After nearly a month of delay, the House of Representatives voted Wednesday to transmit articles of impeachment for the trial of President Donald Trump to the Senate.
The two articles allege abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
Earlier Wednesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the seven Democrats tasked with prosecuting the case. They include Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff of California who played a leading role in the impeachment inquiry, and Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler of Manhattan whose committee drafted the articles of impeachment.
“The emphasis is making the strongest possible case to protect and defend our Constitution and to seek the truth for the American people,” Pelosi said at a news conference Wednesday morning. “The president is not above the law. He will be held accountable. He has been held accountable. He has been impeached. He’s been impeached forever. They can never erase that.”
Edward Lasky, a former lawyer who is now news editor at American Thinker, a conservative-leaning online magazine, said that Pelosi’s delay in sending the articles of impeachment to the Senate has undermined Democratic arguments over the urgency of the case.
“Nancy Pelosi argued about the fierce urgency of removing Trump from the presidency, yet this dilatory approach towards submitting the articles of impeachment to the Senate kind of refuted her own argument,” he said.
“I think she was trying to leverage the delay in order to control the procedures that the Senate would follow during the impeachment trial – and that raises arguments about the separation of powers,” Lasky said.
But Jon Marshall, a professor at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and author of “Watergate’s Legacy and the Press: The Investigative Impulse,” said both Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell benefitted from the delay.
“I think what we just saw was the ultimate example of gamesmanship between two crafty veterans in Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell,” said Marshall. “I think McConnell was able to gain some sense that the impeachment wasn’t as urgent as the House members had been previously saying. But what Nancy Pelosi gained was additional evidence in the material that was turned over from (Rudy Giuliani associate) Lev Parnas that was released last night.”
At the core of the impeachment trial is the question of whether Trump improperly withheld military aid to Ukraine in order to pressure Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to open an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden.
Overnight, Democrats presented new evidence in the form of text messages and handwritten notes that allegedly bolster the claim that Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and his associate, Parnas, sought to surveil and undermine then U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch who opposed Trump’s back-channel scheme.
But Lasky said that new evidence that has emerged in recent weeks was just “chaff.”
“They could stretch this out for months and months going into the election. It’s a political proceeding,” said Lasky. “I think everybody pretty much knows at this point what’s gone on in terms of the phone call with the Ukrainian president. I think there’s enough evidence out there and I think the American people are pretty well informed at this point. I have some problems with what President Trump said on the phone call but I don’t think it rises to an impeachable offense.”
One question that has yet to be resolved is whether or not the Senate will hear from witnesses who the administration blocked from testifying before the House, such as White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, Defense Secretary Mike Pompeo and former national security adviser John Bolton.
Bolton, who reportedly called Giuliani’s attempts to get Ukraine to open an investigation into the Bidens a “drug deal,” recently announced that he would comply if subpoenaed to testify before the Senate.
“Bolton realized that this was his chance to get his story out and we also saw some Senate members who had not committed to hearing from witnesses – at least according to news reports there are at least four Senate Republicans who are now saying that witnesses should be heard. Which if all of the 47 Democrats in the Senate stay firm would be enough to require the calling of witnesses and possibly the submitting of additional evidence,” said Marshall.
Ultimately, few observers expect Trump to be convicted and removed by a Republican-controlled Senate. But with the presidential election looming, the court that really matters is the court of public opinion.
“I think this is going to be both a legal battle and a political tug of war for the hearts and minds of American voters,” said Marshall. “If McConnell and other Republican leaders are seen as completely obstinate and not willing to hear any additional witnesses or any evidence, and if the House managers are effective in pointing that out, it begins to look more and more like a cover-up – and that’s not going to play well.”