Kimberley Strassel, WSJ 10/24/2019
Rep. Elise Stefanik was informed this week by Republican House Intelligence Committee staffers of a new diktat from Chairman Adam Schiff. It made the New York Republican’s jaw drop.
Democrats had informed Republicans that, from here on out, the committee would produce a single, printed transcript of every interview it conducted as part of its impeachment inquiry. Only members of the three committees involved in the purported inquiry would be allowed to view that printout, and only in the presence of a Democratic staffer. Ms. Stefanik—an elected member of Congress who sits on the Intelligence Committee—will be babysat while reading by an unelected employee of the Democrats.
“It’s outrageous, and it’s an abuse of power,” Ms. Stefanik said in an interview. “Every constituent across this country deserves to have their members have access to all the facts.”Welcome to impeachment, Schiff-style. Democrats keep their witnesses locked behind secure doors, then flood the press with carefully sculpted leaks and accusations, driving the Trump-corruption narrative. And so the party goes, galloping toward an impeachment vote that would overturn the will of the American voters—on a case built in secret.
Conservative commentators keep noting that Mrs. Pelosi’s refusal to hold a vote on the House floor to authorize an official impeachment inquiry helps her caucus’s vulnerable members evade accountability. But there’s a more practical and uglier reason for Democrats to skip the formalities. Normally an authorization vote would be followed by official rules on how the inquiry would proceed. Under today’s process, Mr. Schiff gets to make up the rules as he goes along. Behold the Lord High Impeacher.
Democrats view control over the narrative as essential, having learned from their Russia-collusion escapade the perils of transparency. They banked on special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation proving impeachment fodder, but got truth-bombed. Their subsequent open hearings on the subject—featuring Michael Cohen, Mr. Mueller and Corey Lewandowski —were, for the Democrats, embarrassing spectacles, at which Republicans punched gaping holes in their story line.
Mr. Schiff is making sure that doesn’t happen again; he’ll present the story, on his terms. His rules mean he can issue that controlling decree about “only one” transcript and Democratic staff supervision of Republican members. It means he can bar the public, the press and even fellow representatives from hearings, even though they’re unclassified.
It means he is able to shield from scrutiny the whistleblower who prompted this impeachment proceeding. It means he can continue barring Republicans from calling opposing witnesses. It means he can continue refusing to allow White House counsel in the room to hear the accusations against the president.
Mr. Schiff apparently even believes his impeachment authority allows him to ignore longstanding rules. A recent letter from Republican members of the Intelligence Committee objected to Mr. Schiff’s new practice of withholding official documents. They listed nearly two dozen letters from the committee (to recipients ranging from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to White House counsel Pat Cipollone) that had not been uploaded to the committee repository—which, they note, violates House rules. Republicans aren’t even allowed to know what questions Mr. Schiff is asking.
Minority Whip Steve Scalise’s office notes that only 106 members out of the 435 in the House sit on the three committees currently allowed to access impeachment proceedings. Given the average size of a congressional district (about 711,000 people), close to 234 million Americans are being represented by House members who have no real access to information. Ms. Stefanik observes that this includes House Democrats who have already declared their intention to vote for impeachment.
Mr. Schiff has intimated he will eventually make some things public. But Democrats’ barring of Republicans and the White House from this “fact finding” stage ensures what is presented later will be a one-sided narrative. How could any senator vote to convict based on such a rigged proceeding?
A group of Republicans this week stormed one of Mr. Schiff’s hearings; he refused to proceed until they left. What followed was a litany of outrage from Democrats and the press about how Republicans were violating “rules.” This from the same Democratic majority that violates the rules every day by leaking select bits of the testimony to a press corps that suddenly doesn’t care much about democracy dying in darkness.
Democrats keep insisting their case against Mr. Trump is rock solid. Maybe. They’ll let you know. In the history books.
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