald Trump is consistently the most unpopular president since modern polling began. The latest Quinnipiac poll shows approval of his presidency at 38 percent — and disapproval at 57 percent. The most recent reliable poll on impeachment, compiled by Reuters/Ipsos, shows 45 percent believe that Trump should be impeached now, with 42 percent opposed. Other polls show that a majority believes Trump has committed serious crimes, an opinion recently ratified by 900 former federal prosecutors who signed a letter saying that if the president were an ordinary citizen, the Mueller Report would have led to his indictment for obstruction of justice.

If the Democrats stand for anything, they must stand up for democracy against a would-be tyrant and his henchmen. The cost of doing the right thing may not be as high as they fear — and the risk of failing to do the right thing is already far too high and rising.

Remember Benghazi? The Hypocrites On The Hill Should

Donald Trump will never build the Great Wall he envisioned on this country’s southern border, but his lawyers and minions are erecting the largest stonewall against Congressional oversight since Nixon’s presidency. In a scolding letter to Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), White House attorneys have said that the administration will simply reject some 81 subpoenas from the House Judiciary Committee that he chairs.

The reason offered for this blanket refusal to cooperate sounds much like a Trump tweet. “Congressional investigations are intended to obtain information to aid in evaluating potential legislation,” huffed the president’s lawyers, “not to harass political opponents or to pursue an unauthorized ‘do-over’ of exhaustive law enforcement investigations conducted by the Department of Justice”

Requests for information from the House Oversight Committee, the House Intelligence Committee, the House Ways and Means Committee, and the Senate Intelligence Committee have all met with roughly the same arrogant attitude — as if the executive branch has no obligation to provide any information at all to Congress. Such dismissive responses represent a profound violation of the Constitutional order.

Or as certain members of Congress explained not so long ago:

“Congress’s authority to oversee and investigate the Executive Branch is a necessary component of legislative powers and to maintain the constitutional balance of powers between the branches. As the Supreme Court held in 1927: ‘[T]he power of inquiry—with process to enforce it—is an essential and appropriate auxiliary to the legislative function.” Similarly, the Supreme Court held: “The power of the Congress to conduct investigations is inherent in the legislative process. That power is broad. It encompasses inquiries concerning the administration of existing laws as well as proposed or possibly needed statutes.’ When needed information cannot easily be obtained—or if government agencies resist—Congress has legitimate cause to compel responses.”

That pithy reference to our constitutional framework, complete with the relevant US Supreme Court decision, is from the Final Report of the House Select Committee on Benghazi.  It prefaces a long and indignant recitation of the supposed failures of the Obama administration to cooperate adequately with the Benghazi committee’s lengthy and mostly pointless investigation, which was only the tenth (10th) probe of the 2012 tragedy that claimed the lives of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other State Department employees in Libya.

The tenth Benghazi “investigation” was known as a political sham long before Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), then the minority whip and now minority leader, boasted about its impact on Hillary Clinton’s approval ratings — its true and blatantly non-legislative purpose. That was why the Benghazi committee spent hours interviewing Sidney Blumenthal, a Clinton adviser with scarcely any connection to Libya and none whatsoever to Benghazi, about political topics including the Clinton Foundation, Media Matters for America, and his communications with the presumed Democratic presidential nominee. (To this day, the transcript of Blumenthal’s interview with the committee remains sealed. Presumably that’s because its contents would prove so embarrassing to the Republicans who questioned him, including then-Rep. Mike Pompeo.)

When the Benghazi committee issued its final report — just in time for the 2016 presidential election — its press releases boasted about all the new information it had discovered through interviews of 107 witnesses, many from the White House, CIA, State and Defense Departments. The most notable was Clinton, of course, who sat for 11 hours of nonsensical public badgering by committee members. The Obama administration not only delivered 75,000 pages of documents, in addition to 50,000 provided to the previous investigations, but removed redactions as requested by the committee.

Yet none of this was enough for Trey Gowdy, the South Carolina Republican who chaired the committee and bitched endlessly about the Democratic president’s attempt to “obstruct” his investigation. Incidentally, his final report culminated in no significant legislation concerning diplomatic security or any other conceivable issue — because that was never the Benghazi committee’s aim.

Now the same Republicans who whined so loudly about “lack of transparency” when Obama was president are silent, complicit, or aggressive shills for Trump. They are aiding and abetting his obstruction of Congressional investigations of the worst national scandal since Watergate, after two years of covering up for Trump and Russia when they held the majority.

