For only the fourth time in our history, the U.S. House of Representatives is conducting an official impeachment inquiry. As such, this is not completely unchartered territory but close to it. Next to declaring war, it is the most serious thing Congress can do. As we proceed, there are fundamental questions to be asked and answered. What and why we are doing this? What’s at stake or why should you care?
It all started with a whistleblower complaint regarding President Donald Trump’s July 25 phone call with the president of Ukraine. In that call, the president solicited assistance for the 2020 election by requesting manufactured dirt on one of his potential political rivals, former Vice President Joe Biden. He also offered a quid pro quo for that assistance as clearly captured by his statement: “I would like you to do us a favor though …” The whistleblower, an intelligence community professional whose identity is unknown, rightfully asserted that this brazen attempt to solicit foreign interference not only undermines our elections but our national security as well.
This then prompted the initiation of the official inquiry by the House. It is being led by the Intelligence Committee, on which I sit, in collaboration with the Foreign Affairs and Oversight & Reform Committees.
This process is roughly analogous to the three distinct steps in a criminal justice proceeding. First is the investigation phase, to determine the facts. That’s what is happening now. Just as police detectives begin by questioning key witnesses and gathering evidence, the committees are holding interviews and requesting records. Democrats and Republicans have equal time to interview the witnesses. The transcripts of these interviews will be made public and some of the witnesses will likely come before committee in a public hearing. The second step will be to decide whether to proceed with articles of impeachment. This is the equivalent of a charging or indictment decision in a criminal case. That will likely take place in the Judiciary Committee in full and open hearing. If the articles are voted out of committee, the next part of that phase would be an open debate and vote on the House floor. If passed, only then would the third and final step take place, which would be an open trial before the U.S. Senate and a vote on whether or not to remove the president from office.
So far in the investigation phase, information revealed has reinforced the plain meaning of the words spoken in that July 25 call. But there is much more to learn including, among other things, the full depth and nature of Rudy Giuliani’s highly suspect involvement on behalf of the president.
I liken the investigation thus far to the operation of a 35mm camera where the photo slowly comes into clearer resolution as you rotate the lens. The picture is becoming clearer, and it isn’t pretty.
Some members will need higher “resolution” before they can come to a decision. I respect others’ need for more information, but I’ve made no secret of the fact that I believe impeachable offenses have been committed. We will proceed without being hasty, but in an expeditious and deliberate fashion to get all the facts necessary to make an informed decision. Even in the face of seemingly nonstop revelations, at some point soon, however, we will need to move forward.
This is grave stuff, and we should not allow our focus to be on any of the president’s routine distractions. In other words, this is not about his distant relationship with the truth nor his wrongheaded policy moves such as betraying our Kurdish allies. It is not about his patently offensive behavior such as his cruel statements about either the Gold Star Khan family or the memory of Sen. John McCain, who sacrificed so much for our country. It is about something even more important.
It is about respecting our constitution and the sacred nature of checks and balances between the executive and legislative body, two coequal branches of government.
It is about heeding the eternal wisdom of our Founding Fathers not to allow foreign interference into our sovereignty.
It is foremost about whether we will be a nation built on the Rule of Law and not the whim of individuals who would abuse power.
Indeed, it is about everything that Captain Humayun Khan gave his life for and Sen. McCain endured for six-plus years in that tiny cell in Hanoi.
It is about America.