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Bill Straub: Argue the facts when you have them; when you don’t, pound the table. And so they do


There’s an old bromide often circulated among lawyers in just about any courthouse you might happen upon in any part of these United States: When the facts are on your side, argue the facts. When the facts are against you, pound the table.

Congressional Republicans, also known as white guys in suits, are industriously pounding the table these days in regard to the hearings being conducted that might – make that should – lead to the impeachment of one President Donald J. Trump, aka President Extremely Stable Genius, aka President Great and Unmatched Wisdom.

And when it comes to pounding, Max Weinberg has nothing on these jamokes.

Obviously the last few weeks have not been kind to Trump and his defenders as House committees probing the president’s hideous conduct establish a proposition that should have long been clear to even the most addled – Donald J. Trump is unfit to be president of the United States and should be removed from office forthwith.

The facts are as easy to find as stones at a quarry. They’re laying there. All you have to do is pick them up.

Trump and his minions prevailed upon newly-elected Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to publicly state that his government would investigate the activities of former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democrat, whose son, Hunter, served on the board of Kyiv-based natural gas giant Burisma Holdings Ltd, and received a pretty cool sum for having done so.

Biden the Elder, it’s been suggested, played a role while vice president under President Barack Obama in giving the old heave-ho to a Ukrainian prosecutor who was looking into Burisma’s activities, thus providing cover for his offspring. Reports indicate Old Man Biden was, indeed, involved in said ouster, but was well within his rights to do so since everybody and his brother – including the U.S. government – wanted the dude deep-sixed for failing to properly probe corruption in his home country.

The incident drew the attention of our boy Trump who plans to seek re-election next year and may find himself facing off against Old Man Biden, who sets atop or near the top of polls for the next Democratic presidential candidate.

Now it’s important to note here that El Presidente isn’t even trying to hide the fact that he, shall we say, encouraged Zelensky to investigate the situation as a personal favor to him. In other words, ol’ Extremely Stable Genius has acknowledged using his position as the most powerful individual in the world to play footsie with America’s foreign policy to bring down a potential domestic rival.

That alone should prove sufficient to bring articles of impeachment. But the Trumpster, duly backed by his lemming-like followers, is characterizing the House impeachment probe as a “lynching,’’ attacking its validity because there was no quid pro quo – a promise to provide something of value to Zelensky in return for performing a con job on Biden.

Of course the record shows President Great and Unmatched Wisdom initially withheld legitimately appropriated military aid to Ukraine without any justification, a nation under constant threat from neighboring Russia, and dangled a White House tete-a-tete under Zelensky’s nose if he scratched his back – a revolting vision impossible to remove from the mind’s eye no matter how hard you might try.

Regardless, Trump and his defenders continued to urge folks to keep moving past the train wreck because there’s nothing to see here.

“I mean, the polling in most of America clearly shows that Americans don’t want to see Congress impeach the President – for one reason, they don’t think he’s committed an impeachable offense, and the other reason is, there are more important things that Congress should be taking a look at,” said Rep. James Comer, R-Tompkinsville, one of Trump’s ever-ready congressional lackeys.

Comer’s argument was dubious from beginning to end – most polls show at least a plurality of those questioned favoring impeachment. But that whole bogus no-quid-pro-quo and thus no impeachable offense argument appeared to hit the skids this week when William B. Taylor Jr., the nation’s top diplomat in Ukraine, described the sort of behind the scenes hanky-panky the administration found itself engaged in.

Taylor said he was told by Gordon D. Sondland, the United States Ambassador to the European Union, that Trump “had told him that he wants President Zelensky to state publicly that Ukraine will investigate Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election.”

“In fact, Ambassador Sondland said ‘everything’ was dependent upon such an announcement, including security assistance,’’ Taylor said. “He said that President Trump wanted President Zelensky ‘in a public box’ by making a public statement about ordering such investigations.”

Now under most circumstances that would seem to be game, set, match. But, in the process of being thoroughly depantsed of its no quid pro quo argument, Republicans are banging the table over the process being used to gather evidence in the probe, claiming that Rep. Adam Schiff, D-CA, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, is operating a star chamber outside public view.

“If Chairman Schiff and (House) Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) want Members of Congress to vote on impeachment, why do they refuse to hold open and transparent hearings that would give this President the same due process afforded to President Clinton?” asked Rep. Andy “Empty Suit” Barr, R-Lexington, in a tweet posted last week.

“How can anyone say they support impeachment when only a handful of Members of Congress can hear witness testimony, when exculpatory evidence is excluded from selective leaks to the press, and when the President’s lawyers have no right to call or cross examine witnesses?’’ Barr belched, adding, “This hyper-partisan, closed-door process is not only unprecedented, it lacks any semblance of fundamental fairness under the Constitution.”

As if to place an exclamation mark at the end of the meshugas, about 30 GOP lawmakers stormed a closed-door meeting of the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday as Laura Cooper, who oversees Ukraine policy at the Department of Defense, was about to give testimony. The hearing was postponed.

The impeachment proceedings against former President Bill Clinton, which Barr called “open and transparent,” necessarily differed markedly. The House in that instance relied almost entirely on the report of Special Counsel Ken Starr, who found that Clinton lied under oath during his presidency while providing testimony on an illicit sexual liaison. In this current instance there is no special counsel report, leaving the House Intelligence Committee to serve in an investigatory manner, which, like Starr, conducts most of its business out of public view.

“We’re going to try and go in there, and we’re going to try to figure out what’s going on, on behalf of the millions of Americans that we represent that want to see this Congress working for them and not obsess with attacking a president who we believe has not done anything to deserve impeachment,” said. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-FL.

So much baloney, so little mustard.

Listen, it would be better if these hearings were conducted in public ala the House Judiciary Committee and the Senate Watergate Committee of the early 1970s during the probe into President Richard Nixon’s corruption, leading to his resignation. The openness achieved several aims, not the least of which was convincing the American public that, like now, a mobster was residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

So, yes, they’re right – to an extent. The problem is the Intelligence Committee is likely to delve into a lot of confidential, top-secret information. Divulging same publicly might work against the nation’s best interests.

Regardless, it would be worthwhile to let at least some sunshine in on the process.

Barr, however, is full of beans, as usual. Article I, Section 2, Clause 5 of the U.S. Constitution provides the House with “the sole Power of Impeachment’’ and doesn’t lay out any grounds rules, so the chamber can make up procedures as it moves along.

The committee is therefore, to a large extent, operating as a grand jury, which, as Barr surely knows, doesn’t provide defense attorneys with the power to cross examine witnesses. It seems to be conveniently forgotten that Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee are on hand for the closed-door sessions, so it’s not like the opposition party isn’t privy to the goings-on.

The probing committees will issue a report on their findings before the House takes a vote. The minority undoubtedly will issue its own version of the facts. If impeachment is successful it will then be up to the Senate to hear witnesses and consider exculpatory evidence as detailed by Andy Boy.

Until then, and likely long thereafter, expect a lot of table pounding.

KyForward’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com.


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