Is the Trump impeachment 'tainted'?
Why the president won't participate in the House Judiciary impeachment hearing
President Trump doesn't really want a fair impeachment process. He just wants the impeachment process to go away.
Oh, sure, Trump and his allies have made a big deal about how unfair the journey towards impeachment has been. On Sunday, his attorney, Pat Cipollone, even informed the House Judiciary Committee that the president won't participate in this week's impeachment hearing — because the process doesn't meet the president's standards of objectivity.
"It is too late to cure the profound procedural deficiencies that have tainted this entire inquiry," Cipollone wrote to Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.). "We cannot fairly be expected to participate in a hearing while the witnesses are yet to be named and while it remains unclear whether the Judiciary Committee will afford the president a fair process through additional hearings."
Among the president's demands: That he be given detailed plans for future impeachment hearings, a chance to cross-examine witnesses, and the ability for Republicans to call additional witnesses to counter the Democrats' case against Trump.
"Even at this late date, it is not yet clear whether you will afford the president at least these basic, fundamental rights or continue to deny them," Cipollone wrote.
All of this sounds reasonable until you ask yourself one question: Even if Democrats were able to conduct the impeachment hearings according to the most rigorous ideals of fairness, do you think the president would cooperate? Or would he just find new ways to delegitimize the impeachment inquiry?
The answer is kind of obvious, isn't it?
Trump is forever attacking the fairness of any inquiry that isn't stacked in his favor. Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russia's meddling in the 2016 election was a "witch hunt," right up to the point Mueller fell short of recommending the prosecution or impeachment of the president. When he was being sued by students of his defunct "Trump University," the president claimed the judge in the case couldn't be impartial because he is Mexican. During the 2016 campaign, The Washington Post counted 18 times Trump complained of being treated unfairly — including by Megyn Kelly during that year's primary debate, by protesters at his rallies, and by the media.
To be honest, when you're born into as much privilege as Trump, that advantage must feel like a default setting — and a level playing field might feel like an injustice. But even under those generous terms, it is impossible to imagine an impeachment process that would satisfy the president's apparent mania for fairness. That doesn't mean Democrats can't try a little harder, though.
Democrats, after all, have to remember that their audience in making the case for Trump's impeachment isn't just other members of the House or Senate. The American voters, at home and in their offices, watching the hearings or reading about them afterward, must also be convinced that the president deserves to be impeached. That means they need to believe in the fairness of the impeachment process.
It's a bit more difficult to make the case when Democrats sound like they have their thumbs on the scale, which unfortunately, has happened from time to time.
On ABC's This Week, for example, Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.) suggested Trump should testify on his own behalf in the impeachment case.
"We are certainly hoping that the president, his counsel, will take advantage of that opportunity," Demings said. "If he has not done anything wrong, we're certainly anxious to hear his explanation of that."
The impeachment process is not a criminal trial. It works according to the rules that Congress makes for it. That said, many Americans might be troubled by the idea that Trump — or any citizen accused of crimes and misdemeanors — should be required to prove their innocence. That seems, well, unfair.
It is, of course, easy for Trump and his allies to lob charges of unfairness against Democrats. Only two presidential impeachments have gone all the way to a Senate trial during the last 200 years. So there isn't a ton of precedent to guide the Democrats who are leading the process — to some extent, they have to invent the process as they go along. That makes it vulnerable to charges of bias and imbalance. Trump, naturally, will take advantage of such weaknesses.
So Democrats might consider how they can better sell the fairness of this inquiry to the American public. But they should also realize there is little they can do to stop the president's complaints. For Trump, life is only fair if he is winning.
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