News

The latest from Washington: GOP unmoved as Dems cite ‘overwhelming’ evidence for impeachment

Image: Adobe stock

WASHINGTON — Lawyers for U.S. House Democrats laid out their best case for impeaching President Donald Trump on Monday, warning that his behavior continues to pose an “imminent threat” to national security.

Democrats are pushing ahead with impeachment proceedings against Trump after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) directed committee leaders to draft formal impeachment articles.

An hours-long hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on Monday gave staff attorneys the opportunity to lay out their strongest arguments for and against impeachment. But the proceedings did little to move the needle on Capitol Hill, where both sides remain firmly entrenched in their positions on whether Trump abused his power by pressuring Ukraine’s president to investigate Trump’s political rival.

“We are here today because Donald J. Trump, the 45th president of the United States, abused the power of his office, the American presidency, for his political and personal benefit,” testified Daniel Goldman, counsel for the House Intelligence Committee. “President Trump directed a months-long campaign to solicit foreign help in his 2020 re-election efforts, withholding official acts from the government of Ukraine in order to coerce and secure political assistance and interference in our domestic affairs.”

And the president “has not given up,” Goldman added. “He and his agents continue to solicit Ukrainian interference in our election, causing an imminent threat to our elections and our national security.”

Barry Berke, a lawyer for Judiciary Committee Democrats, urged lawmakers on the panel to consider their place in history as they weigh whether to support impeachment.

“My son, our children, our grandchildren, they will study this moment in history. They will read all of your remarks, they will learn about all of your actions,” Berke said. “That is a reason for us to have a fair debate about what the undisputed facts show, to recognize that it is wrong, it is very wrong, and it cannot happen again with this president or any president.”

GOP dismisses ‘charade’

Republicans’ witness, staff attorney Steven Castor, portrayed Democrats’ case as “baloney.”

Trump’s conduct “does not” fit the definition of an impeachable high crime or misdemeanor, Castor said. “The record in the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry does not show that President Trump abused the power of his office or obstructed Congress.”

Democrats, Castor added, “have been searching for a set of facts on which to impeach President Trump since his inauguration on Jan. 20, 2017.”

Much of Monday’s hearing was acrimonious, as Republican lawmakers on the Judiciary Committee decried the proceedings as biased, unfair and rushed. Republicans interjected several times to criticize the process. At the start of the hearing, a protester disrupted the hearing to accuse Nadler of “treason.”

Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, called the hearing a “charade.”

Democrats hadn’t shown evidence of a crime, he said, deriding Pelosi for pushing her colleagues to draft articles of impeachment after holding just one Judiciary Committee hearing last week. That hearing followed a series of private and public hearings in the Intelligence Committee.

“They can’t get over the fact [that] Donald Trump is president of the United States and they don’t have a candidate that they think can beat him,” Collins said. “It’s all political.”

‘Pounding the table’

House Democrats, meanwhile, dismissed GOP objections as a distraction.  Read more

News, Trump Administration

Abuse of power, bribery, obstruction: Democrats’ impeachment plan takes shape

UNC Professor of Law Michael Gerhardt testifying on Capitol Hill today – Image: C-SPAN

WASHINGTON — U.S. House Democrats are laying the framework for articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump.

As the House Judiciary Committee held its first official impeachment hearing on Wednesday, Democrats signaled that they intend to accuse Trump of abuse of power, bribery, obstruction of Congress and obstruction of justice.

The lawyer for Judiciary Committee Democrats, Norm Eisen, pressed witnesses to testify specifically about each of those topics, which he labeled “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

The hearing comes after the House Intelligence Committee approved a report Tuesday night that details allegations that Trump abused his power by pressuring Ukraine’s president to investigate Trump’s political rival.

Legal scholars told House lawmakers at Wednesday’s hearing that they believe the president is guilty of impeachable offenses.

“On the basis of the testimony and the evidence before the House, President Trump has committed impeachable high crimes and misdemeanors by corruptly abusing the office of the presidency,” Harvard Law School professor Noah Feldman told the panel.

Michael Gerhardt, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law, said the record shows that “the president has committed several impeachable offenses, including bribery, abuse of power in soliciting a personal favor from a foreign leader to benefit his political campaign, obstructing Congress, and obstructing justice.”

If Congress fails to impeach Trump, Gerhardt added, “then the impeachment process has lost all meaning, and, along with that, our Constitution’s carefully crafted safeguards against the establishment of a king on American soil.”

Pamela Karlan, a Stanford Law School professor, said the “very idea that a president might seek the aid of a foreign government in his reelection campaign would have horrified” the founders of the U.S. government. “But based on the evidentiary record, that is what President Trump has done,” she told lawmakers.

Another law professor, Jonathan Turley, of the George Washington University Law School, warned against impeaching Trump. Turley, the lone witness invited by Republicans, said he’s concerned about “lowering impeachment standards to fit a paucity of evidence and an abundance of anger.”

