On Oct. 10, this paper published a commentary by Byron York titled “End Impeachment Secrecy.” York is the chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner, so it may be surprising to learn that he apparently did not consult any creditable sources or even history before he wrote his commentary. Op-eds are opinion pieces, yes; however, they should be based on fact, not fiction.
York claims that hearings for the impeachment inquiry were in “secret,” “behind closed doors,” “super-secret” and that Democrats are trying to “remove the president based on information that is not available to the public.”
This is something of an exaggeration. The reasons for the inquiry are certainly well documented. Anyone who follows the news knows that President Trump withheld $391 million in military aid that Congress had approved months before to our ally, Ukraine. We have been providing aid to the Ukraine since 2014 when Russia invaded Crimea to annex that part of their country. This aid is given in our own national defense against a hostile foreign power to the U.S. — Russia.
Trump allegedly withheld this military assistance for his own political gain — to manufacture political “dirt” on his rival, former Vice-President Joe Biden. It also served the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Since there was this gap in the Ukrainians’ ability to defend themselves, it cost this struggling country. Newly-elected Ukrainian President Zelensky had to make concessions to the Russians that he otherwise would not have if the aid had been in place (MSNBC).
York leads his readers to believe that Republicans are not being allowed in the inquiry hearings. This is not true. There are six committees involved in this impeachment inquiry process: Oversight and Reform, Judiciary, Foreign Affairs, Intelligence, Ways and Means, and Financial Services. Both Republicans and Democrats who are serving on these committees are expected to be attending the hearings. Therefore, no information is being kept from House Republicans.
In an apparent attempt to confuse the public, Republicans keep repeating that these hearings should be open and televised. That makes no sense. Noted attorney Chuck Rosenberg explains this beginning testimony as a “not quite perfect comparison to a grand jury” in which jurors decide if a crime has been committed. Grand jury testimony is always secret. What if the House members decide that Trump has not committed an impeachable offense? Some testimony could unjustifiably sully his reputation. What would Republicans be saying against Democrats then? It is important to gather the facts before deciding to go to any kind of trial.
In addition, witnesses are never allowed to see or hear the testimony of those who testify prior to themselves. It would taint the proceedings. When my chiropractor was being sued by his colleague, those of us who testified were not allowed in the courtroom before our own testimony. We were not even allowed to sit together when we broke for lunch. However, the Republicans feel that this very beginning stage of the impeachment hearings should be televised for the public and viewed by the other witnesses?
On Oct. 23, approximately two dozen House Republicans delayed the testimony of Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper by over five hours by invading the hearing room, a secure area called the SCIF (sensitive compartmented information facility). They said they were making a point about the lack of transparency in the inquiry process. Ironically, twelve of those House members are permitted (and expected) to participate in the hearings. They are not being denied information at all.
On June 6, 2015, former House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., stated during the investigations into Hillary Clinton “Non-committee members are not allowed in the room during the deposition. Those are the rules and we have to follow them, no exemptions made.” Do the rules change depending on the party of the person being investigated? Not according to Trey Gowdy, who on Oct. 27 appeared on CBS News’ “Face the Nation” to discuss the impeachment probe. Host Margaret Brennan asked Gowdy if he still believed private hearings were preferable to public hearings. His answer? “100 percent,” Gowdy replied. “You can’t pick and choose which aspects of due process you’re going to use. It’s not just the privacy. The reason we respect executive-branch investigations isn’t because they’re behind closed doors, it’s because there are no leaks.”
Democrats are now ready to reveal the testimony of these witnesses, and public televised hearings will begin soon. Republicans wanted open hearings and now they have them. Be careful what you wish for.
Susan Olsen is a member of the Talbot County Democratic Forum. She writes from Cambridge.