If the Senate Won’t Call Witnesses, The House Can Do So Again

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has had a difficult series of decisions to make about the extent and timing of impeachment. I have argued throughout the process that the House should have considered many more counts of impeachment against Trump ranging from the Russia entanglements to emoluments to obstruction of justice and much more. I have also argued that there was no particularly good reason to shorten the process, because swing voters wouldn’t really believe or care about whether Democrats returned to “bread and butter issues” beginning in January.

The Speaker had good reasons both practical and political for her decision to narrowly focus impeachment on Ukraine and to do it quickly. There is no point in second-guessing it now. But it did mean that the House went forward before the legal wrangling over witnesses could be completed, and before a number of new bombshells landed, especially the public statements on cable news made by Mr. Lev Parnas, as well as his release of texts and documents showing outrageous actions against Ambassador Yovanovitch and complicity by essentially the entire Trump Administration.

Now it is absolutely essential that witnesses who did not testify before the House do so before the Senate, including Chief of Staff Mulvaney, Secretary Pompeo, White House lawyer Rudy Giuliani himself, Lev Parnas and many others. Speaker Pelosi did very well to hold the articles of impeachment away from the Senate as leverage to encourage a better Senate process.

Any trial in the Senate that does not hear from these witnesses is a sham. And if not even four Republican Senators will cross over with enough decency to demand that we hear from them, then the House should correct its earlier haste to put this stuff and aside and demand to hear from the witnesses themselves. Indeed, Democrats are already considering doing this:

Yet even if McConnell has his way and prevents new witnesses from appearing, they may find a stage in the House, where a number of Democrats are already advocating for their testimony if they’re silenced by the Senate.

“We would be remiss in the House of Representatives not to follow this trail to its conclusion. And Parnas has emerged as an important figure in this criminal conspiracy to force or coerce a foreign government to help Trump’s reelection campaign,” said Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, which drafted the impeachment articles late last year.

With Democrats hoping to maximize the pressure on Senate Republicans through the trial phase, Judiciary members have not discussed that strategy in any depth, Johnson emphasized. But it’s likely to gain favor with committee leaders, he said, if Senate Republicans deny new and willing witnesses a voice.

“They have their eye on it,” Johnson said.

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which had some jurisdiction over Trump’s impeachment, stopped just short of saying Democrats would summon relevant witnesses if the Senate does not. But he left the door wide open to doing so, vowing that Democrats will charge ahead with their Ukrainian investigation “if we’re feeling that we’re being played and that they’re not being forthcoming with the truth.”

Indeed. And we still don’t know what other new bombshells may emerge. If enough evidence of new malfeasance arises, it may even become necessary to impeach again. It seems impossible to avoid the reality that much of the 2020 election will come down to whether we actually still have a democracy in this country or not. Trump cannot be allowed to get away with imperial crimes just because holding him accountable for them would be electorally inconvenient in a few swing districts.

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David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.