Impeachment Hearings Go Public Next Week, Rep. Raskin Says House Is Moving Rapidly
Democrats in the House of Representatives have announced they will move into the public phase of the impeachment inquiry next week, following revised testimony this week from a key witness now admitting to what he calls a “quid pro quo.”
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff announced that the public hearings will begin with Ambassador William Taylor’s testimony next Wednesday. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent will also answer questions publicly.
On Friday, Nov. 15, former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch will testify.
Representative Jamie Raskin, D-Md., who sits on the House Oversight and Judiciary Committees, says the inquiry is moving “at an amazingly rapid clip” now.
“We’re basically moving at the speed of democracy,” he tells Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson. “Public sentiment is really focusing on what took place.”
Raskin says he and his colleagues feel “a strong burden to try to get our part of this done in 2019,” ahead of the election in 2020.
In testimony released on Tuesday, Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, acknowledged telling a top Ukrainian official that U.S. military aid was tied to a public statement that Ukraine would investigate debunked conspiracy theories related to the 2016 and the actions of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
President Trump wanted the investigations into the Bidens’ actions, which he and his supports have said amount to corruption.
As House investigators continue to release transcripts from closed-door depositions and call more witnesses, Raskin says rank-and-file Democrats “have been ready for a long time” to use Congress’ powers of contempt to compel testimony from witnesses who have refused to testify
On Gordon Sondland’s updated testimony
“I remember reading Mark Twain saying that if you always tell the truth, you never have anything to remember. But he had a lot to remember. And I guess he said his recollection was refreshed by other people’s testimony. And he remembered what he described as a quid pro quo. It’s interesting to me that the president’s defenders, after denying a quid pro quo, are now falling back on quid pro quo as the defense of the president. Because, of course, the actions that took place in Ukraine were a shakedown. It was far more serious than just, ‘You give me this and I’ll give you that.’ It was withholding hundreds of millions of dollars in military and security assistance until the Ukrainian government coughed up the political information that the president wanted to essentially plant on the Bidens, and until the Ukrainian government confirmed the discredited Ukrainian conspiracy theory about what took place in the  election.”
On whether this information will sway House or Senate Republicans
“What’s happening is that the president’s factual defenses are successively collapsing. And there have been different efforts to mount a defense, but there’s really no alternative hypothesis about what happened. There was an organized shakedown by Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani and his little team of henchmen who worked first to smear the U.S. Ambassador Yovanovitch and then to drive her out of office to clear the pathway for them to shakedown the Ukrainian government. There is no rival narrative here. Everybody agrees, and we’re just getting witness after witness, distinguished public servants, State Department employees, Foreign Service officers telling their side of the story and their impression of what took place. But all of them add up to the same thing. And so this is why over the last couple of days, it seems as if the president’s defenders have turned back to the search for the Holy Grail. Who is the whistleblower? And to me, that’s kind of like Richard Nixon saying, ‘Let’s find out who Deep Throat was.’ It’s just quite beside the point.
On public polls showing the public split on impeachment, including a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll that shows 49% of Americans support impeachment
“First of all, 49% is a dramatic number. When the impeachment investigation began against Richard Nixon, that number was around 19 or 20%. But look, it’s not a question of the polls. It’s a question of what the Constitution requires us to do. And the Constitution makes it a mixed question of law and politics. The legal part is … treason, bribery and other high crimes and misdemeanors, meaning offenses against democracy itself. It’s hard to think of a greater offense against democracy than using the power and the resources of government and the American people to shake down a foreign government to get involved in our election. So there is a political dimension to it. And that political dimension is what Abe Lincoln called public sentiment. And public sentiment is very important here.
“This is going to be a dialogue between people in Congress and the public as the truth comes out. And that’s why I’m very excited about the public phase of the questioning, the fact that the public is going to get to see these witnesses themselves.”
On whether House Democrats will wait for testimony from witnesses, such as Mick Mulvaney, or move forward without them
“Mulvaney is obviously a critical witness here because he was involved in all these events. He cheerfully conceded on the news the other day that there was absolutely a quid pro quo here. He said that’s how we do business, and I appreciated that momentary lapse of candor. I think he had to recant it several hours later. But when the Congress of the United States issues you a deposition, a subpoena, that’s not an optional process. And it’s just remarkable to me that we’ve gotten to a point where we’re conditioned to accept that the president and all the president’s men feel as if a subpoena from Congress is some kind of optional, permissive process.”
On the fact that House subpoenas don’t appear to have any power so far
“We could go to the Department of Justice to ask them to bring criminal charges for obstruction of justice. The problem is that that means that Bill Barr is back in charge. And if we could get Bill Barr to bring obstruction charges, he would be the first person we would bring obstruction charges against. So that’s not going to work. We could go to court to try to bring civil charges and we might do that. But as you say, that’s a lengthy and protracted process.
“The other thing we can do is to use what the Supreme Court said … are our inherent powers of contempt to enforce our own orders? It’s not easy because we would have to essentially guarantee people a minimal due process hearing. In other words, we would have to stop everything else we’re doing on impeachment to bring someone in and then give them the chance to be heard, to offer their evidence. We would offer evidence against them, and then we would decide whether or not to hold them in contempt and what could follow would be potentially a fine, detention and so on. But I would tell you that among the rank and file in the House of Representatives, people have been ready for a long time to do this because we think it’s outrageous that the executive branch of government would try to pull a curtain down over all of these people who owe us their testimony.”
On the concern that impeachment could hang over the 2020 election
“Well, I don’t think anybody is thinking in partisan terms about this … Having said that, the same founders who built the impeachment process into our constitutional duties also built regular elections into our constitutional duties. And so we clearly don’t want to interfere with that when we get into 2020. And I think that a lot of us feel a very strong burden to try to get our part of this done in 2019, so it can get over to the Senate. And we hope the Senate will conduct its constitutional duties by having a trial with full due process protections for the president but will allow our case to be heard, in the event that we go forward. But at this point, we’ve seen overwhelming evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors so far uncontradicted by any fact witnesses.”
Francesca Paris produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Todd Mundt. Paris also adapted it for the web. This article was originally published on WBUR.org. [Copyright 2019 NPR]