Impeachment Trial

President Trump Will Not Participate in Impeachment Hearings

The first phase of the impeachment inquiry, wherein the House Intelligence Committee questioned fact witnesses about a phone call made on July 25th in which President Trump asked President Zelensky of Ukraine to investigate Burisma, a company connected to Joe Biden, has concluded. Now, the inquiry moves to the second phase in the House of Representatives, and the evidence that has been collected so far will be presented to the House Judiciary Committee, during which members of Congress will deliberate over whether to draft articles of impeachment to deliver to the Senate. 

The hearings will be chaired by Representative Jerrold Nadler, who recently penned a letter inviting Trump and his legal counsel to participate in the proceedings. Yesterday, the president declined to participate in the hearings in any capacity, accusing the Democrats of conducting an unfair and biased process, and even going so far as to accuse them of deliberately scheduling the hearings while Trump is out of the country, as he is heading to London this week to participate in a NATO summit.

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The White House’s refusal to participate in the impeachment process in the House marks a reversal from previous comments made by the president. During an interview on Fox News, Trump claimed that he’d be willing to submit a written testimony to the House of Representatives, and said that he wanted a trial and that he’s looking forward to it. Trump and many Republicans believe that impeachment is bound to backfire on the Democrats, as the president is likely to be acquitted by the Senate and then use the Democrats’ failed impeachment inquiry as evidence to bolster his argument that he is being unfairly prosecuted. 

Though Trump will not be in the United States during Wednesday’s hearing, he could have chosen to send legal counsel and suggest witnesses for questioning. That being said, the president’s lack of cooperation with the Democrats comes as no surprise, as since the inquiry began Trump has sharply rebuked allegations of wrongdoing and attacked the process of impeachment, ordering some key witnesses to defy subpoenas in a possible violation of law. Republicans in both the House and the Senate have essentially fallen in line under Trump, as every Republican in the House of Representatives voted against opening an impeachment inquiry and Senate Republicans have spoken out forcefully against the proceedings.

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Undeterred, Democrats are not changing their plans to accommodate the president’s requests. The Judiciary Committee’s first hearing will be held on Wednesday, and instead of speaking with fact witnesses, lawmakers will question academics and other legal experts to determine whether the president’s actions justify impeachment. Notably, both Democrats and Republicans had expressed hope that Trump would decide to participate in the inquiry, but they are surely not surprised by his refusal to do so given his past behavior. The fact that the president had an opportunity to participate in the hearings but chose not to undercuts arguments from Trump and his defenders that the White House was not given the chance to help define and shape the process. In fact, this refusal may become part of Democrats’ argument that the president has been actively obstructing justice since learning about the whistleblower’s complaint.

While members of both parties surely would have appreciated Trump’s participation in his own impeachment inquiry, his lack of participation is unlikely to change the outcome in the House of Representatives. Democrats such as Adam Schiff have stated that they were unwilling to be subject to a game of “rope-a-dope” in the courts, proceeding rapidly despite various attempts to stonewall the investigation. Democrats have said that they hope to conclude the first part of impeachment, which takes place in the House of Representatives, by Christmas, and so far show no signs of missing that self-imposed deadline.