Jonathan Turley ended his epic testimony before the House Judiciary Committee with a flourish. His whole statement was remarkable, leaving no reasonable argument for impeachment standing—but then the now-insatiable desire to undo the 2016 election has never been rational, and it has relied, despicably, on the historical and legal ignorance of the vast majority of the American people. Turley provided an opportunity for responsible citizens to educate themselves: his language was easy and clear, and there were no pompous or especially academic turns of phrase. Nonetheless, few will read or watch the whole thing, allowing the news media, which has exceeded all previous villainy in this three-year long fiasco, to distort and minimize his patriotic achievement. To the degree that they succeed, it is do the detriment of the nation, and its future. Somehow, Turley makes this clear as well, yet does so without the kind of alienating condemnation that I, in his position, would be unable to resist.
No doubt about it, the professor is a far better scholar and advocate than I am, and a brilliantly talented teacher as well. Still, he made me feel good about the analysis I have been presenting here since 2016. I have studied Presidential history for a shockingly long time; I know my impeachment history well, and observed two of the three previous inquiries up close, live and carefully. I have been certain, certain, from the beginning that what we have seen here is an unprecedented crypto-coup, for virtually all the reasons Professor Turley explains. I’m glad to have the legal authority and the meticulous tracking of where the inquisition ran off the rails, but Turley validated the analysis I have given readers here. That came as a relief and a confirmation.
It was naturally a special pleasure that the professor ended his testimony by referencing the scene in the video above, from “A Man for All Seasons,” my favorite ethics moment in any movie, and the clip most often used on Ethics Alarms. He also referenced the story of the Republican Senators who turned on their party and voted to acquit President Andrew Johnson, for me the most memorable chapter of “Profiles in Courage,” the book that introduced me to the topic of ethics when I was 12 years old. Turley quotes one of the Senators who was only slightly mentioned by credited author John Fitzgerald Kennedy, but it’s a stirring quote, and damn any politician or citizen who ignores its message.
Lyman Trumbull (R- Ill.) explained fateful decision to vote against Johnson’s impeachment this way:
“Once set the example of impeaching a President for what, when the excitement of the hour shall have subsided, will be regarded as insufficient causes … no future President will be safe who happens to differ with the majority of the House and two-thirds of the Senate …I tremble for the future of my country. I cannot be an instrument to produce such a result; and at the hazard of the ties even of friendship and affection, till calmer times shall do justice to my motives, no alternative is left me…”
Those who endanger the future of my country because of their unrestained anger, hate, confirmation bias, partisan loyalty, prejudice, need to conform, and yes, ignorance and their lack of education, are contemptible. Those who lead them in pursuit of power are worse.
[Turley’s entire statement, with footnotes, is here. The Ethics Alarms edited version is here (Part I); here (PartII); here (Part III); here (Part IV), and here (Part V.) The video is here.]
Allow me to be candid in my closing remarks. I get it. You are mad. The President is mad. My Democratic friends are mad. My Republican friends are mad. My wife is mad. My kids are mad. Even my dog is mad . . . and Luna is a golden doodle and they are never mad. We are all mad and where has it taken us? Will a slipshod impeachment make us less mad or will it only give an invitation for the madness to follow in every future administration?
That is why this is wrong. It is not wrong because President Trump is right. His call was anything but “perfect” and his reference to the Bidens was highly inappropriate. It is not wrong because the House has no legitimate reason to investigate the Ukrainian controversy. The use of military aid for a quid pro quo to investigate one’s political opponent, if proven, can be an impeachable offense.
It is not wrong because we are in an election year. There is no good time for an impeachment, but this process concerns the constitutional right to hold office in this term, not the next.
No, it is wrong because this is not how an American president should be impeached. For two years, members of this Committee have declared that criminal and impeachable acts were established for everything from treason to conspiracy to obstruction. However, no action was taken to impeach. Suddenly, just a few weeks ago, the House announced it would begin an impeachment inquiry and push for a final vote in just a matter of weeks. To do so, the House Intelligence Committee declared that it would not subpoena a host of witnesses who have direct knowledge of any quid pro quo. Instead, it will proceed on a record composed of a relatively small number of witnesses with largely second-hand knowledge of the position. The only three direct conversations with President Trump do not contain a statement of a quid pro quo and two expressly deny such a pre-condition. The House has offered compelling arguments why those two calls can be discounted by the fact that President Trump had knowledge of the underlying whistleblower complaint. However, this does not change the fact that it is moving forward based on conjecture, assuming what the evidence would show if there existed the time or inclination to establish it. The military aid was released after a delay that the witnesses described as “not uncommon” for this or prior Administrations. This is not a case of the unknowable. It is a case of the peripheral. The House testimony is replete with references to witnesses like John Bolton, Rudy Giuliani, and Mike Mulvaney who clearly hold material information.
To impeach a president on such a record would be to expose every future president to the same type of inchoate impeachment. Continue reading