This impeachment, Turley said, “not only fails to satisfy the standard of past impeachments but would create a dangerous precedent for future impeachments.”

GOP disrupts, points to ‘tears in Brooklyn’ 

Committee Republicans, meanwhile, disrupted the hearing and frustrated Democrats by using procedural tactics.

Wisconsin Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner interjected at the start of the hearing to request a day of GOP-led hearings before the committee votes on articles of impeachment. The request was set aside by Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.).

Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the committee, sought to force the testimony of Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) before the committee, but Democrats voted to quash his attempt.

Another Republican lawmaker, North Dakota Rep. Kelly Armstrong, attempted to postpone the hearing until Dec. 11, which Democrats also voted down.

Collins labeled the Democrats’ impeachment proceedings a “sham.”

Democrats “just don’t like” Trump, Collins said, accusing his colleagues of attempting to oust the president ever since Democrats seized control of the House early this year.

“This is not an impeachment, this is just a simple railroad job, and today’s is a waste of time,” Collins said. “It didn’t start with [former special counsel Robert] Mueller. It didn’t start with a phone call. You know where this started? [It] started with tears in Brooklyn in 2016, when an election was lost,” he said, referring to Hillary Clinton’s campaign headquarters in New York.

Robin Bravender is the Washington bureau chief for the States Newsroom Network, of which NC Policy Watch is a member.

News

U.S. Supreme Court may sidestep a big Second Amendment fight

Demonstrators gathered outside of the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday in support of gun violence regulations – Photo: Robin Bravender

WASHINGTON — A high-profile gun rights case argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday might be dismissed with little fanfare.

The justices heard an hour of arguments in the case that challenges now-defunct New York City gun restrictions. The case has been billed as the biggest gun rights lawsuit in a decade, with the potential outcome of broadly knocking down local gun restrictions.

But the case may be tossed out on procedural grounds, allowing the justices to avoid digging into the thornier legal issues over the scope of the Second Amendment. That would mark at least a temporary victory for gun control advocates wary that the court’s conservative majority could dramatically expand gun rights.

The dispute centers on a New York City regulation banning the transport of licensed, locked, and unloaded handguns to a home or shooting range outside city limits. In the face of legal challenges, the city has since changed its regulations to remove the travel restrictions.

“You’ve got what you want now,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor told the lawyer representing gun owners in court on Monday. She said the plaintiffs were asking the justices to rule in a case where the other side “has thrown in the towel.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg also questioned, “What’s left of the case?” now that the regulations have been changed.

Paul Clement, the lawyer representing gun owners challenging the rule, insisted that his clients hadn’t gotten everything they wanted. He expressed concerns that the new rule on the books in New York City remains overly restrictive and doesn’t make it clear that his clients could stop for coffee, for example, while transporting their guns. He also warned that his clients could be held responsible for previous violations of the regulation that’s no longer on the books.

Clement accused New York City of struggling to make the case go away by overhauling its regulations after the Supreme Court agreed to hear it, for fear of losing.

Richard Dearing, the attorney representing New York City, said the change to the policy was an example of government working well by responding to concerns brought up in litigation. He told the justices that coffee stops and bathroom breaks were permissible under the new rules.

Chief Justice John Roberts, who could represent the swing vote on the ideologically divided court, asked whether gun owners’ past violations of the previous regulation could be used against them; Dearing assured him that they would not.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh — a conservative nominated by President Donald Trump to replace the centrist Justice Anthony Kennedy — didn’t ask questions in the gun rights case. His confirmation was seen as a significant shift on the court toward limiting gun regulations.

Other conservative justices didn’t appear likely to want to throw the case out on procedural grounds.

“They didn’t get all that they wanted,” Justice Samuel Alito said of the gun owners in the case. “They wanted a declaration that the old law was unconstitutional, period.”

Justice Neil Gorsuch, another Trump appointee, also pointed to concerns about New York City’s new gun regulations. “Why isn’t there a live controversy remaining?” he asked.

Gun rights proponents are anxious about this case in part because the court hasn’t taken a Second Amendment case in over a decade, said Timothy Zick, a professor at William and Mary Law School.

The New York case represents a vehicle for getting an answer to the question: “How are lower courts supposed to be deciding gun regulation cases?” Zick said.

The justices’ line of questioning on Monday suggests that at least four justices and maybe more were thinking this may not be the right case to answer that question, he added. But “even if this case is mooted — and we may not find that out for a while — they’re likely to take another gun case. … There are plenty of cases right behind it in the pipeline.”

The court will issue an opinion in the case, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. City of New York, before the term ends next summer.

Robin Bravender is the Washington bureau chief for the States Newsroom Network, of which NC Policy Watch is a member.

