Thistlethwaite: Yes, it’s time for impeachment hearings
Congress returns to Washington this week amid heightened tensions with the White House, especially, but not only those due to the Mueller Report. There is no way past these tensions. We have to go through them and our congressional leaders must hold hearings that will let the American people see and hear for themselves what is going on.
This moment feels familiar to me. I was a new mom and at home with my baby when the Watergate hearings were televised live to the American people.
Senator Sam Ervin presided over the public hearings of the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities, commonly known as the Watergate Committee. While the baby slept, I watched these hearings. And I, along with the rest of the American people, heard evidence of the “illegal, improper, or unethical activities” by the Nixon White House, and the president himself.
We, the American people, got to hear for ourselves what John Dean had to say. What H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman and the others had to say.
Because of the Watergate hearings, we didn’t have to just read a four-page, inaccurate summary from the attorney general, or, even worse, hear the attorney general give a misleading and biased press conference before sharing redacted information with Congress and the public.
I have read the Mueller Report, apart, of course, from what was redacted. Now, not everyone is an academic nerd like I am. But, in truth, reading a report is not as good as hearings where there are questions and answers, and we can judge for ourselves who is lying and who is telling the truth.
In fact, it is becoming ever more imperative to begin such procedures since the alarming move by Donald Trump and Trump officials to block or announce they would block subpoenaed individuals from cooperating with current House investigations. There is much to be investigated, in fact, in addition to what is in the Mueller Report.
Is there now open defiance of the rule of law by this White House?
This is why we need the same kind of public hearings that were held on Watergate, not only on the Mueller Report itself, but also on the actual evidence that went into the construction of the report and the actual testimony of individuals involved or knowledgeable of potential “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors,” that are outlined in Article II of the United States Constitution.
There is one thing that is beyond doubt in a simple reading of this report. The Russians made numerous attempts to interfere with our elections and subvert our democratic processes. The Mueller Report extensively covers that. In public hearings, the American public needs to hear this directly from those who conducted the investigations.
The most important rebuke we as a nation can give to any enemy nation that seeks to bring down our democracy is to rigorously follow the lawful rules of our democracy, rather than to propose or substitute other remedies as more palatable.
Just skip the rule of law and go straight to the election? That’s naïve at best. A presidential election is not a legal remedy; it is simply a means to choose a president. It does not address whether “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors” have been committed. It does not absolve or convict anyone of having committed any of these acts.
At worst, substituting an election in place of an impeachment inquiry could provide cover for a foreign enemy to continue and expand its efforts to bring down our democratic institutions.
That we must not do. We are a democracy, not a tyranny. We live by the rule of law.
I believe the Mueller Report clearly confirms that there is an issue that Donald Trump may have committed impeachable offenses. The only remedy that our constitution provides to resolve issues such as this is for Congress to investigate and decide if an impeachable offense has been committed.
Although members of Congress are politicians and prone to make political decisions, they are more importantly our elected statesmen and stateswomen prescribed by law to investigate and adjudicate impeachable offenses. In order to fulfill their constitutional duty faithfully, they must have access not only to all of the Mueller report and the data on which it is based, but also the ability to interview whatever witnesses they believe will be helpful in their deliberation.
To me, whether this is done in advance of deciding if a formal impeachment inquiry should be undertaken or, as in the case of Nixon, as part of an inquiry itself, is less important. What is important is that the House of Representatives must proceed on the basis of the information the report provides, as well as the knowledge that not all information has been provided.
Do we have “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors,” including but not limited to obstruction of justice? That’s what the public hearings will show us. And I mean us. It is up to our elected representatives to decide about impeachment, but it is also their responsibility to give us adequate information for each of us to decide if their action is correct.
First, it is only with this information that the public can share informed opinions with their elected Congressional representatives. Second, is it our responsibility to speak through an election.
We must not think the upcoming election, without further investigation, can substitute for the information contained in an impeachment inquiry and potential action. That would both bypass congressional responsibility and deny us, as the body politic, the knowledge to make fully-formed decisions. In so doing, it further risks undermining our democracy.
To live in a democracy means we must have the courage of our convictions and defend the rule of law.
Rev. Dr. Susan Thistlethwaite is an ordained minister of the United Church of Christ and a professor of theology at Chicago Theological Seminary. She and her husband now make their home in the Vail Valley.