What is an impeachment inquiry?
I’m not asking that question rhetorically. I’m asking it because I’m not entirely sure the guy who’s the chairman of the House committee that’s supposed to hold an impeachment inquiry knows himself — or cares. And his fellow committee members don’t seem to be of much help.
As I understand it, an impeachment inquiry is a process undertaken by the House Judiciary Committee to probe if a president has committed an impeachable offense and to potentially recommend articles of impeachment to the full House.
While an inquiry isn’t necessary for articles of impeachment to be introduced or voted on, Vox’s Andrew Prokop notes both of the two major impeachment crises in our recent history — those of Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton — began with a vote for an impeachment inquiry in the House Judiciary Committee.
The Judiciary Committee is currently chaired by New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat who desires impeachment against President Trump in the same way Garfield desires sleep and lasagna.
Earlier this week, Nadler said he could have articles of impeachment for Donald Trump on the House floor by the end of autumn. This was a curious thing considering that Democrats hadn’t voted to open an impeachment inquiry in the Judiciary Committee, not to mention the fact the committee was having other legal hurdles in securing witnesses and grand jury testimony from those around Trump.
So, imagine everyone’s surprise when Nadler went on CNN Thursday and pretty much said the Judiciary Committee was operating an impeachment inquiry against the president after all. Kind of. Sort of.
“This is formal impeachment proceedings,” Nadler told host Erin Burnett.
“We are investigating all the evidence, we’re gathering the evidence. And we will at the conclusion of this — hopefully by the end of the year — vote to vote articles of impeachment to the House floor. Or we won’t. That’s a decision that we’ll have to make. But that’s exactly the process we’re in right now.”
“The fact is, we are doing an investigation. We are investigating the facts, investigating the evidence,” he continued, according to The Hill. “We are going into court to get witnesses all with a view toward deciding and recommending to the House whether to impeach the president.”
His response is that there’s basically no such thing as an impeachment inquiry — his committee just decides to investigate and goes forth from there.
This is an interesting position to be taking when you consider that there’s a list of House Democrats actively calling for an impeachment inquiry. That list currently stands at 120, which is more than half of the caucus.
If the impeachment inquiry is irrelevant — if all Nadler had to do is take the keys to the committee when the Democrats took the House this January, say, “Look at me: I’m the captain now” and start an impeachment inquiry — why is there a call for one in the first place?
It’s also surprising that this isn’t a new line of thought. in an Op-Ed for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel published last week, Rep. Ted Deutch argued the impeachment inquiry had already been going on.
“The Judiciary Committee officially started its investigation into the abuse of power by Trump on March 4, 2019,” the Florida Democrat wrote.
“The stated purpose was to consider all constitutional remedies for presidential misconduct, including impeachment. In every meaningful way, our investigation is an impeachment inquiry. The Judiciary Committee already has the power to refer articles of impeachment to the whole House.”
Democrat Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island echoed similar sentiments on Twitter after Nadler’s appearance.
As @RepJerryNadler just said on CNN, we have begun impeachment proceedings on the Judiciary Committee.
Let’s see where the facts take us and hold this President accountable.
— David Cicilline (@davidcicilline) August 9, 2019
Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, noted the incongruence here:
Chairman Nadler is either uniformed about what a formal impeachment inquiry is or he is deliberately misleading the American public to score cheap political points. Which is it, Chairman? #moveon https://t.co/OYa3euFPEz
— Rep. Doug Collins (@RepDougCollins) August 9, 2019
“Chairman Nadler is either uniformed about what a formal impeachment inquiry is or he is deliberately misleading the American public to score cheap political points. Which is it, Chairman?” he tweeted.
The answer is probably neither, though closer to the last one. Even though half of the Democrat caucus is for it, opening an official impeachment inquiry is still too divisive. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, while not ruling out impeachment proceedings, would almost certainly prefer they not happen, particularly with the Mueller report being a dud for Democrats and Mueller’s testimony being an unqualified dud.
However, ignoring the general norms and conventions of the impeachment process and simply calling the investigation something like an impeachment inquiry is good enough for Nadler. If this were a Democrat, mind you, he would be howling about this sort of abuse. In this case, however, he’s more than happy to make things up as he goes along.
So, what’s an impeachment inquiry? Whatever Jerry Nadler says it is, apparently.
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