News

Rep. Foxx skipped most closed-door impeachment proceedings

Rep. Virginia Foxx

WASHINGTON — North Carolina Republican Rep. Virginia Foxx, a senior member on one of the committees leading the impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump, has skipped the vast majority of closed-door impeachment depositions.

An analysis of the 15 closed-door deposition transcripts that have been released by House lawmakers shows that Foxx wasn’t listed as present at any of those proceedings. The transcripts from two additional depositions still haven’t been released.

As a member of the U.S. House Oversight and Reform Committee, Foxx was among the 47 Republicans who had access to the depositions. She and Republican Rep. Mark Meadows — a staunch Trump ally who also sits on the oversight panel — are the only two North Carolina lawmakers who had access to the proceedings.

Foxx has referred to the inquiry as a “sham” and she supported a motion to censure House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) for pursuing what she called a “partisan impeachment agenda.”

Foxx’s office did not respond to a request for comment about her attendance, but Foxx confirmed to a Spectrum News reporter in a Nov. 8 article that she hadn’t been in the room for the 15 depositions prior to that.

She told the news outlet that she had reviewed materials from the depositions, but pointed to scheduling conflicts to explain her absences.

“Several depositions have been scheduled when Congress is not in session and other events have been scheduled in North Carolina,” she said. “Others have had their time changed, conflicting with other responsibilities in Washington, including my work as Republican Leader on the Education and Labor Committee.”

Foxx was also not listed as present in the transcript of a Nov. 15 deposition with U.S. diplomat David Holmes, who testified publicly before the Intelligence Committee on Thursday. Foxx may have entered the deposition after the attendance was logged, in which case her presence wouldn’t necessarily have been noted in the transcript.

The transcript for a Nov. 16 deposition with Office of Management and Budget official Mark Sandy has not yet been released; it’s unclear whether Foxx attended.

Her absence from most or all of the depositions contrasts with that of Meadows, who has been logged as present in all but one of the impeachment inquiry transcripts released so far and who has emerged as one of the top House messengers leading the defense of the president.

Meadows “believes that as a member of the Oversight Committee, it’s important for him to be present at these depositions so he can ask questions of the witnesses, listen to testimony, and fully understand the facts so he can speak accurately on the issues,” his spokesman Ben Williamson said in a statement.

Many House Republicans have assailed the private nature of the inquiry in recent months, including some who had access to the depositions but did not attend.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other Democrats defended the closed-door proceedings as one step of the impeachment inquiry. They called it a private fact-finding process, much like the work of a grand jury, where proceedings aren’t open to the public. They have since released most of the transcripts and have held several public hearings.

Jim Small, editor of the Arizona Mirror, also reported on this story from Phoenix. Robin Bravender is the Washington bureau chief for the States Newsroom network of which NC Policy Watch is a member.

Environment, News

Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles tells U.S. Congress: climate change ‘hits us at home’

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord made it even more important for U.S. cities to tackle climate change at the local level, Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles (pictured at left) testified on Capitol Hill Wednesday.

Climate change “really hits us at home,” she said before the U.S. House Appropriations Committee, where she testified about her city’s environmental sustainability efforts.

Those local actions became increasingly critical in light of the Trump’s decision to exit the landmark Paris agreement, she said.

“In Charlotte, when that happened, it just heightened our awareness and our need to move more aggressively towards our own plan and it is something that our citizens wanted us to do,” she said. “The impact of withdrawal made it actually more imperative at the local level for us to begin to do this work.”

The administration has long planned to exit the accord, but officially notified the international community earlier this month that it intends to withdraw. Critics of Trump’s move have called it short-sighted and warn that it will significantly hamper global efforts to combat climate change.

“American leadership, as in so many other areas, is absolutely essential, is not being provided, and the withdrawal from the Paris agreement, of course, is the most obvious indicator of that,” said former Obama administration Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, who also testified at Wednesday’s hearing.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper announced in 2017 that the state would join others in committing to reduce their share of the greenhouse gas emissions targets laid out in the Paris climate deal. In 2018, Cooper signed an executive order that calls on the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 40% below 2005 levels by 2025.

Lyle said in her testimony that Charlotte supports that executive order. The city also supports Duke Energy’s goal of net-zero carbon by 2050.

“Achieving a low-carbon future for Charlotte will require a transformational change in the way we consume and generate energy and how we manage our waste stream,” she said. We know that this will be challenging and require new and innovative ideas, research, projects and collaborations. It will require government agencies, companies and organizations to look at their role, as well as residents to look at how they are using energy each day.”

She also stressed the importance of addressing greenhouse gas emissions from cars in an area that grew with a great deal of sprawl.

“If I could wave a magic wand in our city, I would actually reduce the number of cars that we have because traffic congestion means greenhouse gases and it means that we will have bad air for all of our children and that creates public health issues,” she said.

Robin Bravender is the Washington bureau chief of the States Newsroom network, of which NC Policy Watch is a member.