Students, experts weigh in on impeachment proceedings

Monday, November 4, 2019 - 5:21pm

Six Michigan Republicans sent a letter to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., claiming the impeachment inquiry violated President Donald Trump’s legal right to due process last Wednesday.

Six Michigan Republicans sent a letter to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., claiming the impeachment inquiry violated President Donald Trump’s legal right to due process last Wednesday. Buy this photo
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As the House of Representatives forges ahead with an impeachment inquiry, six Michigan Republicans sent a letter to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., last Wednesday, claiming the inquiry violated President Donald Trump’s legal right to due process. However, experts claim due process may not apply, since the Constitution gives the House full control over impeachment proceedings.

According to an article in the Detroit Free Press, the letter complains the House impeachment process bill “may not guarantee the ’timely release’of transcripts from depositions.” The letter was signed by state Reps. Jack Bergman of Watersmeet, Bill Huizenga of Zeeland, Paul Mitchell of Dryden, John Moolenaar of Midland, Fred Upton of St. Joseph and Tim Walberg of Tipton.

The Free Press article said the letter does not mention Trump by name or the allegations against him. The president has publicly asked Ukranian and Chinese officials to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, Trump’’s political rival, which is illegal. Trump is also accused of withholding foreign aid from Ukraine in order to obtain information on Biden. 

A  press briefing emailed to The Daily from Rep. Debbie Dingell’s office said Republicans from relevant committees have full participation in the impeachment inquiry and that transcripts from depositions will be released to the public “shortly.”

“As House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., has made clear, the investigation has had the full participation of the Republicans on the relevant committees, who have been allowed to question every witness until their questions are exhausted,” the briefing read. “While the Committees are currently in an investigative phase, there will be open hearings and transcripts will be released to the public shortly with redactions where necessary for classified information.” 

Jonathan Hanson, a University of Michigan Ford School of Public Policy lecturer and expert in political strategy, said the legal right to due process does not necessarily apply to the impeachment inquiry, since the House is given sole discretion over impeachment and it differs from typical criminal proceedings.

“The idea that there are standards of due process that apply to the impeachment proceedings is a political argument and not a legal one,” Hanson said. “The due process clause of the Constitution basically says that government officials cannot deprive a citizen of life, liberty or property without due process. We interpret that to mean that if you’re in a criminal trial, a person has the right to counsel, they have the right to call witnesses on their behalf, they have the right to question the witnesses put forth by the state, and the right to see evidence. Impeachment differs from a criminal proceeding in that the Constitution gives the power of impeachment entirely to the House of Representatives rather than the criminal court.”

According to Hanson, the impeachment inquiry holds more similarities to a grand jury trial, which collects evidence, rather than a criminal trial. The House gathers evidence for impeachment, while the Senate determines if the president should be removed.

“It’s kind of conflating what we know about criminal trials and trying to imply them to what is not a criminal trial, but rather something more like an indictment,” Hanson said. “If you follow what grand juries do, the grand jury process is closed and the evidence is presented by the state, and there’s no opposing counsel on those sorts of things, so the analogy doesn’t really fit that this is a trial, because the trial would come later.”

Hanson said he thinks the President’s allies see the due process argument, or attacking the process rather than substance, as the best way to defend the president.

“You notice that (his allies) haven’t made much of a defense of the President’s actual, alleged conduct, they don’t want to talk about the details of the phone call with the Ukrainian president, or the terms of the quid pro quo that was being made,” Hanson said. “Instead you see charges that the process is unfair, and it’s a kangaroo court, and so on and so forth. To me that’s a political strategy that represents what they seem to believe is their best argument to defend the president.”

LSA senior Austin McIntosh, who is president of the University’s chapter of Turning Point USA, a conservative organization, also disagrees with the due process argument.

“I think it’s hard to say that they violated due process, just because the House make the rules,” McIntosh said. “They did that for Bill Clinton’s impeachment, they’ve done it for Donald Trump’s impeachment and they’ll do it for another impeachment we’ll probably have down the road.”

Still, McIntosh believes Speaker Pelosi is pursuing the impeachment inquiry based on dislike for the President, and has flip-flopped on whether to pursue it in the first place.

“She has conflicting statements about impeachment,” McIntosh said. “Previously, she said that she would only pursue impeachment if there was bipartisan response. That was back in 2018, and there’s not a bipartisan response anymore, and she’s still going forward with impeachment… She’s impeaching Donald Trump based on vengeance and dislike for him, and not solely on facts.”

McIntosh said he read the transcript of the President’s phone call with the Ukrainian president. He believes that the President asking for information on a political rival, or opposition research, is not illegal. 

“Reading the entire transcript in context, I don’t see anything that warrants impeachment,” McIntosh said. “I see opposition research, which is a nasty part of politics, wanting to get information on a political adversary. I don’t see anything illegal with that.”

In a text interview with The Daily, Public Policy junior Camille Mancuso, communications director for College Democrats, wrote that Republicans in Congress have prioritized their political interests over the American people.

“Unfortunately, Republicans in Congress do not seem capable of putting the interests of the American people above the interests of their party,” Mancuso wrote. “The impeachment resolution that passed the House specifically calls for public hearings with equal time for Democrats and Republicans to ask the witnesses questions. The American people deserve the truth, and deserve trust that their government does not protect a President who blatantly violates the law — regardless of party.”

Vincent Hutchings, a political science professor and expert on public opinion, said impeachment is an inevitably partisan process, meaning there will be implications for the distribution of power with respect to partisan groups.

“Given the presence of parties, it’s hard to envision an impeachment inquiry that isn’t necessarily going to be a partisan affair, because the inquiry will involve a politician, in this case the President, who has a partisan identity, and so fellow partisans in the Congress and outside of the Congress are going to have some motivation to want to defend that individual,” Hutchings said. 

Hutchings said an impeachment inquiry is necessary, given that Trump has publicly admitted to asking Ukrainian and Chinese officials for information on a political rival.

“It’s not much of a profile in courage, or it doesn’t take a considerable amount of detective work to  conclude that the President has done the very thing that he is being accused of precisely because he admitted it,” Hutchings said. “...The issue is whether or not one thinks that it is appropriate for the president of the U.S, to solicit aid from a foreign government in the context of a US election. As it turns out, that is illegal.”

Hutchings said the impeachment process was intended to protect against corruption, and electoral implications from the impeachment process should be irrelevant. 

“The Constitution allows for the possibility that there might occasionally be elected officials who need to be removed prior to an election because of corruption on the part of that elected official, and so therefore, they, in their anticipation of this possibility, provided for the impeachment process,” Hutchings said. “So therefore, when a political target is accused of high crimes and misdemeanors that is what this process is for. Whether or not it has electoral implications down the road, it should be irrelevant because otherwise we shouldn’t have an impeachment process.”