They swore to uphold the Constitution, but for them it is always party first. Their oath means nothing.

IMAGE: Hillary Clinton listens to a question as she testifies before the House Select Committee on Benghazi, on Capitol Hill in Washington October 22, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Blumenthal’s New Book Reads A President Well — And Gives A Fair Shake To His Wife

WASHINGTON — It’s high Lincoln season, bittersweet as it can be in remembrance of the slain Civil War president. Into the spring mix, noted author and journalist Sidney Blumenthal brings a breathtaking new view of Abraham Lincoln in his forthcoming book, “A Self-Made Man: The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln.” (Yes, that Sidney Blumenthal of email fame and furor, a senior adviser to Hillary Clinton and earlier, to President Bill Clinton.)

This timely work also comes forth as the nation watches the Republican Party in wonder, perhaps coming apart as it slouches toward Cleveland, where its 2016 convention will be held. It will not be pretty, the presidential nomination tug of war between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.

Lincoln’s first party, the Whigs, self-destructed over slavery’s expansion. The Republican Party invented itself and rose in its wake, in Wisconsin. What do you know. In this volume, Blumenthal covers the first 40 years of Lincoln’s life, including his two years in Congress — as a Whig. Lincoln later joined the newly formed Republican Party in the 1850s and became its standard-bearer, winning in 1860 and 1864. He lived to be 56.

Antebellum America — say, the 1830s to the 1850s — was not a pretty prospect either, darkened by mob violence on the streets as a counterpoint to stemwinders in the Senate — all over slavery.

Blumenthal deftly enlivens the antebellum scene’s characters better than any other author, seeming to make the statues speak: those of Kentucky’s famed orator Henry Clay; South Carolina’s zealot John Calhoun; and “The Little Giant” Stephen Douglas, Lincoln’s diabolical rival who courted the same Southern belle in Springfield, Illinois. The young lady was Mary Todd.

“Old Man Eloquent” John Quincy Adams was the ex-president who found his political lifework, as a ferocious foe of slavery, in the House. Lincoln had looked up to the Southern gentleman Clay, as a “beau ideal,” until he was invited to his grand home and felt “he betrayed a consciousness of superiority that none could mistake,” as a friend put it.

“Cast-iron” Calhoun, as an English visitor put it, is painted as the Senate zealot who presaged the Civil War, developing the doctrine of states rights to justify secession. Looking back, President Andrew Jackson said his only regret was not having Calhoun hanged.

Jackson owned slaves, of course: The “Slave Power” was real.

Lincoln took slavery personally, Blumenthal explains, drawing on a simple line in a political speech in the record all along: “I used to be a slave.” For the author, that disarming line contains multitudes and breaks news in history. Lincoln’s father Thomas hired out his strong son for hard labor — for wages which the dirt-poor farmer father kept before Lincoln turned 21. The young Lincoln hated it.

As a slave, Frederick Douglass did the same thing in Baltimore, where he worked on the waterfront as a caulker. Every week, he turned his wages over to his master. On the prairie, Lincoln’s keen sense of justice awakened. The future Great Emancipator got an ugly look at the American “peculiar institution.” Knowing their lot was worse, still he identified with the plight of slaves.

This is a central insight, even epiphany; nothing politicizes like direct personal experience. In this first of three volumes, Blumenthal reaches deep into why Lincoln hated the “peculiar institution” of slavery — well before he dreamed of emancipation. For his intellectual self-education, he read the English political thinker, Thomas Paine.

More books have been written about Lincoln than just about anybody, and I know that tower well. Besides, Lincoln and I walk and talk all the time under the cherry blossoms. Surely, he’d be glad Blumenthal gave his adored wife Mary her due. Savvy, refined, sassy and smart, from a politically prominent family — Mary was the catch, the engine that drove them to the presidency. Blumenthal is one of too few Lincoln authors to grasp that.

We are on the cusp of the cruel day Lincoln died: April 15, 1865. A shot in the dark at Ford’s Theatre staged a scene from his favorite play, “Macbeth,” the murder of the good king. Lincoln knew the tragedy by heart, as if he could foretell his fate.

Last April, I was at Ford’s for a misty night of speeches, songs, poems and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Today, I’m happy to have a fresh look anew at the man — in life, in his younger days.

To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit Creators.com.

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Photo: Abraham Lincoln. Wikimedia Commons.